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Why I Agree With Education Secretary Nicky Morgan

10/11/2015 16:30 GMT | Updated 10/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Yet again, what comedian Dave Gorman calls "the bottom half of the internet" (the comments section of online articles) has been rife with accusations of incompetence, directed at Nicky Morgan, following an article in The Telegraph.

This latest unleashing of rage against Mrs Morgan stems from the article titled "Nicky Morgan: pupils 'held back' by overemphasis on arts". This lead-in paragraph doesn't help:

Schoolchildren who focus exclusively on arts and humanities-style subjects risk restricting their future career path, the Education Secretary has warned.

I know that being outraged in the comments section of news articles and on social media is 'de rigueur' these days, but unfortunately in our increasingly busy, information-overloaded lives, many don't bother to read the full text of articles and base their entire opinion on attention-grabbing headlines.

I don't agree with Mrs Morgan that arts and humanities subjects necessarily hold a young person back in their career path. It very much depends on what they want to do. Herein lies part of the problem with the British education system: Children have to decide on a path very early in life and, let's face it, many don't know at 13 or 14 what they want to do later on in life! In the words of Mary Schmich:

The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

But that's a different rant altogether. Back to Nicky Morgan's comments:

If you read the article carefully, from start to finish, you will find that Mrs Morgan is actually trying to redress the balance and, in that respect, she is right.

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Image: Pixabay

We do have a shortage of qualifications and experience in STEM-related (STEM = Science Technology Engineering Maths) subjects in the UK. This is reflected in the UK Shortage Occupations List, published by the UK Visa Bureau. I am also aware that this list includes specific arts-related shortages and, as one reader pointed out in the comments section of the Telegraph article, there is now a movement to change the emphasis from STEM to STEAM, to add the 'arts' element.

What Mrs Morgan is saying, however, is that many pupils have been pushed towards arts and humanities subjects because they don't know what they want to do, as that is supposed to give them more options, when actually they can have as many, if not more, career options with STEM-related studies. We cannot ignore that, if we want to have doctors, nurses, engineers and scientists in this country in the future, we need to take action now to ensure there is a pipeline of qualified young people coming through in the STEM-related subjects. We are already facing shortages in these areas.

It is also not acceptable that, in this day and age, so many girls, who typically out-perform boys in STEM-related subjects at GCSE level, do not go on to study these at A-level and beyond. The CBI is pushing for more young people to study STEM-related subjects, and while not everyone is suited to these subjects, the issue highlighted by Mrs Morgan is that not enough young people choose them.

As you will know from my previous articles, What is The Purpose of Education? and Chinese School? No thanks!, I am not a staunch advocate of 'academic' subjects at all costs.

My own experiences as a parent bear witness to this:

My eldest daughter is in Year 13 and is taking A-Levels in History, Politics and Classical Civilisations (humanities), with a view to studying Liberal Arts (yes, Arts), or History and Politics at University. She isn't sure yet what she wants to do as a career and I firmly believe that going down the humanities route is absolutely the right choice for her as she is not naturally inclined towards STEM subjects.

My youngest daughter will be taking her GCSE exams in the summer. From the age of about 10 she was absolutely certain she wanted to become a Paediatric Cardio-Thoracic Surgeon. Since last year, she is not so sure anymore but hasn't excluded the possibility. She also loves languages and performing arts (yes, there is that word again!). My husband and I have always encouraged and supported her desire to express herself through singing and acting, her passions. But we also want her to keep her options open.

And here it is: If, with her current uncertainty about her future career, she were to put all her metaphorical eggs into the arts 'basket', she would not be able to study medicine at University. If, however, she does study STEM-related subjects, she still keeps her options open and can pursue either a medical degree and career, or decide to lean towards the arts. So now she is thinking of taking Chemistry, Biology and Spanish for her A levels - a balanced range of subjects that will allow her the maximum amount of options for University and beyond.

Let's therefore stop slating Mrs Morgan for the sake of slating her and actually pay attention to what she said. Let's not forget she is also the Education Secretary that has put happiness and emotional well-being firmly into the education agenda. And let's try to redress the balance and encourage more young people who show great aptitude for STEM subjects to actually study them. They certainly won't be worse-off as a result.

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