UK STEM education needs better co-ordination to have long-term impact

More than 600 UK organisations run initiatives that seek to engage schools with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), finds a new report published by the Royal Academy of Engineering commissioned by the Foundation. The report highlights that, despite more than 10 years of concerted effort, all this activity has not yet had the desired impact of increasing uptake of STEM subjects among young people. The report calls for future initiatives to be far more co-ordinated, with better evaluation of their long-term impact.

The report, UK STEM Education Landscape www.raeng.org.uk/publications/reports/uk-stem-education-landscape, sets out the complex interplay of issues affecting involvement and interest in engineering beyond age 16. These include: 

  • poor perceptions and attitudes towards engineering careers among young people and their influencers
  • the need for more teachers to engage in professional development that improves their understanding of the application of science and mathematics to real-life contexts
  • issues with the qualifications, assessment and accountability system in England, that focuses schools’ attention on a narrow set of academic qualifications
  • the need for improved careers guidance and employer engagement and better  articulation of the many pathways open to young people after school
  • issues with facilities and capacity across the whole education landscape. 

In the week that the government-initiated Careers and Enterprise Company hosted its 2016 conference entitled ‘Join the Dots’, the report underlines the need to co-ordinate the immense number of organisations wanting to engage with schools so that they create a coherent, high quality programme that provides young people with clear signposts for their further study. The report also finds that there appears to be very limited publicly available evaluation of the long term impact of STEM activities, and despite tens of thousands of hours of volunteer effort over a sustained period, there has so far been little visible long-term effect. 

“The Academy’s report highlights just how complex the STEM education landscape is and how difficult it is for many organisations to engage with an issue that is so important to our future prosperity. Inspiring the next generation, and  widening access to skills and education for STEM careers, sits at the heart of the Lloyds Register Foundation’s charitable purpose," said Professor Richard Clegg, the Managing Director of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation who commissioned the report. "I hope that, in having undertaken this study, we in the community now make a concerted effort to work together and coordinate our activities to maximise the impact of our engagement with young people in schools and colleges.” 

Dr Rhys Morgan, Director of engineering and education at the Academy and author of the report said: “This study highlights that there is no single silver bullet to solving the UK’s engineering skills challenge. To address the issue we need to take a systems approach and tackle the problem of public understanding of engineering in the 21st century, alongside the need to work with government to ensure the education system is aligned with the needs of the economy. We also need to make sure that, where we have many organisations supporting schools, their activities are having the long term impact that will ultimately encourage more young people to pursue careers in our sectors.”

More information

The UK STEM education landscape

The report was written by the Royal Academy of Engineering for the Lloyd’s Register Foundation as part of its strategic review into supporting STEM education in the UK.

The report can be found at www.raeng.org.uk/publications/reports/uk-stem-education-landscape

Royal Academy of Engineering

As the UK’s national academy for engineering, RAEng bringa together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering.

It provides analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

For more information please contact: Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering Tel. +44 20 7766 0636; email: jane.sutton@raeng.org.uk