STEM in Schools

Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 2nd March 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Debate resumed on motion:

That this Assembly notes the recent publication of the Education and Training Inspectorate’s evaluation of the implementation of the World Around Us, the Confederation of British Industry's 'Step Change: A new approach for schools in Northern Ireland' report, Momentum's digital sector action plan and the Engineering UK 2015 report, all of which highlight the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in schools; recognises the role of STEM as a key driver of the economy; and calls on the Minister of Education to support and encourage the full implementation of the STEM aspects of the curriculum in order to bring about high quality learning for all children. — [Miss M McIlveen (The Chairperson of the Committee for Education).]

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

As a member of the Education Committee and a former science teacher, I support the motion. It is a very relevant motion. The subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM as we describe them, are extremely important, and the motion refers to a number of recent reports and evaluations that emphasise the importance of children having access to and a good knowledge of those subjects.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair)

The inspectorate has said that STEM subjects are important, the sector has said that they are important and the Committee and common sense would say that they are important as well. The motion calls on the Minister to support the schools and the system to:

"encourage the full implementation of the STEM aspects of the curriculum in order to bring about high quality learning for all children."

We know that the Minister will have a number of priorities and things that he wants to happen and be done during his tenure in office. I sincerely hope that that is one of them and that he will make the teaching of STEM subjects one of his priorities.

The motion also states that STEM subjects are a "key driver of the economy". They are a growth area for the economy. If that is the case, and if we want to address issues of unemployment, particularly among younger people, surely we do not want to put ourselves in a situation where we have to bring into Northern Ireland young people with the requisite skills in those areas to fill the opportunities that there are in a range of businesses in the STEM areas. We should be in a position where young people here are available with the skills to take up the jobs that are being created and to help to create more jobs in what is clearly a key driver for the economy and a growth area.

STEM subjects tend to be focused on at secondary level. However, as the motion implies, they also have a relevance in primary schools. The Royal Society of Chemistry, along with other scientific organisations, have stressed the importance of that subject in primary as well as secondary schools. The Committee sincerely hopes that the Minister will throw his full weight, his full support and his full resources behind STEM subjects to ensure that they are taught at primary and secondary level and that all aspects of the reports and the evaluations by the inspectorate are taken into account in so doing.

It was touched on, maybe a little bit humorously, earlier that there is an opportunity to say to young people in Northern Ireland that there are good examples that can be an encouragement and perhaps even an inspiration to them. The IT link across the Atlantic with America is referred to as Project Kelvin. One of the great things about Lord Kelvin was that, not only was he a theoretical scientist, he was a very practical scientist who created many different inventions and so on. We should also keep it in mind that there is a value in making children in schools more aware of the scientific, technical, engineering and mathematical heritage of Ulster, which has produced so many significant figures in those areas.

It would be remiss of me to simply leave it with Lord Kelvin. We might also refer to Sir Samuel Davidson and the Sirocco Works. He was a pre-eminent engineer with so many different and diverse inventions to his name. He was also the proprietor of a major engineering works that not only produced goods in Belfast but exported them around the world. Belfast was very much a centre of engineering and of invention and innovation. We might also think of Harry Ferguson, the engineer who made such a significant contribution in the agricultural field. For the benefit of Mr Hazzard, who is no longer with us, the common theme across Sir Samuel Davidson, Harry Ferguson and Lord Kelvin is not simply their engineering expertise but the fact that they were staunch unionists and very much in support of Ulster and the union —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

I am sure that Mr Hazzard will want to take that to heart.

I support the motion and hope that the Minister will take it to heart.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP

I, too, support the motion. Like my colleague, I want to hone in on what I see as a key phrase in the motion:

"STEM as a key driver of the economy".

I want to make two points on that. Our history on STEM, and indeed Northern Ireland's successful high achievers who have come out of what we now call "STEM" — certainly, it was not called "STEM" in their day — is a platform on which we can build to take us forward. In the STEM areas, Northern Ireland has punched well above its weight; much like our sporting achievements over the weekend. It is often said that the only resources that we have in Northern Ireland are our people. STEM gives us an opportunity to embrace all those elements on which to build a strategy for success.

