1. The Scottish Government consulted on a draft strategy for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics ( STEM) education and training for Scotland. The draft sets out an approach to STEM education and training that will continue to meet the challenges in ensuring young people gain the STEM skills, knowledge and capabilities they need. The draft strategy is based around two key aims and four priority themes, with specific actions proposed under each of the four themes. The consultation asked 20 substantive questions across various elements of the draft strategy.
2. The final number of submissions received was 192, including 121 from group respondents and 71 from individual members of the public. The group respondents included the education sector, academic and research institutes, science engagement, STEM industry and industry professional/representative bodies, other education and professional/representative bodies, public bodies, and third sector organisations.
Strategy Aims, Outcomes and Scope
3. The consultation document sets out the definition of STEM on which the draft strategy is based. A clear majority of respondents agreed with the definition provided, highlighting the extent to which the definition emphasises the importance of digital skills, and of the connectivity between STEM disciplines. A total of 28 respondents objected to the definition of STEM including 4 other STEM education and professional/representative bodies, 3 STEM industry professional/representative bodies and 11 individuals.
4. The draft strategy is based around two overall aims (improving STEM enthusiasm, skills, and knowledge; and encouraging uptake of more specialist STEM skills), and four priority themes (Excellence, Equity, Connection, and Inspiration). A clear majority of respondents agreed with the aims and priority themes, including reference to consistency with ongoing work across education sectors and industry, and relevance to Scotland's wider economic strategy.
5. A number of respondents expressed reservations and/or suggested amendment to the strategic aims and priority themes. This included concerns that the priority themes are too general to help drive activity; that the strategy could better acknowledge the role of employers in ensuring education and training supports STEM economic sectors; that more emphasis is needed on raising awareness and recognition of STEM beyond those engaging with core STEM disciplines; that the approach must ensure young people see STEM subjects as relevant and "for people like me"; and that the equity theme is broadened beyond deprivation and gender equity to include other disadvantaged groups.
6. The draft strategy sets out five outcomes as indicators of success in delivering the strategic aims and priorities. The majority of respondents felt that the success criteria set out in the draft strategy were right, although there remained more than a third who disagreed. Support for the success criteria was most widespread amongst schools and colleges, science engagement and STEM industry respondents. Those in the other STEM education and professional/ representatives, third sector and academic/research respondent groups were most likely to disagree with the success criteria.
7. Respondents raised a range of issues in relation to the success criteria. The most commonly raised issue was the extent to which the success criteria are " SMART", how progress against the criteria will be measured, and suggestions that meaningful measures of change will require to be developed. Respondents also commented on the extent to which the outcomes focus on the experience and skills of "children and young people", and some wished to see this extended to include early years engagement and/or improving STEM skills and experience for adults and those returning to STEM. A number of respondents also suggested that criteria should be based on a broader understanding of diversity.
8. The draft provides a specific account of the scope of the strategy. A substantial proportion of respondents indicated broad support here, including particular reference to the importance of the early years stage in building enthusiasm for STEM, and the strategy's recognition of the breadth of experiences and diversity of pathways through STEM education and employment. However, most of those providing comment raised issues for, or suggested some amendment to, the scope of the strategy. These were most commonly related to a stronger role for employers across the strategy.
9. The strategy notes the range of STEM education and training activity currently underway, and sought views on the extent to which current activity will contribute positively to the strategy, and where there may need to be a change in approach.
10. A substantial proportion of respondents gave a generally positive view on the contribution that current STEM activity will make to the draft strategy, and few expressed strongly negative views. However, respondents did raise a range of concerns including a lack of coherence and connectivity across STEM education and training activity, and a lack of measurable outcomes and evidence on the effectiveness of current initiatives and approaches. Some also suggested that there is a lack of genuine recognition of and commitment to gender equity across current approaches, and resourcing constraints were highlighted by several respondents including with specific reference to the need for additional resourcing to improve gender and deprivation balance.
11. The majority of respondents highlighted specific areas where they felt that current approaches could be adapted. This again included better coordination of activity to improve impact, ensure fit with skills requirements, and minimise duplication. Respondents also wished to see more and better collaboration across education sectors and with industry in delivery of STEM education and training, and more work around recruitment, development and retention of teachers. .
Implementation and proposed actions
12. The draft strategy set out three principles for implementation of the strategy, focused around improving understanding of the fit between STEM skills requirements and education/training activity, simplifying and streamlining activity, and developing meaningful performance measures. A large majority of respondents agreed with these principles. Support was most widespread amongst academic/research institutes, STEM industry and STEM industry professional/representative bodies, and local authority/public body respondents. A total of 28 respondents disagreed with the principles, including some concerns that a clearer statement of approach is required, and that this is linked more explicitly to the strategy's priority themes.
