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NAO STEM Report findings

A recent report by the National Audit Office (NAO) – Delivering STEM skills for the economy – has outlined a number of concerns with how STEM education funding and strategy is being conducted. Here are their major findings:

A large sum of funding – £67m – allocated towards recruiting 2,500 new teachers and improving the skill set of 15,000 non-specialists is having a positive impact. However, the return to teaching pilot only managed to entice around 400 teachers back to the role, out of a target of 810.

On the subject of female underrepresentation in STEM-based subjects, girls make up only a fifth of physics A-Level students, at a rate of 6,947 to 25,750. There’s a clear gender gap in participation, but girls’ results are still outperforming or at a similar level to boys. However, 61.8% of A-Level biology students are female, which may offer some hope for the future.

Students could be funneled into staying with schools for their further education, as, due to the way funding is allocated, promoting external sources such as apprenticeships isn’t in the school’s best interests. This issue is further compounded by the lack of quality careers advice and work experience available in many schools. Despite this, there were still over 112,000 STEM apprenticeship starts last year. Disappointingly, 8% of these apprenticeships were started by women, despite women accounting for over 50% of all apprenticeship starts.

The NAO posits that the above issues could be caused by a lack of focus across government departments. No universally accepted definition for STEM exists, and responsibility for STEM skills is spread among disparate departments with differing views.

Without a concentrated, concerted effort to positively impact STEM education, it’s difficult to make effective decisions, and many believe that the government is focusing on the wrong skills for a modern economy. This may be evidenced by the number of STEM graduates working in STEM job roles; of the 75,000 graduates in 2016, only around a quarter were in STEM jobs within half a year. The question is, are our students being trained in the right skills?