This is the full extract of the abridged question and answer session Yvonne Baker had with Politics First.
- There is a shortage of scientists and engineers in the UK, but are there really the jobs out there for young people?
All surveys and statistics suggest that there is an increasing need for STEM skills across the economy and society; STEM employers and business organisations across many sectors including aerospace, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and technology highlight difficulties in accessing the right kind of skills and trained staff. All forecasts and predictions indicate the need for good numerical, scientific and technology skills will only increase.
This is a truly international issue. Countries like Germany, France and even Switzerland are facing similar difficulties. Shortages are often as acute – if not more so – in technical and non-graduate roles, so we need to highlight the fantastic career opportunities young people can find via these routes if they are encouraged appropriately. STEM skills such as problem solving, creativity and team working are invaluable whatever a person goes on to do with their life. The pace of technological change is unlikely to slow down so the ability to understand and contribute to debates over ‘the big questions’ as well as everyday life is a duty and a right, not a privilege to be enjoyed by only a few.
- The UK’s ranking in science TIMSS and PISA has been falling – is this a reflection on the quality of teachers in the UK?
TIMSS and PISA are two important and helpful indicators of a country’s performance compared to others in certain aspects of science and maths education, but certainly do not tell the whole story. We cannot ignore them and must think hard about what we need to learn and act on from the trends in our TIMSS and PISA performance.
Lord Winston recently said, “we have many great science teachers; we just need more of them.” I would add that we need to be better at supporting, developing and recognising those we already have.
Ensuring that science teachers have access to the right kind of high impact, subject specific professional development throughout their careers is a crucial part of this, just like it would be for law, engineering or medicine. Not only do they need to keep up to date with developments in science, but just as importantly, this is crucial to helping retain their enthusiasm about their subject; all part of inspiring the young people they work with.
This is exactly what we do through the National Science Learning Centre and the aptly named Project ENTHUSE; working with around 3000 science teachers and technicians each year from early years to post-16 levels. This is continued and built upon through the wider network of Science Learning Partnerships across England, and working with SSERC in Scotland, Techniquest in Wales and NILB in Northern Ireland. We have a significant and growing body of independent evidence that shows teachers who work with us impact positively on young people’s achievement in STEM subjects, inspire those young people to understand better the relevance of STEM subjects and the breadth of careers to which they can lead, and crucially are themselves more likely to remain in the teaching profession and more willing to take on new responsibilities.
- What are the biggest challenges for science teaching over next few years?
I think the biggest challenges are breaking down some of the stereotypes that persist and ensuring that all young people see science as something full of possibilities. Science is a creative discipline full of potential for making a real difference to people’s lives and society in general, as well as offering rewarding careers of many types.
A particular challenge for the UK is to encourage more girls to consider physics or engineering, either as studies post-16, into higher education or as part of a career. Only around 6% of Chartered Engineers are female, with the percentages of Incorporated Engineers or Engineering Technicians lower still. There are signs for optimism; the University Technical College movement could be a significant catalyst for change, social media such as Twitter is enabling young female engineers such as Roma Agrawal to become better known, and ‘Your Life’ campaign is helping spread the word to young people that STEM careers are for everyone.
The quality of careers advice needs to improve particularly round alternatives to university. We’ve relied on what family and friends knew about and it was as much about what you didn’t want to do as anything else. We need to recognise the influence subject teachers can have.
This is why – as part of Project ENTHUSE – we have introduced a Teacher Industrial Partnership Scheme whereby science or other STEM teachers get to spend two weeks with a STEM employer, getting to grips with the breadth of career opportunities so they can use this in their own teaching but also pass this on to colleagues in their own and other schools.
The National STEM Centre provides examples and ideas of where STEM can take young people in terms of careers. The information can be downloaded free of charge by registering at www.nationalstemcentre.org.uk/elibrary
- How can we ensure teachers, schools and colleges can continue to access the help they need?
As I mentioned previously, the UK is very fortunate in that it benefits from a STEM support infrastructure put in place in the early 21st Century in response to concerns around STEM skills, and sustained by governments along with other funders since. This includes the National Science Learning Centre and the wider National Science Learning Network providing subject-specific professional development for teachers and school technicians (originally nine regional Centres but now working through 48 school-led Science Learning Partnerships), the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics providing support for mathematics, the National STEM Centre through which teachers and others can access quality assured resources and materials, and the STEM Ambassadors programme, whereby over 25,000 people with STEM backgrounds volunteer their time and expertise to inspire young people free of charge.
Statistics show an on-going increase in the number of young people in England choosing STEM A levels or separate sciences at GCSE since these programmes were introduced.
The UK’s infrastructure is almost unique in that it provides a genuinely national framework, supporting those teaching and learning STEM from early years to post-16.
More than 99% of secondary schools and 38% of primary schools have at least one teacher registered with the National STEM Centre eLibrary, and the National Science Learning Network has worked with 99% of secondary schools since it was first formed in 2004.
Without sustained support, the gains that have been made may prove fragile. For example, while recent changes in English secondary school accountability – such as the Progress 8 measure – have much to be commended, there are real risks that some schools may misinterpret this to reduce the offer of separate sciences rather than increase it. Similarly, the newly established Science Learning Partnerships need to be confident of long-term support from government and others, in both funding and policy terms, to achieve its full potential.
The Royal Society highlighted this in their recent ‘Vision for Science and Mathematics Education’ recommending that subject-specific professional development should be made a core requirement for teachers and technicians, linked to career progression, and that, as a nation, we should invest over the long term in the infrastructures which provide high impact support.
As Denis Oliver Headteacher of Holmes Chapel Comprehensive School and Sixth Form College leading a SLP in Cheshire and Warrington says,
“Our mission and that of our extensive Teaching School Alliance is to prepare learners for a changing world. As part of the National Science Learning Network, we make a significant difference to young people’s experiences of science, not only in our own school but also much more widely across primary, secondary and post-16 levels. This is of national importance, and requires a continued long-term commitment if we are to give all young people the opportunities they deserve in an increasingly technological world.”
We continue to need your support and commitment to convince and reassure policy makers that their continued support is making a difference to our young people’s understanding and epxerience of STEM subjects. Please visit our Support your School page for ideas and ways to help ensure STEM cpd provision in your local area. If you are using social media please use #STEMcpd4schools to highlight your comments.
Filed under: Career Development, continuing professional development, Primary, Secondary and Post-16, Yvonne Baker | Tagged: science cpd, Science Learning Centres, STEM Careers, Yvonne Baker | Leave a comment »