I want to mention, as others have, a few people who have been successful and their backgrounds. Harry Ferguson, who has been mentioned, was a farmer's son from County Down; he started life in a very humble way, working in a bicycle and car repair business. He was fascinated by aviation and inspired by the Wright brothers. Indeed, he wanted to embrace, and he did, his scientific and technical knowledge and convert it into success in running a business. It is difficult to think what the agriculture industry might be like today had it not been for the benefits of his skills and engineering knowledge.

Another was John Stewart Bell. He was born in Belfast in a very humble background; he decided on a career in science when he was 11 years of age. He did not have the opportunity to go to a grammar school, but he finished his education at Belfast technical college. He became a technician at Queen's University and was inspired there. He graduated with two degrees in experimental physics and mathematical physics. This was a man from Belfast who corrected Einstein. Only recently he had a street named after him in Belfast. Unfortunately, he missed out on a Nobel prize only because of his untimely death.

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was born in Belfast and educated in Lurgan. She failed her 11-plus. She was educated in York and impressed her physics teacher so much that he encouraged her down the line of science. She graduated from Glasgow University with a Bachelor of Science degree. She campaigned to increase the number of females who participate in physics and astronomy. She is house patron of Burnell House at Cambridge House Grammar School in Ballymena.

There are many, many more who could be named. Others in the Chamber mentioned them. Lord Kelvin — or 1st Baron Kelvin, as he was referred to — was mentioned because of the recent Kelvin infrastructure for communications.

Let me just say this in the short time that I have left: the benefits of STEM will be realised fully only when there is an increased understanding between science, technology and mathematics and a full understanding of the potential of those subjects to our community and society. We need pathways for young skilled and knowledgeable people; we need a change of culture to reduce and manage risk aversion; we need a change of culture to build the links between Northern Ireland businesses, universities and publicly funded research projects.

I hope, on the basis of what the First Minister said earlier today, that the silo mentality can be got over —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP

— and that the Departments can work together to maximise the potential of STEM to our economy.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Mo bhuíochas leat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Agus mo bhuíochas leis an Choiste as ucht an t-ábhar seo a thabhairt os ár gcomhair inniu. I welcome the motion, and I thank the Education Committee in particular for bringing it to the Assembly for debate. All of us will, I hope, agree that science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM — play a key role in driving the economy, and we can agree on the importance of STEM subjects in our schools.

There are consistent themes in the reports referred to in the motion. I will begin with the Education and Training Inspectorate's evaluation of the implementation of the World Around Us in primary schools. From December 2013 to June 2014, the inspectorate visited primary schools across all education and library boards and management types and sizes. In addition, it held discussions with stakeholders, and a web survey was completed by school principals in consultation with their staff. The inspectorate found that, although primary schools are at different points in their implementation of World Around Us, two thirds of schools have prioritised its development in the past three years. However, overall, schools remain more confident about the quality of their provision in history and geography and in thinking skills and personal capabilities. Almost half believe that they do not include the progression of the relevant practical, experiential skills in science and technology in their planning. Those schools cite various reasons for that, including competing priorities such as literacy, numeracy and assessment and a lack of access to training.

Significantly, only 37% of the 107 schools that responded to the web survey reported that they had staff who had completed STEM training with recognised providers. The inspectorate made recommendations in its report, three of which were specifically for the Department of Education. Those recommendations are to encourage and support the full implementation of the science and technology strand of WAU in the primary school to bring about high-quality learning for all children; to investigate how primary schools can be supported in the delivery of WAU through a variety of means, including expertise from the post-primary sector and from a range of external stakeholders, such as the Curriculum Advisory and Support Service (CASS); and to re-emphasise the importance of WAU, particularly the significance of science and technology in policy and planning for initial teacher education. It should not be difficult or incur any significant cost for the Minister to endorse those recommendations to improve the provision of STEM subjects in our primary schools.

