Govt PR for maths, science and languages, and Uni drop out figures

image It seems government’s solution to make maths, science and languages more appealing for school kids is to hire PR agencies.

I find it absurd that Ed Balls’ Department for Children, Schools and Families is launching two major PR drives to encourage teenagers to study these subjects.

A report in the latest PR Week states how two PR agencies have been hired to improve the popularity of maths, science and languages. During a three-year campaign, Fishburn Hedges will target 13-17 year olds to show the attractive career opportunities that can result from studying maths and science – such as becoming lighting experts at music festivals and Formula One engineers.

This is what worries me, they seem to be dumbing down the relevance of two very important subjects. Is there a shortage of lighting experts at music festivals or motor racing engineers? Or is there a shortage of scientists to work on research projects to tackle climate change and other global issues? Will that be part of their message too?

Meanwhile, Band & Brown’s brief is to increase the number of young people studying modern foreign languages after the age of 14. The 15 month campaign will launch this summer.

This comes within days of a review announcing that speaking foreign languages in a GCSE exam was too stressful for pupils and could be dropped from the exam.

Instead of trying to understand the reasons why learning a foreign language is declining in popularity, as well as science and maths, Ed Balls is using taxpayers’ money on PR to try and influence school kids. Why not use this money, I imagine tens of thousands of pounds, on appointing more teaching staff, providing extra training if necessary, as well as briefing careers advisors on getting the right messages across?

Obviously, I’m all for positive and proactive PR, but it has to make sense, and this clearly does not.

*Also on the subject of education, I’ve been following reports image about university drop out figures reaching almost 25% with particular interest as my eldest son David is planning to go to uni in September.

It seems many students have been doing their calculations and worked out it’s not going to be worth their while financially, that the extra money they get as a graduate will not offset the £25,000 debt they may end up with at the end of their course.

Then there is the little contact time between student and lecturer. I visited several uni open days in the last few months, and it is not as high as the 14 hours quoted in this Sunday Times report. From memory, it was more 10-12 hours. This came as a big surprise to me, I was expecting more.

David wants to study Economics at Hull University which we visited again on Saturday. Economics graduates are estimated to be among the top wage earners once they enter the real working world. So hopefully there will be some financial security for David, and not just the worry of a huge debt around his neck.

Yes, I know Hull is John Prescott and Alan Johnson territory, but this will be the last thing on David’s mind as he enjoys student life. The university’s Business School is impressive and everyone we met seemed friendly and happy. I know several people who have been to Hull Uni and nobody has a bad word to say about it. And it’s also much cheaper there too, beer costs around £1.30 a pint, according to David’s research! His campus accommodation looks decent and, including a hot evening meal and cleaner, costs less than £90 a week. The bus fare is a fraction of what he pays in Cambridgeshire.

I do sympathise with unis struggling to attract good caliber students, of desperately trying to get students to sign up to boost their coffers. We visited one which said they would accept lower A’level results, which is why standards are dropping, and students can’t cope once they get there.


  1. David, the proof of these campaigns will be on how successful they are in achieving their objectives and sustaining them. Only time will tell. I will make a mental note to check the outcomes in a few years time.

  2. For once I agree with Welshcakes..”untill the British (kids in this case) get into their heads that laearning a foreign language (and Maths and Science) might actually be usefull, we are utterly lost”. That’s what these camapigns will do . . egt it into kids heads that they should study these things; make them think they should stick it out when they have started; and get them to give their friends reasons to follow their lead . . ” Of course we need teachers and buildings but we need motivated kids too and older people preaching at them is not the way to do this….these PR camapigns have a much better chance. Elle you are pandering to the Colonel Blimp brigade a bit these days with this stuff.

  3. As a former UK head of modern languages, I can only say, sadly, that”I’ve heard it all before”. Until the British get it into their heads that learning a foreign language might actually be useful, we are utterly lost!

  4. We have become more money orientated. Science doesn’t pay as well as law and is not as exciting as media seems to be.

    When was it ever ‘cool’ to study maths ? I only ever remember beardie-weirdies in dodgy tank-tops trying to explain the unexplainable on OU programmes late at night.

    Our schools are largely crap. Too much resource is put into getting as many people into university as possible when most people aren’t suited to it. This is done to disguise unemployment, extract fees, disguise the fall in educational standards and this results in less funding for those seriously interested in study and research.

    It’s a mess.

    Good luck to David and I hope that his mush has fully recovered from surgery.

  5. David Allen

    Why waste the money on PR? Surely, a far more effective approach would be for the government to pay the tuition fees of those students studying subjects like maths and pure sciences where these are deemed to be of strategic national interest. They could also offer cost-of-living bursaries to students with really good A-level grades _ and perhaps a bonus on graduation based on grade achieved. This is the best way of attracting more students, and more of the brightest students to the right subjects. The message going out to 6th formers should be: ‘If you want to study sociology, history of art or media studies, know that there will be no hand-outs and you will have to bear the full cost of your education’ These changes would soon start to influence the university courses people applied for _ and the A-level courses they choose too.

  6. Poppycock!

    Have you ever worked ina call centre, trying to sell broadband to hundreds of people a week?

    They all hate KC!

  7. PS: ‘motor racing engineers‘? Yes there are dedicated courses but an automotive engineer is usually a graduate mechanical engineer that could just as easily work for Ford or MIRA as well as for a motor racing assoc company or the aerospace industry. This engineer could just as easily be part of the european council negotiations for carbon emissions.

    If ever we embrace the euro then car manufacturing in this country will be affected and the R&D will no doubt be affected too. The government has done little to provide a climate in which manufacturing flourishes.

  8. I’d laugh if this PR drive wasn’t using public funds, it’s so absurd.

    I can understand the difficulty in foreign languages as they don’t teach thier own language sufficiently well so they have no hope of learning another without stress. My 8 yr old son is learning joined up writing. They’re not teaching him what to write but how to write rubbish in a preferred style. Can anyone explain this to me?? Why do they not teach grammar? To give a good platform to learn european languages they would be better teaching latin.

  9. Having spent some time using Hull as a base whilst managing a huge IT project I got to know the city quite well, I’m sure your son will enjoy it enormously.
    Within easy distance of York and Beverley too, and at less than £2 a pint he’ll even learn the value of decent beer!

  10. Nu-Lab’s answer to everything. PR

  11. Steven, I hope that won’t be the case. For those of you who don’t know, Hull has its own telephone network, it is not run by BT, which is why you see white telephone boxes everywhere. The uni has great computer facilities with broadband and a wonderful new business school, I find it hard to believe that it is not running efficiently.

  12. Hull’s hard-left roots will be the last hing on his mind until he enters second year only to discover that he can only obtain fixed line internet services from the awful Kingston Communications monopoly.

  13. Sally, David has his theory test on 5 March. He was booked in a couple of weeks ago and forgot to take his paperwork in with him.

    Tom, everyone I meet who knows Hull uni says the same, that it is great. Thanks for your vote of confidence too.

  14. David, how come other countries are managing to teach their kids these subjects without the same difficulties? I remember being told recently that science is particularly hot in Bulgaria, that the country has more doctors per head of population than any other European country, and of course, they all speak English fluently, and probably another couple of languages too.

    I never underestimate the intelligence of our public or our young people, and I think that is what this is doing. It is nothing to do with PR or politics, but what I believe is common sense. Why can our young people not aspire to be scientists and make a difference in this world, instead of being encouraged to become lighting experts or motor engineers? I guess the answer is money, they will get paid a lot more working in what is perceived to be a glamorous industry with rich sponsors. That is sadly not the case with science. I work with some world leading scientists, I know the challenges we face in this world because of food security and drought stress, you can read about this on one of my recent posts on this subject.

    This is going to be such a huge issue, just check out food price rises in China where some families are no longer able to pay for meat, the price of rice has doubled and is becoming unaffordable too. The world is changing David, and we need our scientists to work with us on this. I hope FH will take note. It is just my opinion, of course.

  15. off topic….but has david done his driving theroy yet ?????

  16. Am I the only person who would prefer us to have a government that spent money on teachers rather than PR companies?
    If our children are to have a good standard of living they will have to compete with people from China and India – places that take education seriously; and not just from a PR perspective.
    Brown and his ‘no spin’ promise…

  17. May I congratulate David on an excellent choice of University! I’m currently a first year student at Hull, and having a great time!

  18. Oh come on Elle. Don’t make increasing demand for Maths, Science and Languages a party political issue. This is common sense. You know better than most that if you just ‘build it’ (train teachers and build facilities) and kids do not want to learn it . . . they will not. If they think it’s cool or people they admire have learned it or they can connect with others interested in it, they are much more likely to opt for it and to stick at it. It’s not one or the other, it’s the wise use of every tactic and discipline to get kids (and their parents) to take these vital subjects more seriously. I am glad they picked two very good agencies to do the job and I just hope they have invested enough money behind (I would double those budgets) it to move the needle on the dial.

  19. I find it absurd that Ed Balls’ Department for Children, Schools and Families is launching two major PR drives to encourage teenagers to study these subjects.

    Total wastage at a time of wastage.

  20. The state of today’s education is too depressing and will take its toll on our country, sadly, unless the Govt can find enough immigrants to hide the statistics. My nephew’s reading History at Manchester. In his first term, he only had to hand in 3 essays, right at the end of the term. In my day, I had to hand in three pieces of work every week.


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