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Reduced number of pupils opting for engineering gateway subjects

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The publication of yesterday’s A level results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which shows a reduction in the number of students studying the crucial engineering gateway subjects (maths, physics and design and technology), highlights the need to think again about how the UK’s education system is addressing the engineering skills shortage, according to the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

Figures released by the Joint Council for Qualifications show a fall in the number of A level students achieving maths (92 163 this year compared to 92 711 in 2015), physics (35 344 this year compared to 36 287 in 2015) and design and technology (12 477 this year, down from 13 240 in 2015).

The IET is concerned that the continued failure to persuade more pupils to study these subjects at A level, which are so crucial for engineering, points to a need for more schools to teach the International Baccalaureate (IB). The IB follows a broader range of study, including maths and a science subject, therefore reducing the risk of pupils inadvertently making subject choices at 16 that can potentially limit their career options later on.

Prof Will Stewart, IET Vice President, said: “It’s great to see so many young people being rewarded for their hard work with good results today – and that many of them will go on to gain the university places they want.

“But sadly this year’s results show no increases in students studying subjects such as maths, physics and design and technology – which are the core subjects for an engineering degree and career. If we don’t reverse this trend thousands of young people are effectively closing the door on an exciting, creative career as engineers.

“We are also at risk of stifling economic growth if we do not produce the future engineers we so critically need.

”One way of doing this would be if more schools were to offer the International Baccalaureate, which incorporates six subjects including maths and a science, rather than the three subjects students typically opt for at A level. This would mean that fewer young people would be forced to make choices at 16 that can limit their career options later on.

“The International Baccalaureate provides a broader education for 16 to 18 year olds than A levels, while still majoring on those areas pertinent to the students’ interests and future needs. This gives young people longer to discover their real strengths and interests before making life affecting choices. While the International Baccalaureate is offered widely within the private sector, it is currently only available at a handful of state schools in the UK.

“There continues to be huge demand for engineers so it is important that young people continue their studies into higher education. The country needs more people studying science and engineering subjects at university and taking up apprenticeships.”

Adapted from press release by Rosalie Starling

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