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STEM boost at GCSE level

Rise in numbers of students taking Computing, Engineering and ICT prompts hopes over UK skills gap

Posted by Stephanie Broad | August 31, 2016 | Technology

As students across the country received their GCSE results, Ofqual data has shown an increase in entries for Computing and Engineering – reflecting the growing interest in STEM subjects. 

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “A boost in the number of those taking computing is to be welcomed, particularly in the light of the challenges in recruiting teachers for this subject, and the government must do more to support this. Technical disciplines require technical skills, and the government needs to invest in these to ensure schools can access good teachers.”

Ofqual's GCSE data

Ashok Vaswani, Chief Executive of Barclays UK, called on policy makers to keep the momentum in digital skills training. 

He said: “The Barclays Digital Development Index recently found that while the UK scores well for the quality of its digital skills curriculum and digital technologies in compulsory education, we are lagging at the bottom of the list – above only Brazil and Sweden – when it comes to the number of computing students in higher education. This has an impact on individuals’ abilities to continue building their skills after leaving school and also limits the good work being done in compulsory education. 

“It is vital that we build on the efforts made at a secondary education level to encourage the business leaders of tomorrow to continue to develop their digital skills into higher education and their working lives.”  

Richard Robinson, AECOM’s Chief Executive of Civil Infrastructure in Europe, Middle East, India and Africa, said the rise was not enough for the UK to be globally competitive.

He said: “There is huge demand for STEM skills in industry and a big shortfall in qualified candidates. Insufficient numbers of STEM students at GCSE level will perpetuate today’s shortfall in apprentices and graduates in technical subjects, such as engineering.  

“The challenge is not insurmountable. Look at where Team GB stood at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta: in 36th place with just one gold medal. The UK needs to do for STEM education what it did for sport, and accelerate to Rio 2016 levels of achievement.     

“STEM careers are vital to the UK economy, so it is important to create a healthy pipeline of skills and talent through today’s education system. Post-GCSE, girls turn away from STEM subjects at a much higher rate than boys, so this gender imbalance also needs to be addressed. The engineering industry is making great strides in diversity but the problem must be tackled at the source. 

Over 100,000 new people a year are needed to enter digital specialist roles in the UK, and there is an increasing need for digital skills in jobs in every sector of the economy. 

However, the number of students studying Computing A-levels remains low, despite a 16% increase in the last year, and only 10% of these students are female.

Hema Marshall, Head of country digitisation and skills at Cisco, said: “The number of young people choosing to study IT-related A-levels remains a big concern. With demand for tech specialists growing, it’s vital that we equip a new generation with the digital skills the UK needs to remain globally competitive. We hope that, through the TechFuture Badge Academy, we can help encourage a greater number of young people to explore tech skills and careers.”

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