A report from the Momentum digital summit rightly applauds what has been done so far but emphasises the need to build on those achievements. Among the proposals to emerge from the summit is the need for:

"Major changes to the current education system in its support for the sector and the core technical skills required by employers on short, medium and long-term basis."

Key to the changes it proposes is the identification of education as being at the heart of the drive for sustainable success. Momentum recognises the serious issues faced in the upskilling of teachers so that they are able to teach coding or "computer programming", as it is more widely known, with confidence. It also acknowledges that the way in which the education system works allows, in theory, for flexibility in the provision of teaching of coding.

The revised curriculum includes ICT as a cross-curricular skill, and the flexibility already in place in the revised curriculum allows schools to teach computer science in any Key Stage. However, Momentum points out that that rarely happens, other than in an ad hoc way, for a number of reasons. Schools need to seek access to the knowledge required in teaching coding, and the demand for the subject needs to be fostered, especially in primary school and at pre-GCSE level. It argues strongly for the introduction of teaching coding to children from primary school age at Key Stage 2. It is essential to deliver coding to the widest cross-section of pupils at the earliest opportunity. Momentum used the example of Estonia, where, with a similar-sized population, the Government have pledged to introduce coding early in primary schools. I support that call. Children in the North should have access to coding from the age of eight. As Momentum stated, that would:

"build upon the current on-going initiatives for the rollout of GCSE and 'A' Level computing courses to post primary schools."

The CBI's 'Step Change' report argued that education is about:

"preparing young people for success" in work and in life.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 3:45 pm, 2nd March 2015

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

As part of the proposed systemic review of the education system, it recommended more action on implementing the Government's Success through STEM strategy. It also recommended that computing be taught as a core subject for children in Northern Ireland, that all schools should be required to offer separate sciences —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

— as an option for young people at GCSE level and that where schools are too small, they should offer effectively —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

— a full range of subjects. They should continue to be encouraged to —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

I worry a bit about this debate. I realise that we are not speaking to a packed House, but I heard Mr Lunn, Mr Hazzard and a few other people say, "Do you know what? Things are not so bad. They are going OK". Actually, I am not so sure that they are. Of course, we can talk about the ETI report that has come out, which says that of our primary schools, just over half — 54% — felt capable of teaching the science strand, but it goes further than that. I do not know whether Members were listening to the radio on Sunday, but, on 'Inside Business', Des Speed of PathXL stated that the shortage of software skills had become something of a crisis and that we need joined-up government to sort that shortage out. Peter Fitzgerald of Randox said that they are desperate for more scientists and engineers.

I know that Members here have talked about the great Northern Ireland Science Festival. It was very successful, with 10,000 predicted to go but 30,000 actually turning up at the 11-day event, which had over 100 events. However, I wonder how many of the Members here present went to any of those. How many of you went to hear about John Stewart Bell? A few accolades were given here, but I am sure that my Ulster Unionist colleagues would be delighted to know that he was a cousin of Billy Bell, a former MLA from my constituency, and that his entire family was there. I am sure that that is something that they would like to make something of.

I was also surprised not to see many Members — none, apart from the Minister — at the Turing lecture. Over 700 people turned out, which was a record. It was fantastic. By 2020, which is only five years away, 20 billion devices will be connected to the Internet. Loads of other things were talked about. How many people went to see the Bodyworks exhibition, which was brought by SmithKline Beecham of Glasgow? How many people went to see the laser demonstration for the International Year of Light when it was at the museum? Basically, there is a lot of talk but not much action. How many people have been to CERN, built by a Northern Ireland man, to see what it is about? How many people have been to the Science Museum in London? How many people have listened to NASA? How many people know that 1·46 million people in the UK are employed in IT and that 1·2 billion tech jobs have not been filled worldwide? Those issues show why we must get more people involved.

