Liz Truss

Economic growth starts in the classroom

If you want to meet the business leaders of the future, visit a school. The children in classrooms today are the inventors, makers and entrepreneurs of decades to come.

If we give them the education they need, that is. Businesses’ demand for skilled people keeps on growing. The world economy is changing, and it rewards the highly skilled as never before. There are huge opportunities for young people who leave school confident about their choices in the adult world.

But at the moment, too many are leaving school without the right knowledge or skills to take advantage of those opportunities. Today I will be speaking at SUMMIT: The Future of Growth, an event that explores the barriers to economic growth in the UK. Growth Britannia, a new report launched at the summit, finds that one of our biggest problems is that young people are deeply ambivalent towards studying science, technology and maths. And the main problem comes at age 16, when the vast majority of young people decide to drop these subjects.

As a result, we have one of the smallest proportions of 16-18 year olds studying maths amongst developed countries. Last year, 149,000 state school pupils took physics GCSE, but just 32,000 — and only 7,000 girls — took the subject to A-Level. Fully half of all co-ed state schools have not a single girl going on to do A-level physics.

That matters to each of those pupils. Maths is changing every sector, so if it ever was a niche subject for niche careers, it isn’t now. The world around us – the algorithms that power smartphones, the software that creates designer clothes – is powered by maths, and some of our top business leaders come from science backgrounds. Look at the CEO of Prudential, Tidjane Thiam.

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