What’s wrong with Labour’s Girls into STEM Careers Policy?

Some labour policy wonk somewhere most have been proud of their work. Tristram Hunt’s announcement at the end of last week that Labour would encourage the development of girls to consider STEM careers while still at primary school seems so hard to find fault with. Supporting STEM careers and enabling girls to progress in their careers are two big fat sacred cows. Employer/ schools collaboration is the current vogue position and engaging primary school kids treads a nice line between common sense and innovation. So why would a careers adviser actually complain when for pretty much the first time this year an MP mentions careers provision as part of election campaigning? Where angels fear to tread…

My objection is how Tristram Hunt appears to be positioning careers work as part of a wider educational package. It’s not so much what he does say but by implication what he does not say. Careers work in this context seems to have a very precise, almost surgical focus which by implication rules out a broader embracing of careers work as an approach to educational policy. Here are my main concerns;

Support for the few or a right for the many?

I guess we have seen it all before but this is using careers work as the tool for the few and not for the many. The implication is that not everyone needs careers support, or not everyone needs it equally. Rather than asking “what standard of care provision are people entitled to” careers work is seen as strategic, for the few not the many.

Deciding on outcomes or enabling outcomes?

List a set of values related to careers work and impartial comes up pretty quickly. Hunt’s vision though is far from this. Hunt is deciding on an outcome he wants, more girls into STEM careers, which makes the whole thing about government targets. Targets which often become exclusive. What happens in this system to the girl who is inspired to become a fine artist? What about the boy who wants to become an engineer? There is nothing for them because this scheme is not about them. The clear advantage of enabling individuals over focussing on outcome is that it moves to a different anyone to anywhere approach.

Precision strike hit or echo system change?

Hunt appears not to be grasping the thistle as to education and careers. Does he really think that a girl who is inspired at 11 to become a Chemist will get the careers support to understand this idea and the developmental challenges she will face or will she just get shoved onto a UCAS conveyor belt? Change needs to be systematic for it to be worthwhile. Hunt is looking at one part of the system and is not engaging with the whole.

Employers or trained professionals?

I’ve laid out my thoughts about the drift away from professional careers advisers and towards using employers before but its worth noting Hunt continuing the trend. There is just a lack of thought around inspiration. Most people who look at the individuals perceptions as a way of changing gender outcomes reference ideas such as stereotyping, confidence, expectations, support etc. I have not seen much discussion around how boys have a monopoly on “STEM inspiration”. It’s not an entirely redundant perspective but does not appear to embrace some of the complexities of the topic.

My fear is that all of this is looking too much at a “deliverable policy” that grabs headlines rather than stepping back and asking what the careers education eco system needs as a whole.

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One thought on “What’s wrong with Labour’s Girls into STEM Careers Policy?

  1. I’m a structural engineer that would love to see more girls taking up STEM careers particularly engineering. So I guess amongst other people Tristram was trying to appeal to me. I’ve not seen much research on why more girls aren’t already doing this (I don’t know if much of such research exists?). But my own wonder is whether girls just can’t imagine themselves as engineers. I tried to write a story about a girl engineer to help a friend’s child who was asking me about career’s advice, that seemed to me the right way to go about it http://johnhurle.com/2015/11/30/emily-was-an-engineer/

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