I got a very nice email from Roisin Crawford, whom Members from the north-west will know as the person who runs STEM Aware. She mentioned the Northern Ireland primary school curriculum, saying that little science is required with even less practised. She also says that some older teachers practise, but others never did science. I think that the Minister has to take it on board that science has been hit by the fact that the unofficial 11-plus tests do not deal with science. If it is not measured, it does not get taught, so there is a problem coming through in the next three or four years.

It is interesting that Roisin, being a female engineer, also said that she did not think that we should have a go at girls specifically as part of the gender balance but we should point it out to them that they have an unfair advantage in the jobs market. People are desperate to get women into science, IT and all those areas.

There is an issue with Sentinus that I want to deal with. I hope that the Minister will tell us that a bit more funding on that is coming through. It is an excellent exercise. I also wonder how many Members went down to the BT Young Scientists and Technology Exhibition. I listened to Jennifer McKinley, who is a senior lecturer in the school of geography, archaeology and palaeocology. What has that got to do with anything? She is a world expert in forensic science, that is what. We have got to push our really good people. I have to say to Members that it is all very well trotting out the fine words, having the speech and doing all those things, but I wish that a few more of you could find your way to joining the excellent APG on science and technology, getting involved in the science debate and going along to all these great things. Science is the future, but actions speak louder than words.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

I just have a few remarks about this. I take some of the points from earlier in the debate about coding. Mr McGlone made points around how we get kids and young people interested in that earlier. I will be interested in the Minister's response. Now we are doing an A level on IT and computing, but have we the expertise to deliver that across the board? My experience in my constituency is that we do not. Are there other options for lifting the skills of our teachers and the staff who are needed to deliver this? Are there models online that we should look to be able to do that and to extend those choices?

I too hear much talk about STEM. For the entire almost eight years that I have been a Member of the House, probably not a year has gone by when we have not debated this subject or something very close to it. That is something, yet when you come to look at what action we have taken or whether we have improved Northern Ireland's game particularly in this area, I am not so sure that we have. We are still training too many people for law and teaching. We have an entire debate around teacher training places, and some people are happy that we have saved St Mary's and Stranmillis, but at what cost? Is there a cost in the number of university places? Is there a cost in the number of further education places? Is there a cost in the number of experts we could have brought in to look at IT and STEM subjects? All those things we could have done, could have looked at and could have changed, but we have not made the bold decisions that somehow are needed to address this.

That is why I sometimes get slightly frustrated when I read very well intentioned motions from the Committee. It is an important subject for the Committee to acknowledge and to look at, but we are at the point where we need to actually take action and see whether the Minister can now tell us that we have dramatically improved our STEM subjects in the last eight years. Are we getting more of our students interested? Are we putting more people through? Are we creating the economic conditions for that to flourish and develop at the other end, or are we exporting most of them to other parts of the UK or indeed other parts of the world? That is something of which we have to make sure, and I want to hear from the Minister whether we are achieving any of that, rather than just the well-intentioned words.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Choiste as an rún seo a chur faoi bhráid an Tionóil. Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis tacaíocht a chur in iúl don mhéadú i líon na ndaltaí atá ag tabhairt faoi ábhair STEM. I want to thank the Committee for tabling the motion, and I welcome the opportunity to express my support for the increased take-up of STEM subjects in our schools — I did say "increased".

Reading through the motion, I thought to myself, "This is actually a very good motion, and it will be a worthwhile debate in the Chamber". It was my view that, unfortunately, there would be no media interest in it, because there would be no controversial aspect or rivalry across the Floor of the Assembly. In fairness, however, some Members actually managed to bring in which party or which tradition certain scientists belonged to. That may actually attract some media interest to the core subject, which will actually help us all in our task of ensuring that there is a good and informed debate about the STEM subjects. In a strange way, a wee bit of community rivalry may actually assist us in raising the profile of the subject. I emphasise again that I fully support the motion and do not require my arm to be bent up my back on the matter. In my response, I will outline how my Department has worked on the issue in the past.