13. Respondents suggested a range of principles and approaches to support implementation of the strategy, and these appeared to reflect a number of common themes. This included the importance of a coordinated approach to maximise impact and minimise duplication; the need to support collaboration across all partners including education sectors, science centres, professional bodies and STEM industries; the importance of a flexible approach to implementation that is able to respond to changes over time; and a stronger focus on equity in STEM education and training.
14. A substantial number of respondents felt that the strategy is clear and action focused, and/or that the actions will deliver the intended outcomes. However, respondents also raised concerns or suggested additional actions to ensure successful delivery of the strategy. Common themes here included that the strategy and its actions need to be clearer on how they will be achieved; concern around a perceived over-reliance on enhancement of existing actions; reference to resourcing constraints and suggestions that the extent of financial support for the strategy is what will determine whether the aims and outcomes are achieved; and a need for effective measurement of impact and progress.
15. The majority of respondents felt that the strategy will improve equity of outcomes, with support most widespread amongst education sector, academic/research institutes, STEM industry and third sector respondents. However, there remained around a third of respondents who felt that the strategy will not improve equity of outcomes, including a number of science engagement and STEM industry professional/representative respondents. These respondents felt that the strategy should recognise the need to tackle underlying gender inequality and stereotypes to achieve significant progress, and raised concerns that the draft strategy did not propose sufficient new activity. Respondents also highlighted the importance of understanding experience of inequality and disadvantage, and of the approaches that work.
16. The consultation sought views on what specific sectors could do to support the areas for action identified in the draft strategy:
- Education sectors, voluntary organisations and science engagement providers. A number of respondents referred to schools as having a central role for the strategy, and views were also generally positive about the role played by science engagement providers. Some suggested that both sectors could have a stronger role in STEM education and training. Respondents also highlighted the value of coordination across sectors, and the potential to use funding structures to encourage and enable collaboration.
- Professional bodies and third sector organisations. Respondents identified a range of areas where the sector could support the strategy, with a focus on teacher training and CPD, and the need for sectoral and regional partnerships to ensure a coordinated and consistent approach. Resourcing was also highlighted by a number of respondents.
- Science centres and festivals. A substantial number of respondents were positive about the work of science centres and festivals in promoting STEM. This included reference to a range of specific activities and initiatives, and some suggestions for national and/or regional coordination of activities.
- Other sectors. Respondents referred to a broad range of sectors and specific bodies as having a contribution to make to the strategy. This included support for a framework for work-based training and development. The role of STEM employers as providers of training and development opportunities was also highlighted.
17. The draft strategy proposed a National STEM Improvement Framework to provide early years, schools and clusters with a clear approach to improve STEM learning and teaching. The majority of respondents expressed support for the Framework. However, respondents also raised issues or concerns, with these primarily focused on implementation of the Framework. This included reference to the Framework as "too general" to support detailed implementation. Measurement of performance, and the need to ensure this is meaningful, was also a concern for some.
18. The draft strategy proposed the development of a model of collaboration between schools, colleges, universities and employers. The majority of respondents were supportive of the principle of the model. However, respondents also raised a range of broader considerations for the development and implementation of the model. These included the need for the model to be properly resourced; the need to ensure genuine buy-in to the collaborative model; ensuring development of the model draws on existing knowledge and expertise; and a mix of views on the balance between the regional focus of partnerships, and providing a nationally-coordinated approach.
19. The draft strategy included proposals for a Scottish STEM ambassador network providing all schools with the opportunity to develop partnerships with public, private or third sectors. A number of respondents expressed broad support for the proposals, but a range of concerns or points for clarification were also highlighted. This included questions around how proposals relate to multiple existing STEM ambassador programmes, what an additional Scottish network will add, and concerns regarding duplication of effort and the potential to add complexity and confusion. A number of respondents suggested that the objectives for the proposed network could be pursued through existing programmes. Resourcing the expansion of STEM ambassadors across Scotland was also a significant concern for some.
20. Respondents referred to a broad range of organisations and people that should be involved in delivery of the strategy. These were most commonly related to STEM industry and industry professional and representative bodies, education sectors and others involved in learning and skills development, academic and research bodies, STEM and wider science engagement organisations, third sector bodies including those with a focus on equalities, public sector organisations including funding bodies, and young people and parents.
21. Respondents also detailed a range of activities they are current undertaking that support the strategy's aims and priorities. These were typically focused around areas such as supporting STEM learning and teaching; partnership working; STEM engagement; vocational pathways and working with the STEM industry; and actions with a specific focus on equality.
22. Respondents referred to a wide range of approaches that employers could use to improve the diversity of their STEM talent. These included raising awareness of and engagement in STEM industries; increasing employer engagement with education sectors and other partners; expanding participation in apprenticeship programmes and workplace experience; and ensuring recruitment approaches reach those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and are aware of and responsive to disadvantage. Respondents also referred to a need for changes to STEM workplaces to provide a more flexible, inclusive and family-friendly culture. This reflected some concerns around the number of employees lost to the STEM sector due to poor working conditions, poor training and a lack of opportunities for progression.
Email: Frank Creamer