New Report Reveals Why Engagement In Maths And Science Declines During Secondary School

  • “Tough Choices” report from Your Life and A.T. Kearney presents roadmap to address UK’s STEM skill deficit
  • Report reveals engagement with maths and science declines by 74 per cent among girls and 56 per cent among boys during secondary school
  • Just one in 11 young people take maths and physics at A Level
  • Absence of good quality information and advice on job prospects for maths and science subjects skews young people’s choices
  • Students feel pressured to make subject choices based on where they can achieve higher grades at A Level, not necessarily the subjects they need in the workplace
  • If this continues, the current STEM worker shortfall of 40,000 each year will continue, causing the UK to fall further behind other nations
  • Your Life, the CBI and leading UK corporations step up efforts to forge better curriculum and careers links in response to findings

A significant knowledge gap on the vital and widespread application of maths and science skills risks damaging the UK’s future according to a new report developed by A. T. Kearney in partnership with the Your Life campaign [1].

Ford endorses the findings in the “Tough Choices” report, which reveals that the low levels of awareness  amongst educators and parents about job prospects for maths and science subjects unintentionally results in young people not understanding the skills needed for success in the workplace.  [2]

The report reveals that currently 45 per cent of young people claim to choose A Levels based on future career aspirations but just 43 per cent say that they have had any formal careers guidance.  [3]

Tough Choices also found that this lack of informed advice leads to only a quarter of A Level students taking up two or more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and only one in eleven studying maths and physics. [4]

The report demonstrates how society is influencing young people’s decisions at every touch point: schools accountability is geared to reward grades over subject choice, meaning that teachers often recommend “harder” maths and science subjects only to the “ultra bright”. This is sometimes reinforced by parents, leading to a bias against STEM subjects for children who perceive them as “too hard”. [5]

Young people also cited that maths and science subjects seem too theoretical making it even harder for them to understand how the skills relate to their career prospects – further deterring them from studying the subjects at A Level. [6]

The report found that the current education approach to double and triple science choices at GCSE also has a big impact on whether students continue with the subject at A Level. Students who take double science are two to three times less likely than triple science students to continue to go on and study the subjects. This is exacerbated by the fact that 60 per cent of students are not empowered to make this choice themselves with schools making the decision on their behalf. [7]

Tough Choices reveals that the combination of all of these factors means levels of engagement with vital STEM skills decline with every year of secondary education. For girls, interest in maths and science declines by 74 per cent during their secondary school years, with boys’ engagement in these subjects declining by 56 per cent over the same period. [8]

The report advises that without significant change, the current STEM worker shortfall of 40,000 each year will continue, causing the UK economy to fall further behind other nations. [9]

As a result of the report, eight leading corporations supporting the Your Life campaign have pledged to step up their current commitment to help tackle these problems.  The companies include A.T. Kearney, BAE Systems, Carillion, Ford, Johnson & Johnson, Nestlé, Rio Tinto and Shell.  They aim to increase engagement between business and schools to promote STEM education and help to safeguard the UK’s economic growth.

The Your Life campaign is calling for more businesses and institutions to join in improving the connection between the curriculum and careers advice. Businesses must play a more active role in bringing the workplace to the classroom to help educators bring maths and physics subjects to life for students.

Barb Samardzich, Ford of Europe’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “We are pleased to endorse this new research from the Your Life campaign and back the call for more businesses and institutions to join us in improving the connection between the curriculum and careers advice.”

Edwina Dunn, entrepreneur and Chair of the Your Life Campaign, said: “Many students are unintentionally left without any knowledge of the skills and careers which follow from learning maths and physics. We must act now to reverse a multi-generational decline in STEM uptake in schools and empower young people to gain the skills to do incredible things and make a real difference to their own future and the future of the nation.

“It is our goal to help create an environment where maths and physics are the highlight of the school day for any student, through practical and innovative techniques that inspire and build confident, skilled young people.”

Paul Drecshler, CBI President, said: “If the UK economy is to stay strong in the years ahead, then we need young people to get the right skills to build successful careers. A real grounding in science and maths is becoming increasingly important in many high-growth sectors and leads to even more opportunities for young people in the future.

“Education is a shared passion for government, business, schools and parents – who all want the best for young people – so we hope that the insights in this report will be helpful. As the business community we have a role to play – offering support to teachers and head teachers, inspiring young people and giving up-to-date insights into the world of work.”

Low skills are biggest threat to UK competitiveness STEM engagement declines dramatically for older students

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