Too many young people are making subject choices at the age of 15 that are “holding them back for the rest of their lives”, the education secretary said today.
Nicky Morgan said that 10 years ago young people studied humanities and the arts to keep their options open, but that such a move today was limiting their choices when compared with the sciences.
The education secretary was launching the Your Life campaign, which aims to increase the take-up of Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects by 50 per cent among young people, particularly girls.
She said that a decade ago students took maths and sciences if they knew they wanted to be a doctor, a pharmacist or an engineer.
“But if you wanted to do something different, or even if you didn’t know what you wanted to do, and let’s be honest 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,” she said.
“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.”
The MP for Loughborough said that just 19 per cent of girls who achieved an A* in GCSE physics in 2011 went on to study it at A-level. The figure for boys was just under 50 per cent.
Similarly in maths, fewer than two-thirds of girls with the top grade at GCSE went on to study the subject at A-level, despite studies showing that those with A-level maths will earn 10 per cent more over their lifetime.
This year's GCSE results showed a dramatic fall in the number of young people studying the single sciences, with the figures for biology slumping by nearly a fifth (18.6 per cent). Chemistry and physics both dropped by 16.8 per cent and 14.6 per cent respectively.
Ms Morgan said that more needed to be done to link schools with businesses and employers to give young people a better idea of what careers were available to them by choosing Stem subjects.
GCSE results: Entries in single sciences 'fall off cliff edge' - 21 August 2014
School Direct causing shortage of maths and science teachers, report claims - 30 October 2014