I absolutely recognise the importance to our economy and society of having young people familiar with and qualified in STEM subjects, and my Department continues to prioritise the delivery of the STEM strategy. It is crucial that our education system continues to work, above all, in the interests of our young people. That includes enabling them to take their place in the world of work as employees and, indeed, as employers. I also welcome the opportunity to highlight the importance of giving heed to the voices of industry in the education debate, voices such as the CBI, Momentum and Engineering UK. I have spent considerable time engaging with representative bodies such as the CBI and Momentum, and I have also engaged with a significant number of employers about what they require from our education system for young people moving forward, including in the STEM subjects. I have found it enlightening and informative, even in terms of that debate, and the representative bodies and employers now understand better the role of the Department and the work that it is involved in. That conversation continues, as it should. They also seek to support and encourage students not only in the subjects that they choose but in the development of the skills that they will need to thrive in the workplace.

Engagement with STEM begins in primary school, as many Members pointed out. The recent ETI report on the implementation of the World Around Us area of learning at primary level highlighted the good practice that is evident in the majority of our primary schools. The report highlighted that whole-school planning and implementation of the World Around Us is key to children developing the skills and concepts associated with the World Around Us over their time in school. Some very good practice was highlighted. I was particularly impressed with Lough View Integrated Primary School, which uses the school grounds, including a polytunnel and pond, in an imaginative way to support the delivery of the World Around Us to engage the pupils with environmental science.

Children benefit from the flexibility of our curriculum, as it allows teachers and schools to express their own interests and expertise in teaching. I noted the comments of the Chair of the Education Committee, who pointed out that many of the organisations that present to the Committee on a specialised field wish that specialised field to form a statutory part of the curriculum. It is about getting the balance right, whether that is computer coding or other elements of the STEM agenda. If we emphasise one element, are we in danger of losing out to another element? I am on record as saying that I think that the curriculum will need to be reviewed by the latter part of 2016, when I am not in post. It is an apt time for a review, given how long the curriculum has been in place. A lot of those questions can be posed and answered as to what elements of the curriculum, if any, should be statutory, including STEM subjects.

We need to encourage our primary-school teachers to deliver this area of learning. A great science teacher is a great teacher, not necessarily a great scientist, and we are fortunate to have many great teachers. The report has recommendations for my Department as well as for schools and the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment. I have agreed in principle to the recommendations for my Department and have asked my officials to consider what actions might help to deliver on the recommendations. That report is being actioned.

The flexibility in the curriculum is also valued by our pupils, who have the freedom to follow their own interests in choosing the qualifications that they wish to pursue at GCSE and A level. Under the entitlement framework, all young people, regardless of where they live or which school they attend, are guaranteed access to a minimum number and range of courses at Key Stage 4 and post 16.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I appreciate the Minister giving way. That issue has been prevalent in recent days, so is he confident that the entitlement framework and buy-in from schools will continue, given the budgetary constraints that we face? A number of schools in my constituency said that it will be difficult for them to meet the financial requirements. They bought into the concept of the entitlement framework, but they are not sure that they can afford it.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

It is no longer a case of whether schools wish to buy into it; it is compulsory. I understand that there are financial pressures on schools, but this has been in the planning since 2006. In fact, funding was supposed to have stopped a number of years ago. I have continued the funding; I reduced it over those years to allow schools to prepare for the reduction. I suspect that, over the next number of years, that funding will continue to reduce. Schools have to prepare for that. Also, as planning authorities, we have to prepare for it by ensuring that we have a network of sustainable schools in place that are capable of delivering the curriculum that our young people require and that is so vital, given the wide range of subjects in the STEM field. We need an entitlement framework with such a wide range of subjects available to pupils. It is certainly a challenge for schools, planners — in area planning — and future Ministers.

In making decisions about courses and qualifications, young people must be supported by appropriate information and advice on careers. My Department has been supportive of efforts to increase teachers' knowledge of the range of careers that a qualification in a STEM subject can lead to. I am also aware that teachers are not the only advisers to our young people. A vital role is played by parents. Mrs Overend said that she is engaging with her young children about options that they will now have which will dictate career paths in future. That is one of the issues that was raised during the review of careers advice. Parents need to have access to information that enables them to provide it to their young people so that they can choose the correct career options.

