HC Deb 12 December 1978 vol 960 cc225-7
15. Mr. George Rodgers

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she is satisfied that sufficient encouragement and opportunity is provided in schools for girls who wish to pursue a career in engineering.

Mr. Oakes

No, Sir, she is not. My right hon. Friend would like to see many more girls at school studying subjects, notably mathematics and physics, that would enable them to choose engineering as a career.

Mr. Rodgers

Es my hon. Friend aware that when an award was made to the one and only female apprentice engineer at British Leyland Vehicles in my constituency recently, the occasion generated such excitement that television crews arrived to record it? In view of the continuing need for highly skilled engineers in the country, will my hon. Friend set about encouraging careers officers as well as pupils to widen their vision in this direction?

Mr. Oakes

We certainly do that. The biggest single factor is the attitude of girls themselves and their parents. However, there has been an improvement. In the academic year 1973–74, women comprised only 3.7 per cent of the student intake into engineering and technology. By 1977–78, the proportion had risen to 5.1 per cent. But that has to be compared with a figure of 36.7 per cent. for students on all courses. My right hon. Friend is therefore not satisfied with the number of women entering engineering and technology. She considers the figures to be far too low.

Mr. Forman

Since women teachers can have a powerful influence on girl students at school, would it not be an idea if the Government gave a higher priority to encouraging more of the people coming into teacher training colleges to have qualifications in O-level mathematics in particular?

Mr. Oakes

That is what we are doing. It will be a necessity for everyone entering a course of teacher training as from next year to have an O-level in mathematics.

Mr. John Garrett

Has the Department ever carried out any research into the extent to which girls are actively dissuaded by school teachers from taking such subjects as mechanical drawing, design and technology? If the Department has not carried out such research, will it undertake it?

Mr. Oakes

There has been some research into this question but perhaps not enough. Much of the evidence is anecdotal. I think that teachers and careers officers are trying to persuade girls to open their eyes much more to the availability of courses in engineering and technology.

Dr. Boyson

Has the Minister any figures as to the percentage of girls going on to physics and engineering from girls' schools, as compared with the percentage going on from mixed schools?

Mr. Oakes

No, I have not those figures before me.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Minister aware that prejudice against women in industry is very deep-rooted among both employers and some trade unions, and that it really is time that the Government spoke out strongly on this issue to each side?

Mr. Oakes

I am not certain that there is that prejudice among either employers or trade unionists. The problem is to persuade girls to take up these courses. Usually, when a firm employs a girl engineer, it finds that she is excellent at the job she is doing.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is the Minister aware that there is an inadequate number of teachers with the right qualifications in our schools to encourage girls to go on ultimately into engineering and other allied careers? Will he look at this question rather more closely than he has, and also involve each side of industry within the schools so that there may be an expertise which at the moment is lamentably lacking?

Mr. Oakes

The hon. Gentleman should look at the facts. This Government introduced special courses for the shortage subjects. This Government, more than any other Government that I can remember, have tried to emphasise the importance of links between industry and education.