Delivering STEM skills for the economy Contents

2Delivering the right STEM learning and skills

Encouraging women into STEM learning and work

17.Girls and women are under-represented in most STEM subject areas at every stage of the STEM skills pipeline. For example, while girls made up 61.8% of A level entries in biology in 2016/17, they represented just 9.4% of entries in computing, 21.2% in physics and 39% in mathematics. In addition, only 8% of STEM apprenticeships starts are undertaken by girls and women, despite making up over 50% of apprenticeships starts overall.28

18.When this Committee examined the apprenticeships programme in late 2016, it recommended that the Department for Education (DfE) should set up performance measures for the programme beyond the overall target of achieving 3 million new apprenticeship starts by 2020, including whether the programme is delivering improved access to under-represented groups across all occupations.29 There are now performance measures relating to black and minority ethnic apprentices and those with learning disabilities. We were concerned that DfE had decided not to set a numerical target relating to female apprentices, because it was content with the fact that women make up over 50% of apprenticeship starts overall, but had apparently not probed beyond that headline figure to consider what kinds of apprenticeships women were typically undertaking.30

19.DfE agreed that the gender imbalance is a serious problem, although it suggested that the level of gender differentiation is lower in England than in the OECD as a whole.31 DfE explained that it is working to increase the number of women apprentices, sector by sector and employer by employer. It also explained that it has achieved an 18% increase in the number of women doing science and mathematics A level over the last seven years.32

Carers Advice

20.DfE’s December 2017 careers strategy stated that many children believe STEM subjects are too challenging or not suitable for them. If these children do not study STEM subjects, they are unlikely to move on to a career that requires STEM skills. It is concerning that the careers strategy acknowledges a significant gap in the quality of careers advice in schools. DfE told us that it plans to improve the careers infrastructure, in particular by ensuring that a member of the senior management team in every school has specific responsibility for careers advice. Funding is also required for careers hubs in parts of the country that suffer from an absence of good quality support. With particular regard to STEM subjects, DfE has asked the Careers & Enterprise Company to focus on STEM when producing its toolkits on “what works”.33

21.Ofsted inspectors may examine the careers guidance offered by secondary schools, as evidence to support a key judgement on pupils’ personal development, behaviour and welfare.34 We asked DfE if the Ofsted inspection regime might be changed, so that schools receive a more explicit judgment on the quality of careers advice that they provide. DfE told us there are no immediate plans to amend Ofsted’s inspection framework, which is next due for formal renewal in 2019.35

New types of learning institution

22.Schools have a clear financial incentive to retain their existing students rather than allowing them to move to learning institutions that provide vocational skills, because funding follows the student. This funding model does not serve DfE well when it attempts to establish new types of learning institution.36 One of DfE’s current proposals is for institutes of technology, which will be regional bodies set up through partnerships between local employers and education providers.37 DfE explained that these institutes are intended to address a problem in the market, which is an absence of high-quality technical skills being taught post-16. As such, the institutes should provide an alternative offer from that delivered by school sixth forms.38

23.The involvement of employers from the outset should help the institutes of technology to align provision with local skills needs.39 However, they are still likely to face a major challenge to persuade pupils to leave the school environment, not least because many parents and young people regard academic learning as superior to the acquisition of vocational skills.40

24.DfE risks wasting effort and money if it does not learn lessons from past initiatives, such as university technical colleges (UTCs). They have been in existence from 2010 onwards, but many have struggled to attract enough students to be financially viable, and some have already closed. DfE explained that UTCs have faced a particular challenge in designing a curriculum for 14- to 18-year-olds, because they are looking to take on students who are halfway through their secondary education.41

Improving the quality of skills programmes

25.The Richard review of apprenticeships in 2012 identified that many existing apprenticeship frameworks did not have a sufficient focus on quality, and that employers were not sufficiently involved in influencing the off-the-job learning that their apprentices undertook.42 In response, DfE has been introducing new apprenticeship standards, which are designed by employers and include a stipulation that apprentices should spend 20% of their time doing off-the-job training. There are currently over 280 new standards in place, of which 141 cover STEM-related job roles. We asked DfE whether the pace of change was sufficiently fast to provide the high-quality apprenticeships that are needed. DfE conceded that the standards are not being introduced as quickly as it had hoped, but explained that it is crucial for the employers involved in designing each standard to take the time to ensure it meets their needs.43

26.A report from the Reform think-tank found that almost 40% of the ‘apprenticeship standards’ approved by government since 2012 did not reach the historical or international definition of an apprenticeship.44 There is an increasing number of reports highlighting apprenticeships in job roles such as serving food and working in a hotel which, although valuable in themselves, do not necessarily seem appropriate to be framed as an apprenticeship.45

27.DfE explained that most of the apprenticeships referred to in the Reform report would have been the old-style frameworks, rather than the new standards which represent a much higher quality product.46 DfE accepted that it is important to ensure that every apprentice is doing a “real” apprenticeship, with the appropriate amount of good quality off-the-job learning. This learning can be relevant to the tasks that the apprentice is doing today, but also to future tasks.47

28.DfE acknowledged that the old-style apprenticeship frameworks made it possible to offer low quality programmes of learning, some of which should not constitute an apprenticeship. DfE’s ongoing challenge is to ensure that this is not the case with the new apprenticeship standards, and Ofsted will continue to play its traditional role of assessing the quality of training being delivered. But it is concerning that frameworks will continue to be offered for some time, until the full set of new apprenticeship standards has been introduced.48

28 C&AG’s Report, para 14

29 Committee of Public Accounts, The apprenticeships programme, Twenty–eighth Report of Session 2016–17, November 2016

30 Qq 53, 55, 57, 66; Department for Education, Apprenticeship Reform Programme: Benefits Realisation, March 2017 (para 56)

31 Q 61

32 Qq 57, 60, 99

33 Qq 99–100

34 Ofsted, School inspection handbook, April 2018, pages 56–57, 70–72

35 Q 103

36 Q 108

37 C&AG’s Report, para 4.5

38 Q 115

39 C&AG’s Report, para 4.5

40 Qq 111

41 Qq 107–109

42 Q 49

43 Qq 46–47

45 Qq 48, 50

46 Q 48

47 Q 51

48 Qq 47, 51

Published: 22 June 2018