In addition to the vital role played by parents, the business sector has a key role to play in encouraging and informing students of the value of pursuing qualifications in STEM subjects. I have encouraged the business sector and businesses that I have met to become engaged with their local schools and knock on the door of their local primary school and post-primary school to introduce themselves and make those connections, which are vital to education and business. That would bring industry, sciences and engineering out of the workshops and labs and into the schools and say, "If you want to follow this career, you need to follow these subjects". That is vital, and there is clear evidence that connections between our businesses and our schools are improving. I believe that increased involvement —

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Just let me finish this point, and I will. I believe that the increased involvement of businesses in schools by providing, for example, work experience is key to ensuring that the students who leave our schools are skilled in the areas that will lead to employment.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

I wish to support the statement that the Minister has just made and draw to his attention the opinion of Dr Martin Brown, who runs Science and Technology Experts in Primary Schools (STEPS). We need to find some way of getting modest funding to encourage industry to go into primary schools. I know that, in these financial times, things are difficult, but we need to encourage people to go and work in primary schools.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I accept that money makes the world go round, but resources are limited at this stage. I have been lobbied strongly by the Assembly, schools, parents and pupils to ring-fence as much money as possible for schools. Thus far, we have achieved a significant further investment in schools. I will make the final announcement on my budget in the next number of days. I assure the Member that, if I had moneys to do other projects, I would do them, but we do not have the money at this stage.

I move to the involvement of girls in STEM subjects. We are unusual here in that there is no great difference between boys' and girls' attainment in the STEM subjects overall, but there are differences between specific subjects. In particular, I am aware that many girls can envisage a career in medical science in a way that they cannot envisage one in engineering. I note Mr McCrea's comments and the contact that he has had. There is no better example than personal experience. When a young woman who is engaged in engineering speaks to other young women about the subject, it certainly opens up new pathways for our young women. It was refreshing to note the examples of female scientists that were referred to during the debate. I also noted the comments of Mr Hazzard about 'The Guardian' article. We can be careless about these things at times, which can have a detrimental impact. Sometimes, I hear comments from my daughter about what careers are available to girls, and I certainly hope that she does not get the perception from me that a line has been drawn somewhere so that women cannot enter this or that field. Certainly, we have to be very careful that we do not present barriers to anyone entering their chosen career.

As I said, there are differences between specific subjects. In particular, I am aware of that many girls can envisage a career in medical science in a way that they cannot envisage one in engineering. The causes of this are large and cannot be addressed by schools alone. We need business to work to ensure that all students are aware of careers in engineering and fight against traditional stereotyping. Careers in engineering are not jobs for the boys, as they are often perceived, but jobs for everyone.

In supporting the involvement of business in informing our students of the opportunities available to them, I am aware that Momentum in particular has been lobbying for computer coding to be made compulsory at primary school. I have already commented on that. The curriculum as it stands provides for all primary pupils to engage in age-appropriate coding. I am aware that some schools provide computer coding to their pupils as an after-school club. Some provide this through the Sentinus IT’s Your Choice programme, which is funded by my Department. In response to the Chair of the Education Committee's comment about the Sentinus budget, the final decisions on budgets have not been made yet. Under the draft budget, there was a proposal to remove £100,000 from the Sentinus budget line. That is from a £400,000 budget line, so is quite a significant cut. When I am trying to direct funding into schools, I have to look at all areas of my budget, and I will give confirmation regarding all these matters at a later date.

