The UK government has been working to raise the profile of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects within education. STEM subject specialism is considered vital for the UK to remain competitive with other countries, such as China, which is a current leader in the STEM industries. The concern about economic advancement within STEM in the UK has led to a call for highly skilled teachers; both within the UK and from other countries.
The government believes that in order for the UK to remain competitive in the areas of research, technology and engineering, the future generation needs to develop high levels of skill and expertise in the STEM subjects. The UK currently has a yearly shortfall of 40,000 STEM graduates and around 95% of graduate employers cite problems in recruiting employees with the necessary skills. Therefore the government believes we need to get young people active in STEM, in order to be able to overcome these skill shortages.
Young people who are able to excel in STEM subjects have been shown to significantly increase their future prospects, including having access to diverse and rewarding career opportunities. These young people are also able to actively participate in technological and scientific advancements. A love of STEM subjects can also allow young people to travel the world to access job opportunities. It has been shown that young people who engage with STEM subjects are better able to develop their problem-solving, technical and creative skills, and make for better informed and more responsible individuals.
In order for young people to engage with STEM subjects there is a need for quality careers guidance. This is especially important when young people are making decisions about subject choice for Key Stage 4. Many young people decline to choose STEM subjects due to a lack of information and misleading perceptions. This is especially true for females, who are still under-represented within the STEM subjects and industry. Schools are currently working to form links with industry; including arranging employer talks and visits and supporting young people’s engagement, progression and awareness of STEM careers. England now has a network of 50 STEM partnerships, which provide science-based development opportunities for schools.
The benefits of being a teacher of STEM subjects include being able to create an exciting and hands-on classroom environment for young people. This allows students to learn through active participation, which helps facilitate enthusiasm for these subjects. However, in order for students to engage with STEM subjects, teachers need to demonstrate up-to-date knowledge and a real passion for these subjects. As a result, there has been recognition within the teaching industry that teachers in the STEM subjects must be given the time and resources to continue their professional development.
The UK education system has increased engagement with the STEM industry and related networks, which has been assisting schools to recruit and retain high quality STEM teachers. However, there is still a demand for teachers which exceeds current levels of employment in this area. The government announced last year that £67 million will be invested over five years to attract maths and physics teachers to the UK. There has also been a financial commitment to attract skilled professionals in sectors such as engineering to retrain as teachers. Teachers entering the profession with expertise in the STEM subjects will also have access to ongoing financial incentives and fast-track training. Many teachers will also continue to contribute to industry through research, which further develops knowledge that can be applied in the classroom environment.
The UK government has also realised that educational engagement with STEM subjects can lead to improved teaching standards. Schools that specialise within STEM often receive positive recognition, including employer and industry endorsement. Allowing teachers to continue to have access to training and development also facilitates better subject knowledge and confidence, which then leads to better results for young people. A renewed focus on sustainable development within the STEM subjects, with clear pathways from primary school education to post-16 education, has also contributed to an increase in STEM uptake in schools.
There has been an acknowledgement that there are currently inequalities within the UK education system with regards to access to STEM subjects, especially for young people from lower socio-economic and minority backgrounds. Recent government statistics show that 62% of students eligible for free school meals fail to achieve GCSE at grade A* to C in science and 58% fail to achieve this in mathematics. Therefore there is now a growing demand for teachers who have enthusiasm for these subjects, but who also demonstrate an ability to help these young people to meet their true potential. This includes being able to enable young people to overcome barriers to STEM engagement; including a paucity of resources. Only when there is equality of access will STEM develop and grow in the UK.