Govt rejects £500 maths A-level incentive

The government has rejected calls from education and industry leaders to pay students to take maths and science A-levels.

A report from the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) proposed the £300-£500 incentive as a way to increase the number of people studying so-called STEM subjects at further education.

The CIHE warns that the number of pupils studying A-level subjects leading into science, technology, engineering and maths related careers has fallen “significantly” since 2002, although notes that there has been an increase in STEM undergraduates and postgraduates.

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) maintains that student numbers are increasing, thanks in part to existing government initiatives to increase participation in science and engineering.

Other criticisms made by the report include “patchy” careers guidance deterring pupils from pursuing STEM related careers. Pupils should be reminded that these often lead to higher than average salaries, the report recommends.

It also raised concerns that pupils are asked to choose subjects too early in their school career and calls on the DfES to report to parliament on ways to broaden the curriculum. Teaching needs to be made more “exciting, real and relevant” and increased links with business and industry would also increase participation, the CIHE recommends.

The government is already changing the curriculum, a DfES spokesperson replied. Reforms include a new entitlement for pupils to study separate science subjects at GCSE and a pilot of 250 science clubs for 11 to 14-year-olds.

“We will also double the number of science ambassadors to 18,000 by 2008 – people with industry experience in science and engineering – to work with teachers in schools to engage and enthuse young scientists,” they added.

The DfES maintains that more students are studying science, maths and further maths, leading to a 120,000 increases in the number of undergraduates taking science related degrees since 1997-98.

“Thanks to generous bursaries there has already been a 30 per cent increase in the number of new science teachers since 1997 and the number of physics teacher trainees has doubled in the last few years,” a spokesperson added.

The government has pledged to spend a further £30 million over the next two years to recruit 3,000 extra science teachers and improve interest in the sciences.