As the ETI report on the implementation of the World Around Us has made clear, teachers value the flexibility in the curriculum and children engage in and enjoy learning about subjects that their teachers are passionate and knowledgeable about. I am keen that the flexibility in the curriculum should be maintained, and, as I have said, future Ministers may wish to review the curriculum to decide which, if any, parts of it should be compulsory at that time. However, my Department will continue to support initiatives that encourage teachers and students to engage with coding at primary level, and I personally encourage schools to take up the challenge. Let us get our children a step ahead in this vital skill set. I am also keen to see organisations such as Momentum link with other relevant organisations and apply for funding streams such as Horizon 2020 or Erasmus+ to further develop educational resources and initiatives to promote computer coding.

As well as encouraging industry to play a role, my Department funds interventions to promote STEM. As I have mentioned, Sentinus, the Department’s front-line STEM delivery partner, delivers programmes to more than 57,000 primary and post-primary schoolchildren every year. We also have our STEM truck, which has proved very popular with schools and at any events that it moves along to.

Teacher training has been raised. Clearly, teachers have a key role to play in ensuring that young people have the skills and knowledge to join the workforce, but they need to be properly equipped to do the job. Initial teacher education is designed to meet the needs of our curriculum, and there needs to be adequate provision of suitably qualified teachers in STEM specialities. To this end, my Department has been encouraging higher education institutions to increase the number of students undertaking STEM subjects. I will continue to ensure that the providers maintain their drive to recruit students specialising in those subjects. One Member pointed out that students who have specialised in STEM at post-primary school or, indeed, at university are being snapped up by industry and are then lost to the teaching profession. Teaching simply cannot compete with the wages that are being provided in industry. Our success in encouraging students to take up STEM does not necessarily reflect recruitment into teaching, but we will continue to work at that.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Minister draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I welcome the debate. There are many, many initiatives taking place. I think that we are improving, but I accept that there is still more to do.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

I welcome today's debate, and, on behalf of the Committee, I thank all the Members who spoke and the Minister for contributing to what proved to be an interesting and, I think, kindly debate. I also thank the many lobby groups that have contacted the Committee and informed our scrutiny, including Sentinus, Momentum, W5, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Association for Science Education, BT and the Northern Ireland Science Park, with which the Committee organised the STEM is Cool event in January 2014. I hope that they will all go on keeping the pressure on us.

The Chairperson mentioned the crucial importance of STEM to our economy, the good work already under way in our schools and the need for a full implementation of the STEM aspects of the curriculum to bring about high-quality learning for all our children. There appear to be a number of key elements to that. The first is initial teacher education. Clearly, the promotion of science and technology, including, perhaps, some change to the student teacher curriculum, will enhance primary teacher confidence in the delivery of science.

The second important element is continuing professional development (CPD) in STEM for teachers. I think that the Committee will agree with the Department that the best way to promote the uptake of STEM subjects — any subjects — in schools is through good teaching. The best way to promote good teaching is by good initial teacher education and CPD.

Another key element of promoting STEM in schools is good planned opportunities for problem solving, investigation and inquiry-based learning. Even if pupils do not go on to study science, that kind of learning, which promotes what is called scientific method — gathering evidence and analysing results — is a good grounding for children in many areas of study.

The Committee also recognises the value of teacher innovation. It is that element of the study of STEM in schools that has led to more pupils studying computer coding and taking up the associated A level. The Committee, therefore, supports ETI’s call for more guidance materials from CCEA and greater facilitation by the Department of support by external STEM stakeholders for schools.

I would like to make one or two comments of my own. My colleague Mrs Overend said that the STEM programme was not ambitious enough; I think that that is probably one of the greatest understatements. We have rightly highlighted the gap between skills and industry and business and the jobs needed. Current estimates suggest that, by 2020, about 1·3 million scientists, engineers and technicians will be needed in the UK. We are also told that 80% of future jobs will include IT or technology. In a speech that I gave a few years back, I remember quoting the fact that China produces 75,000 engineers every year. It is probably more by now. The point is that we are not doing as well as we all seem to be putting across today, and I feel that we should re-look at how we are doing and put much more effort into it.

