GCSE science opportunities a postcode lottery, say engineers
20 August 2012
The science GCSE opportunities taken up by young people vary widely across England's schools - with the potential consequence that some able young people will be denied a future in science, engineering or technology if they choose the wrong combinations of subjects says E4E, the Education for Engineering alliance, in a report published today.
E4E's report, Opportunity or ability? Key Stage 4 science and mathematics participation and attainment in England 2010, assesses the entry and attainment of pupils in science and mathematics at GCSE and equivalent qualifications. Using data from 2010, the latest year for which figures were available to the study, it shows that only half of pupils achieved the vitally important combination of A*-C grades in mathematics GCSE plus two or more science GCSEs (or their vocational equivalent), which are a requirement for pupils wanting to pursue studies or careers in a huge range of disciplines.
Report author Dr Rhys Morgan (pictured), Head of Secretariat to E4E, says: "For too many young people the pathway to a rewarding career in science and engineering is being closed off too early. The minimum qualifications for progression to science, engineering and technology roles would usually be A*-C grades in two science GCSEs (or equivalent) and A*-C in mathematics. But we have found that only half of young people achieve this and strong evidence to suggest that of those that don't, many are enrolling on less than the double science they will need to keep their careers options open."
The national figures obscure significant variations across the country and even local authorities within the same region can vary widely: for example Trafford in Greater Manchester has the highest participation and attainment in the country, with 67% of its pupils achieving A*-C in at least two science subjects and A*-C in mathematics GCSE yet in nearby Blackpool the figure is just 31%.
Dr Morgan says: "Teachers and pupils work hard to achieve in their exams, but some pupils are enrolling on options that will limit them in the future. We need more transparency in government data - it should be easier for schools and policy makers to compare participation and attainment in specific subjects and in combinations of subjects locally, regionally and against national statistics. Then they can take action if they find they are out of step with other schools."
A low level of entry and attainment of pupils in science and mathematics is of particular concern for regions that hope to attract investment from science and engineering companies. Industry is less likely to invest in constituencies where there is no potential workforce skilled in science, engineering and technology. Data from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills suggests that around 1.2 million workers might be needed with these skills in the next decade.
Dick Olver, chairman of BAE Systems and chairman of E4E, says: "Companies are already struggling to find employees in the UK with knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The first step to plugging the skills gap is to ensure that sufficient numbers of pupils are getting good qualifications in science and mathematics at the age of 16."
E4E's report also calls on the government to create incentives to increase the number of pupils being entered for triple science GCSEs while removing potential barriers to greater participation. The E4E study shows that small schools tend to have fewer participants in triple science. Government should particularly monitor science provision as the number of Academies and Free schools increases and take appropriate action if the availability of triple science begins to decrease as a consequence of the introduction of these new, smaller, schools.
Both the summary and full versions of Opportunity or ability? Analysis of Key Stage 4 science and mathematics attainment in England - 2010 are available here.
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