Article - Issue 29, December 2006

SET for the future

Lord David Sainsbury of Turville

Download the article (198 KB)

Lord David Sainsbury of Turville

Lord David Sainsbury of Turville

In 2004 Government published their Science and innovation investment framework 2004–2014. Shortly before leaving office, Lord Sainsbury of Turville gave Ingenia an insight into his own views on the importance of capturing the imagination of the young people in society who will become the scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians of the future.

The number of young people taking science degrees has risen substantially in recent years. However, employers are rightly concerned about the falls in the number of young people taking degrees in the physical sciences and in engineering and technology.

The Government shares these concerns and is determined to reverse the falls. We need the right people with the right skills to build a strong science and technology base and we are taking steps to ensure a good supply of scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians.

That is why two years ago we published our Science and innovation investment framework 2004–2014, a strategy for the coming decade which aims to make Britain the most attractive location in the world for science, R&D and innovation, with a view to attracting the best scientists from around the world to meet this goal. It is also a strategy that aims to secure and sustain a supply of scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians (STEM) to support the science base.

Quality Control

As part of the framework, the STEM cross-cutting programme, jointly managed by DfES and DTI, was set up to examine the range of initiatives that currently support this agenda and to look for ways to enhance the effectiveness of Government funding. The resulting report – the STEM Programme Report – reinforces the commitments from the science and innovation investment framework, and works towards a vision of delivering STEM support in the most effective way to every school, college, learning provider and learner. It also signals the Government’s determination to work with partners and stakeholders to improve the delivery of professional development for teachers and STEM enhancement activities for students in all schools.

This, of course, starts in schools. As a result of the report’s recommendations, a national STEM director, John Holman, has been appointed, whose role will be invaluable in ensuring that the Government can gain the biggest impact possible from improving the quality of STEM teaching and support.

Reaching Out

The Government has a responsibility to capture the imagination of the young people who will become the scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians of the future and this responsibility extends to all young people in our society. For example,we know from previous reviews that some sections of society are underrepresented in STEM. Only 14% of engineering undergraduates are women and only 3.24% of those studying science, engineering and technology (SET) are black.

There are currently some excellent initiatives that aim to widen participation from these groups. Computer Clubs for Girls are out-of-school clubs that provide a range of tailored e-learning activities for girls aged 10–14 years. STEM Access Grants, a £1.5 million DTI initiative, are provided to schools to engage secondary ethnic minority backgrounds, especially Afro-Caribbean boys and Bangladeshi and Pakistani girls, to become more involved in science subjects.

The London Engineering Project, a £2.85 million, two and a half year project funded by HEFCE and led by The Royal Academy of Engineering, is working with a wide range of commercial, academic and voluntary sector partners, including amongst others the African and Caribbean Network for Science and Technology. It will enable south London youngsters in schools to experience hands-on STEM activities and encourage them to go on to study engineering.

Targeting Resources

The project is one of four launched this autumn, with total funding of £18 million. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is working in collaboration with the Government and a number of partner organisations to build demand from students wishing to study STEM subjects in higher education. Together the projects involve more than 100 schools and further education colleges and will target 80,000 pupils and students aged from nine to 21.

The STEM programme report is evidence of our commitment and resolve to meet the skills challenge and be a world leader. Our proposals work towards a vision that aims to ensure that STEM support is delivered in the most effective way to every school, college, learning provider and learner.

Last year I met Lord Alec Broers, then President of The Royal Academy of Engineering, to discuss the promotion of engineering in schools. Lord Broers accepted the task of bringing consolidation to the many external initiatives delivered in schools that are connected with engineering and technology.

Academy Initiatives

The Royal Academy of Engineering has since led a process, referred to as the Technology and Engineering in Schools Strategy (TESS), through which the professional community of engineering institutions and other stakeholders have agreed to promote engineering and technology in schools with one voice.

I am very enthusiastic about this scheme. The first product is a single directory of existing highquality activities for schools, a website with engineering careers information and a campaign to engage target schools with capabilities in mathematics and science but no track record of engagement with engineering. Shape the Future, the campaign TESS has now been assimilated into, is a promotional tool that is all about maximising impact, creating leverage and bringing coherence to the marketplace.

The Academy have made good progress with coordinating the engineering community. Moving forward,TESS and Shape the Future will continue to build on existing initiatives and engaging strategic partners including professional institutions and industry bodies – an approach welcomed and strongly supported by the Government, including the OSI, the DTI and the DfES.

A Coordinated Approach

Government strongly supports the aims of TESS and in particular that it should provide every primary and secondary school in the UK equal access to high quality, high impact, coordinated schemes in engineering and technology related education, regardless of local circumstances or geography. For it to succeed, however, everybody, including industry, must buy into the TESS objectives of coordination and coherence and there must be a long term commitment to the process.

In March this year we published the next steps of the 10 year science and innovation framework. In it we raised our ambitions even further and pledged a package of measures to improve the skills of science teachers, the quality of science and engineering lessons and to increase progression to A level sciences.

Making A Commitment

For example,we made a commitment to step up the recruitment, retraining and retention of physics, chemistry and mathematics specialist teachers, so that by 2014 25% of science teachers have a physics specialism. We also committed to continue the drive to recruit science graduates into teaching via Employment Based Routes, with new incentives to providers of £1,000 per recruit to attract more physics and chemistry teachers. Furthermore,we have committed to develop and pilot a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme, leading to an accredited diploma to give existing science teachers without a physics and chemistry specialism the deep subject knowledge and pedagogy they need to teach these subjects effectively.

As part of our commitment, we are also establishing 250 new after school science and engineering clubs, building on the success of Computer Clubs for Girls, and further activities delivered through The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Best Programme. I believe this will help to improve attainment in school science at all levels and provide a solid foundation for the engineers of the future. This foundation will be strengthened by the fact that from 2008 all pupils achieving at least level 6 at Key Stage 3 will to be able to study three separate sciences at GCSE.

In addition,we are also committed to deliver an increase of 50% in the number of Science and Engineering Ambassadors (SEAs) from 12,000 to 18,000 by 2007/08. The SEAs scheme has been hugely successful. It takes young working scientists and engineers into schools to enthuse young people and make them aware of the diverse careers available to SET graduates. This shows the Government’s activity, and the commitment of the engineering community, as SEAs represent over 700 different employers from a wide range of organisations, from multi nationals and SMEs to other organisations like the NHS and the Environment Agency.

We have a responsibility to capture the imagination of all young people in our society who will become the scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians of the future and to help them reach their full potential. We need to ensure that all young people in our schools have the opportunity to take a full range of science courses. We need to ensure we have properly qualified science teachers. We need to make the teaching of engineering more exciting and creative in our universities. And above all we need to communicate to young people the excitement of modern engineering and convince them it is part of the new economy.

Further reference

To read the full Science and innovation investment framework 2004–2014: next steps report visit

Biography – Lord David Sainsbury of Turville

After reading History and Psychology at King's College, Cambridge, Lord Sainsbury went on to receive an MBA (Master of Business Administration) from the Columbia Graduate School of Business in New York. He was Chairman of J Sainsbury plc until July 1998. Prior to this he was Finance Director of J Sainsbury plc from 1973 to 1990 and Deputy Chairman from 1988 to 1992.

Lord Sainsbury was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science and Innovation in July 1998, with responsibility for the Office of Science and Technology, Research Councils and space matters. He stepped down from office in November 2006.

[Top of the page]