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CBI wants automatic opt-in to triple science GCSE

16 August 2011

As over a million young people await their A level and GCSE results, the CBI has called for all young people who achieve good grades in science at age 14 to be automatically enrolled onto triple science GCSE. As the economy gears up for growth, businesses will require employees with science degrees. But over 40% of companies say they are having difficulty recruiting people with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills.

Katja Hall, CBI chief policy director
Katja Hall, CBI chief policy director

Katja Hall (pictured), CBI chief policy director, said the UK’s economic recovery will rely on businesses being able to access the talent they need to deliver sustainable growth. “As the economy rebalances, we will need more highly-skilled employees, particularly for young people with STEM degrees, but businesses are struggling to recruit good graduates from the UK," she says.

“At the same time that the English Baccalaureate has effectively made GCSE history and geography compulsory, the Government has neglected the sciences. It must pay more attention to getting students to study physics, chemistry and biology as separate GCSEs.

“At the moment only 18% of young people study physics and chemistry as separate GCSEs compared with 26% who study religious studies and 19% who study physical education.”

A recent report by the Education Select Committee said that the E-Bac has not increased the take-up of triple science. The voluntary approach is not working. Despite the fact that 46% of young people achieved a high marks at age 14 in 2009 (reaching level six), only 20% of pupils actually took GCSEs in all three sciences in 2009-10.

The CBI believes that increasing the number of young people studying triple science as separate GCSEs is important because it gives them the necessary preparation and confidence to go on to study science at A Level and subsequently at university. For many students double science leaves them lacking the confidence to attempt A levels in physics and chemistry.

Studying triple science at GCSE means students wouldn’t have three sciences squashed into the time it takes to study two sciences and would fill the real gaps in their knowledge and understanding.

According to the Department for Education, three quarters of triple science pupils achieving the highest grades progress to A Level science subjects, while only 59% of double science pupils achieving the highest grades progress to A Level science subjects. Most of the pupils that go on to study physics and chemistry at A Level are at grammar and private schools.

Employers are willing to pay a premium for staff with STEM skills, with CBI surveys showing 40% of companies in science and IT and 33% in construction reporting that STEM graduates earn more than other graduates.

Among the measures E-Bac should also include a technical or creative option to increase the skills relevant to businesses, subjects such as: design and technology, computer studies, music, art and design, or drama, the CBI said.

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