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UK STEM skills shortage ‘at risk of growing’ as low-income parents fear for children’s prospects

Parents call for more high-quality science and maths teachers as new study reveals anxiety over career prospects of children from communities with disadvantage.

More than half of parents (51%) from a lower socio-economic background believe their children are “unlikely” to have a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).

Seven hundred and fifty parents were polled in a YouGov survey, commissioned by education charity Teach First, with the growing skills gap in STEM subjects set to impede the UK’s economic growth and its ability to tackle urgent issues like climate change in the years ahead.

The research, released for the International Day of Education on 24 January, found that nearly nine in ten parents (88%) said their children’s schools needed more high-quality maths and science teachers.

Teach First has long campaigned for teachers in shortage subjects such as maths and science to be incentivised into the profession. Moreover, both the Conservatives and Labour have made maths education a key issue ahead of this year’s general election.

The charity believes recruiting and retaining high-quality STEM teachers for the classrooms facing the greatest challenges is vital to boost the UK’s future STEM workforce, as teachers play a key role in helping young people do well at school and achieve their career aspirations.

As well as talking to parents, Teach First surveyed more than 1,000 young people aged from 11 to 16 for their views on STEM careers, with only two-fifths (41.8%) of those from lower socio-economic backgrounds saying they would consider a STEM career.

Teach First CEO Russell Hobby said: “These findings paint a worrying picture for the UK’s STEM sector. A nationwide skills shortage in science and maths will have dire consequences for our economic growth and stop us tackling urgent problems such as climate change. 

“Inspiring young people to pursue a career in STEM starts with getting great teachers where they are most needed: schools serving low-income communities. Last year saw a threefold increase in Teach First’s recruitment of physics teachers, but our job is not done yet.”

He added: “To tackle this problem head-on, we're calling for an increase in pay for trainee teachers in shortage subjects such as maths and science, particularly in low-income areas. Any growth plan for our country must put investment in teachers and young people at its heart."

James Hulse, Deputy Headteacher and Teach First Ambassador science teacher at Heworth Grange School in Gateshead, said: “Science and maths are vital in preparing the next generation for all elements of life, whether that’s developing critical thinking, financial literacy or preparing them for STEM careers. It is vital we provide a brilliant foundation for so many bright futures.

“At Heworth Grange School, we link our STEM subject curricula to manufacturing, electronics, and cyber-tech jobs in the North East so pupils can directly see and experience where the subjects could take them within their local community.”

Media contacts: for more information and interviews, please contact Jacob Archbold or Ollie Wilson, Media and Campaigns at Teach First, or or 020 3862 8085.

Editors' notes:

1. About Teach First

Teach First is an education charity that is committed to giving children facing the biggest barriers the chance to fulfil their potential. It backs the schools with the toughest challenges. The charity finds and trains teachers, develops their leadership teams and plugs them into networks of diverse expertise and opportunities to create real change.

Since launching in 2003, Teach First has placed more than 16,000 teachers and leaders, has more than 100 headteachers in its training programme alumni and has supported over two million pupils.

2. Full survey results from the YouGov poll commissioned by Teach First, case studies and interviewees are available on request.

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