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Was enough Stem funding announced in the autumn statement?

The IT industry is facing a growing skills gap, so what does it think about the announcement of the Department for Education’s budget during the 2015 spending review and autumn statement?

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Part of the 2015 spending review and autumn statement highlighted that funding would be injected into hiring and training teachers in subjects based around science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem).

Chancellor George Osborne announced Stem-based subjects would receive part of a £1.3bn budget to recruit more teachers.

The autumn statement revealed this investment will take place over the next five years to encourage more people to be teachers, “particularly into science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects”, it noted.

Alongside the autumn statement announcement, MP Nicky Morgan said in a Department of Education (DfE) blog post: “The government will support 800 more national leaders of education to continue driving up performance in schools, while increasing funding for teacher training and recruitment to deliver the English Baccalaureate and more specialist Stem teaching.”

Although this is a small announcement, it’s still more of a mention than most other educational programmes received.

But is it enough to prove that the government is taking the need for coders now and in the future seriously? 

Supporting the curriculum shift 

In September 2014, the new curriculum for computer science was introduced, ensuring computational thinking and computing concepts were taught to children between the ages of five and 16.  

But teachers have been left behind, with one-third of schools admitting they had not invested any money in ensuring teachers were trained to deliver the new curriculum.

According to TechUK head of policy Charlotte Holloway, although the investment announced in the autumn statement is a positive place to start, more detail is needed about exactly what proportion of the £1.3bn funding for attracting new teachers will go into Stem.

“Many will be waiting for further detail on whether this investment will include the new computing curriculum, where the tech industry has been vocal in the need for more funding to boost the quality and quantity of teachers in this area,” she said. 

“Given the government has protected science spending in real terms, it is vital we continue to develop the future domestic pipeline of talent that will unleash the potential that comes from national excellence in Stem.” 

Unfortunately the DfE was unable to share the breakdown for this funding.

Curriculum not the be-all and end-all

TechUK recently called upon the technology industry and government to collaborate to encourage more people to take up Stem-based careers. 

Ritu Mahandru, vice-president of application delivery at CA Technologies and advocate of Stem-based learning, echoed that the responsibility of encouraging children to take up Stem careers should not be left solely to teachers. 

“The importance of ensuring existing teachers get appropriate training and support – providing schools with the equipment necessary to teach scientific subjects, as well as making sure technology and scientific learning form part of a wider approach to teaching, rather than just being subjects in their own right – needs not to be forgotten,” she said. 

“Part of this will involve government working closer with large businesses to ensure they are providing the right initiatives, not just to pupils but also to teachers.” 

Mahandru claimed that although more students are choosing to take computing at GCSE level, ensuring the teachers delivering the curriculum have the right training is just as important as increasing the number of students taking these subjects. 

“Training and adequate support for teachers who provide Stem education is equally, if not more important,” she said. 

“In line with that, I was pleased to hear in this year’s autumn statement that the government will invest in Stem teaching. However, more thought needs to be put into the way we think about and approach that subject. Providing training for new teachers is just one way of tackling the issues around Stem.”

The widening skills gap

The UK is suffering from a growing skills gap, and it will need 2.3 million digital workers by 2020 to fulfil its promise of becoming a truly digital economy. 

The new computing curriculum is one way the government aims to tackle this issue, but it will take time for potential skilled workers to filter through, and many agree this lack of technology talent is a very British issue. 

“For anyone who follows the skills gap debate in Europe, it’s clear that too few graduates are entering the field. While in Asia, Stem students account for up to 20% of the student population, European Stem students make up just 2%,” Mahandru explained.

“In very recent years, things have been changing. In August 2015, it was announced that the number of students taking computing at GCSE has more than doubled from 17,000 last year to 35,000 this year. While this is great news, encouraging young people to study Stem subjects is only half the battle.”

Mentioning Stem indicates progress

Although the mention of Stem in the autumn statement was small, the industry still believes this indicated progress.

The IT industry is vitally important to the UK economy, and it was recently found that the economy in the UK could gain up to £14bn by investing in digital skills alone.

"It's great that the government has nodded towards Stem in the autumn statement. As an industry it contributes so much to our GDP [gross domestic product] – the success of the industry hinges on ensuring that the workforce has the right skills and companies have the right supply of talent,” said Anne-Marie Imafidon, enterprise collaboration strategist at Deutsche Bank and head stemette at volunteer organisation Stemettes.

But she highlighted some of the wider issues in the industry, such as the lack of diversity or the number of talented groups still struggling, should have been addressed too.

“In the interests of inclusivity, we would have welcomed some more spending towards under-represented groups, for example women and initiatives promoting participation in Stem – the return on investment would be huge,” Imafidon said.

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