The Times, 11/11/14, too many teenagers choose to study arts and humanities subjects at A level in a mistaken belief that such subjects are the best way to keep their career options open, the education secretary said yesterday.
However, Nicky Morgan urged young people without a clear idea of their career to study mathematics or the sciences instead as the best way to position themselves for the way the economy was changing.
Speaking at the launch of Your Life, a business-led initiative to encourage youngsters to consider studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics STEM subjects – beyond the age of 16, Ms Morgan said this advice applied particularly to teenage girls, who are far less likely to study maths and physics at A level.
“Even a decade ago, young people were told that maths and the sciences were simply the subjects you took if you wanted to go into a mathematical or scientific career, if you wanted to be a doctor, or a pharmacist, or an engineer,” Ms Morgan said.
“But if you wanted to do something different, or even if you didn’t know what you wanted to do, and it takes a pretty confident 16-year-old to have their whole life mapped out ahead of them — then the arts and humanities were what you chose because they were useful for all kinds of jobs. Of course, now we know that couldn’t be further from the truth, that the subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock doors to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and maths.”
The Your Life campaign aims to increase participation in mathematics and physics A-levels by 50 per cent by 2017. Three years ago, fewer than two thirds of girls who were awarded an A* in GCSE mathematics went on to study it at A level and only 19 per cent of girls who achieved an A* in GCSE physics took the subject at A level.
Ms Morgan said that there had been improvements, with 2,000 more girls studying A-level maths and 1,000 more girls studying physics at A level, but she called for a higher take-up.
Skills gained from studying mathematics or the sciences were useful in nearly any job, from creative industries, architecture, designing apps, gaming and the cosmetics industry, Ms Morgan said.
Even the law sector, from which she came, was crying out for more science graduates to work in the expanding area of patent law.
Ms Morgan said: “Maths, as we all know, is the subject that employers value most, helping young people develop skills vital to almost any career. And you don’t just have to take my word for it, studies show that pupils who study maths to A level will earn 10 per cent more over their lifetime.”
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