Report underscores highs and lows in STEM education

The UK has an acute shortage of STEM subject teachers and many young people are unaware of the direction they need to take to become an engineer, a new report has found.

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

These are two findings from the Engineering UK 2020 Educational Pathways into Engineering Report which highlights the trends in STEM education participation and attainment as at March 2020.

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The report found that young people are studying the GCSE and A level subjects that lead into engineering, while technical education reforms are enabling students to be more prepared for the world of work. It also found that young people’s knowledge of engineering across all stages of education needs improvement as only 42 per cent of boys and 31 per cent of girls know what they need to do next to become an engineer.

There is also an acute shortage of STEM subject teachers in secondary and further education, a situation highlighted by almost three quarters of FE college principals who rank engineering as the most difficult subject to recruit for.

The report also highlights the increased urgency of creating more opportunities for under-represented groups in engineering including those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds whose challenges are likely to be accentuated by school lockdown, as well as the need to address inequities for young people from BAME backgrounds.

There was a higher proportion of entrants to engineering and technology degrees from minority ethnic backgrounds (30 per cent) than among the student population as a whole (26 per cent), but 73 per cent achieved a first or upper second degree compared with 83 per cent of their white counterparts. These ethnicity attainment gaps were also observed across HE more widely.

In a statement, Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive, EngineeringUK said: “Educational Pathways into Engineering was written before the coronavirus pandemic took hold – it seems a world away. We decided to publish the report as planned to highlight the barriers that existed prior to the pandemic and that are now likely to mean it’s even more challenging and only more important to increase the number and diversity of young people choosing engineering.

“We need to work together to understand what causes under-representation of certain groups of young people progressing into engineering and how tackle it at every stage. We will need to: improve knowledge of engineering through the curriculum; support teachers and schools to deliver high quality STEM education and careers guidance; and ensure that our education system it fit to cultivate the skills needed for the UK, now and in the future.”

While the Educational Pathways Report provides a detailed look at trends over recent years, Engineering Insights provides a digital resource that draws statistics from the Office for National Statistics Business Impacts of Covid Survey (BICS) and the Index of Production.

“The pandemic has accentuated the need to publish information and insights quickly to reflect the evolving environment and help inform policy and action,” said Dr Leevers. “Engineering Insights, newly released on the EngineeringUK website, will do just that and will evolve over time to cover a range of wider topics as engineering in the UK re-builds.”