Too many young people are still limiting their career options by not taking exams in subjects like maths and the sciences, the Education Secretary has said.
Nicky Morgan's comments came at the launch of the new independent Your Life campaign, which is hoping to increase the numbers of students taking maths and physics at A-level by 50 per cent over the next three years.
The campaign, which was unveiled at Google Town Hall today, will raise awareness of the career opportunities presented by studying science and maths, promote positive role models in industry and create mentoring programmes as well as work placement opportunities with leading businesses.
“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,” said Morgan.
“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.
“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 skills someone gains from studying these types of subjects are useful in almost any job, Morgan argued – including the creative and beauty industries and even the legal sector.
But worryingly, figures show that in 2011 less than a fifth (19 per cent) of girls who scored an A* in GCSE physics went on to study the subject at A-level, while for boys the figure was under half. And less than two-thirds of girls who achieved the top grade in GCSE maths took the subject at A-level.
"These figures show us that too many young people are making choices age 15 which will hold them back for the rest of their lives," Morgan said.
She insisted that the government has made "significant" progress, with around 1,000 more girls taking physics each year along with 2,000 more taking maths compared to 2010. Maths is also now the most popular A-level subject, and there has been an increase in entries for the sciences.
But Morgan said that more needs to be done, and the new Your Life campaign will help to "dispel the myths" around STEM subjects.
"They're not stuffy, boring subjects for people who don't get outdoors much, far from it," she said. "They are key, cutting-edge, fast-paced areas of work, and they're behind some of the most exciting new developments in this country and around the world.
"Nor are they subjects that you can only succeed in if you went to the right school, or had the right connections. In fact, quite the opposite. Success in the sciences is one of the biggest drivers of social mobility, enabling young people from a range of backgrounds to access highly paid careers and opportunities."
Morgan also said that there needs to be action to boost the number of young women studying maths and science.
"If we want to make the most of half of our workforce, if we want to eliminate the gender pay gap and we want that same half of the workforce to succeed in jobs that boost our economy, we must make sure that teenage girls don't feel, and certainly are not told, that certain subjects are the preserve of men," she said.