Professor Sir John Holman, Director, National STEM Programme
Sir John Holman chaired the 2010 NCETM Annual Conference at the Royal Society on 17 June 2010.
In his opening speech, he stated that a recent CBI survey of employers had found that 59% are having difficulty in recruiting STEM-skilled staff. When asked why they valued STEM-skilled employees, they answered that it is because of the generic skills that they brought.
Sir John said that this was notable at a time of rising unemployment and in view of the fact that those with an A-level in mathematics earn on average 10% more than others. There was cause for optimism: “The recovery of the popularity and growth in the A-level take-up is really quite stunning – and this is sustained growth.”
He paid tribute to the part that the National Centre and others had played in the improvement: “This has a lot to do with the work people here have been doing in our community, especially the Further Mathematics Support Programme (FMSP) and the NCETM. It is a real success story and we should be celebrating it.”
Sir John believes that the growth in A-level mathematic take-up is particularly impressive given the dip in numbers in 2001. He also notes that the growth was stronger among females than males and that, in mathematics in sixth forms we are “moving quite strongly towards equality”.
More than two-thirds of employers say that science and mathematics should be promoted in schools. They also recognised the importance of work placement. Sir John explained that, in these straightened times, “We have to think about priorities… what really matters is the quality of our education system and this depends on its teachers. It’s about investing in them.”
Sir John is sure that mathematics and science education remains high on the Government agenda but in a time of scant resources we would need to help in identifying priorities. There would be more autonomy for schools and college and a less ‘top-down’ approach, which he feels is a very good thing, as is the important shift towards more subject-specific CPD.
If the curriculum was to be reviewed, Sir John felt that schools would need to be supported and that some schools would find increased autonomy very difficult. The role of subject leadership would become even more important.
Finally, he concluded with the words: “I would like to pay tribute to everything that Celia [Hoyles] and the NCETM have achieved in the past and which I hope will continue in the future. There is very impressive partnership work taking place with many in this room and I hope this will be able to continue.”
Listen to Professor Sir John Holman's speech in full: