How many Westminster speeches start with an anecdote from Gogglebox – the popular Channel 4 programme whose premise is watching other people watch telly?
Not many, but today Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities, pointed to a recent episode which perfectly illustrated why I, and 40 girls from 11 different schools, were at Portcullis House in Westminster.
The Gogglebox episode in question saw Scarlett Moffat comment on a news story about the differences in how much women and men are paid. In reply to her mother saying ’employ a woman to do a man’s job but at a woman’s rate of pay’, Scarlett fired back with ‘there’s no such thing as a ‘man’s job, Mum. We’re all equal.’
That final word ‘equal’ was what today’s event was all about – telling girls STEM is not just for boys, but for everyone, and that if they enjoy it then there are careers and opportunities out there for them.
Speaking to the girls at the event, Secretary of State for Education, the Rt. Hon Nicky Morgan MP Nicky Morgan said: "Sometimes there is a thought that actually computing and coding and tech are for the boys, but they are absolutely not.
"As education secretary what I want is for our schools to make sure that our young people are prepared for the careers and the world of the future. And whatever you might think about it, computers, tech and coding are going to be very much a part of our futures. Everything that you are doing is essential."
MP Nicky Morgan, centre, with girls who have participated in the TechFuture Girls Club
Aged between nine and fourteen, the girls at the event were all participants of TechFuture Girls, a programme operated by the Tech Partnership and sponsored by HPE. They had been brought to Parliament to showcase their tech skills in front of their MPs, at an event hosted by Siobhain McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden.
The girls were able to show off their cyber prowess with the aid of HPE’s "Protect the Island’ learning module which, through games and challenges, teaches the importance of good cyber security practice in business and everyday life.
Hearing from the girls themselves, their enthusiasm for technology and cyber security was a joy to see. Students at Lumbertubs Primary School taught me about phishing and showed me a game on algorithms, while girls at Saint Mary’s CofE School advised me on the best passwords to use.
Speaking to the girls at the event, where they told me about their future career aspirations as White Hats, app developers and computer game designers, it was clear that initiatives like the TechFuture Girls programme are making a positive impact. The programme now reaches 5,000 girls in 1,000 schools across the country, and aims to reach 2,000 schools by the end of this academic year.
With the UK facing an ever growing digital skills gap, the message from Morgan was one of perseverance. Addressing the girls she said: "So my message is please keep going. We need more girls to do what sometimes are called the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, maths – that doesn’t mean the other subjects aren’t valuable, because they are, but we need as a country more people to be good at computers, tech and engineering. It’s really, really important. So please keep going, please keep studying."
Responding to her comments, Jacqui Ferguson, Senior Vice President and General Manager at Enterprise Services for UK and Ireland at HPE, said: "As a woman who has made her career in technology, I’m delighted that so many students have had an opportunity to participate in a TechFuture Girls club since our sponsorship began in 2014.
"Hewlett Packard Enterprise wants to play its part in closing the digital skills gap. The UK’s economic success will increasingly depend on the digital fluency of all of our citizens so it’s vitally important that no group feels excluded from the range of careers that the technology industry offers."
MP Nicky Morgan, centre, with all of the school girls in attendance at Portcullis House