GCHQ hosts Teachers' Symposium - 31 January 2014
News article - 31 Jan 2014
The aim of the Teachers’ Symposium was to engage with teachers on how to encourage students to take up the study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects and take advantage of the exciting career opportunities such qualifications can offer.
GCHQ’s Director General of Technology and Capability opened the day by emphasising the importance to GCHQ of the study of STEM subjects. He said:
"STEM subjects have always been critical disciplines at the core of GCHQ’s work to safeguard the nation. GCHQ has a long association with STEM development and encouraging these subjects through its outreach programme in local schools. There’s a national shortage of STEM skills, so GCHQ is really pleased to be hosting the Symposium to show some of the exciting career opportunities and pathways open to students".
The Symposium attendees heard from a wide range of groups and speakers, all with a keen interest in promoting the study of STEM-based subjects, to give the teachers ideas about how to increase interest amongst their own students when they return to their schools and colleges.
The teachers heard from GCHQ how STEM subjects are relevant to the success of GCHQ’s critical missions of protecting national security, combating serious crime and preventing cyber-attacks.
The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) were represented by Assistant Director John Meeson, who emphasised that "an essential aspect of teaching mathematics is the ability to give the subject real context, so that students can understand its place in the world".
Exciting outreach programmes were in evidence at the Symposium where Dawn Fitt, the BLOODHOUND Education Programme Delivery Director, presented some real world examples and data from the Bloodhound supersonic car which helped to bring STEM to life and excite children of all ages through the Bloodhound project.
GCHQ’s long-term partners, the Cyber Security Challenge UK, were also present giving attendees information on how their programme aims to find talented people to help develop the nation’s skills base in the field of cyber security. Brian Higgins, the Project Manager, said, "This is a great opportunity and it’s vital that Cyber Security takes a prominent role in the curriculum".
GCHQ is one of the largest employers of professional mathematicians outside of the University sector and to demonstrate why these skills are in such demand, Professor Graham Niblo, of the National Cipher Challenge explained how mathematicians are creative problem-solvers and why a deep knowledge of maths can lead to a variety of extremely diverse careers.
Knowledge of STEM subjects has increased the awareness of career choices for women and girls, in engineering and technology and is becoming one of the fastest growing career options. With this in mind Catherine Hobbs, Head of Department - Engineering Design and Mathematics, University of the West of England spoke directly to teachers about why promoting careers in engineering and technology to girls is so important and highlighted some examples of role models together with careers information to help girls achieve success in this field.
Abbie Hutty, of the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), became the 2013 IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year. Now co-ordinating a team working to enable the ExoMars Rover structure to survive a rocket launch and the descent into the atmosphere of Mars, Abbie gave teachers some useful examples of the exciting things going on in engineering and technology today.
As the people who help shape the next generation’s ideas and perceptions about how STEM subjects are applied in the real world, Abbie asked teachers to: "Take our messages about engineering directly into the classrooms and reach hundreds of students".
The importance of the event in promoting the study of STEM subjects was perhaps best summed up by David Owen from GFirst LEP who said "The Symposium is a crucial event to raise awareness and help teachers to inspire pupils to be enthusiastic about STEM subjects and the exciting careers that can follow. Developing STEM skills and encouraging young people to pursue a career in these subjects plays a critical component for our future economic growth to develop essential skills in demand; this initiative comes at an important time when we need to boost sustainable economic growth across the county, to create prosperity and jobs". With such important messages to get across to students of all ages, and with interest so high, it is hoped that the event will run again at GCHQ in the near future.