When we look at what we provide and all the summaries from the inspection and from Sentinus, we get vague figures. We do not seem to really grasp the subject to make sure that STEM is available to all our children at every level. We need a completely new approach. We need to look at a zero tolerance on literacy and numeracy being carried on to every child having the chance to do STEM at every level. It is then up to them whether they choose to go into science or into something else. We should not tolerate anything less. That is the drive that we should be putting on the back of today's debate and not sitting thinking that we are doing particularly well.

I know that the Minister is struggling with a budget, but I hope that he can find some way of keeping the £100,000 for Sentinus. I am disturbed by the answer that he gave me last week. When asked about the use of the change fund for science, he told me that he had been turned down by DFP and that there was no more money for Sentinus. At the same time, there is a huge lack of morale in the education system. We need to find a way of lifting the whole education system, so I go back to my point that we need a complete review of how we do everything. The budget cuts that are coming through emphasise the point that we should rethink how we do everything, dropping the sacred cows and trying to find a way forward. We need to see STEM much more in all parts of our education system; we need to see all teachers with some grounding in it; we need to see it at every level; we need to see it at further education; and we need to carry it through in society.

I understand the balance that the Minister mentioned. If you go for one subject being compulsory, you lose on others, but the world is changing so fast and furious that you have to take more of a risk and lean towards it. If we have a different Minister in the future and another review, we will all have to make the same points again, but it is important that we look at leaning more towards STEM subjects.

I will move on to one or two comments from those who have spoken. Seán Rogers said that we must encourage inquisitiveness and problem solving. That is the same as Lord Ballyedmond said to me once when he discovered that I was in politics: we must have students who can think outside the box and solve problems for themselves.

Mr Rogers also said that we need to do much more practical work, and there were many other very good points in his contribution. He said that technology is a great leveller but that we should be spreading it out so that everyone can do it. It certainly failed with me at school.

Sandra Overend said that we need to focus on careers, that it is a no-brainer and that business demands more STEM, hence the comments that I made in my speech.

Chris Hazzard said that it is not all bad. I accept that there are many very good things going on, but we must not just sit back on our laurels. He said that there are great examples and that we are not in crisis, yet Basil McCrea pointed out in his speech that we are in crisis. We need to look much closer at what we are doing. We need to look at enquiring into what is going on and to look for the inspiration. Terrific names have been mentioned today, such as Hans Sloane, Francis Hutcheson and William Thomson. There is a whole mass there. However, there are many whom we just do not see, and they are the people of the future. When you watch the Generation Innovation video and see all the great technologies that we have in Northern Ireland, you realise that things are bright, but, as I said, we must not rest on our laurels.

Trevor Lunn made many more points. He said that there is a lack of confidence in primary schools, especially in science, and that there is a great deal of work to be done.

Nelson McCausland said that we should make teaching STEM one of our top priorities, and he, too, showed us the great Ulster-Scots links to so many of the mathematicians, scientists and those with technical brilliance from Northern Ireland.

Robin Newton talked about the framework and mentioned Harry Ferguson and the Wright brothers. I worked at Shorts a few years ago. The first vertical take-off aircraft was developed there. We have a terrific history, and we should be working on that.

Patsy McGlone highlighted the statistics and the issues raised by the ETI and the World Around Us. He said that we could do more with WAU and that we are doing things. I think that the main point raised today is that we must not rest on our laurels, and Basil McCrea said that we must do much more. I think he said that there are 1·2 billion people in the IT world in the whole world. We need to see Northern Ireland becoming a leading technological industry in the future. That is what we all should be aiming for. We must not rest on our laurels. Other good points were made, but we could get buried in them all.

Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly notes the recent publication of the Education and Training Inspectorate’s evaluation of the implementation of the World Around Us, the Confederation of British Industry's 'Step Change: A new approach for schools in Northern Ireland' report, Momentum's digital sector action plan and the Engineering UK 2015 report, all of which highlight the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in schools; recognises the role of STEM as a key driver of the economy; and calls on the Minister of Education to support and encourage the full implementation of the STEM aspects of the curriculum in order to bring about high quality learning for all children.