Publication - Consultation responses

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics: consultation on a strategy for education and training

Published: 21 Mar 2017
Learning Directorate
Part of:

An analysis of responses to the consultation on the draft science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) strategy.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics: consultation on a strategy for education and training


The draft strategy proposed a number of principles and areas for implementation where new or scaled-up action can be taken. The strategy makes clear that the proposed approach to implementation seeks to build on existing local and regional approaches, learn from international best practice, and listen to views and suggestions provided through the consultation.

The draft strategy included two consultation questions in relation to implementation. These sought views on the principles for implementation set out in the draft strategy, and suggestions for other approaches that the Government could take to ensure a more coherent approach, and to maximise impact.

Principles for implementation

The draft strategy set out three principles that will shape the approach to implementation focused around improving understanding of the fit between STEM skills requirements and education/training activity, simplifying and streamlining activity, and developing meaningful performance measures. The principles as set out in the draft are:

  • Continue improving our data and understanding of what STEM skills are needed in the labour market, how these are being met by the education and training system, and how this might be improved, including the identification of barriers for particular groups.
  • Realise greater efficiency and value for money from publicly-funded programmes through simplifying and streamlining activities and funding.
  • Set meaningful key performance indicators for Government and our agencies that drive delivery of the Strategy.

Questions 7 sought views on these principles.

Q7. Do you agree with the principles set out for implementation?

A total of 149 (of 192) respondents answered Question 7. A large majority, 81% of those answering the question, agreed with the principles set out in the draft strategy. The majority of respondents across all respondent types agreed with the principles, although there was some variation evident - 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, 19% of those answering, disagreed with the principles for implementation. This included 14 group respondents across a range of respondent types, and 14 individuals.

Question 7: Response by Respondent Type

Do you agree with the principles set out for implementation? Yes No No answer Total
Education sector - Colleges 8 2 10
Education sector - Universities 5 1 5 11
Education sector - Schools/Other 5 1 6
Academic/Research Institute 4 1 5
Science engagement 9 2 1 12
STEM industry 12 1 1 14
STEM industry professional & representative bodies 13 2 2 17
Other STEM education, professional & representative bodies 5 2 3 10
Other professional & representative bodies 2 1 9 12
Local authorities and other public bodies 8 1 9
Third sector/Non-profit organisations 8 2 5 15
Groups (Total) 79 14 28 121
Individuals 42 14 15 71
Total 121 28 43 192
Percentage of those answering 81% 19% - 100%
Percentage of all respondents 63% 15% 22% 100%

A total of 98 respondents provided further comment at Question 7, 51% of all respondents. Most of those providing written comment agreed with the implementation principles (61 of 98 providing comment), although a large proportion of those answering 'no' at Question 7 provided further comment, as did a number who had not answered the yes/no question.

A substantial number of respondents used written comments to emphasise their support for the implementation principles, including specific aspects of the principles which were seen as particularly important. This included reference to the importance of reviewing skills requirements to ensure fit with education and training, the need for intelligence-driven implementation based on clear performance measures, the reference to streamlining activity and the need for greater clarity and better use of resources, and a better understanding of the barriers to engagement and experience of particular groups.

Most of those providing written comment at Question 7 raised issues, points for clarification, or suggestions for amendment. This included comments on specific aspects of the three implementation principles, and other issues and suggestions for additional principles. These are summarised over the following pages.

In relation to principle 1, understanding the fit between STEM skills requirements and education/training activity, respondents made the following points:

  • The need for intelligent use of data and more qualitative information on skills requirements to provide a rounded picture of the range of current and likely future requirements.
  • The importance of engagement with the STEM industry to inform understanding of STEM skills requirements, including ongoing engagement to ensure we are sensitive to changes in requirements over time.
  • Reference to ongoing work to assess labour market needs as a potential resource for this principle.
  • Suggestions that the principle could be stronger by emphasising the identification of current and future skills needs, and adapting the education and training system to meet these needs.
  • In relation to barriers for particular groups, suggestions that the principle must recognise the potential complexity of barriers (including development of multiple measures to reflect this), but must also seek to identify approaches to overcome identified barriers.

In relation to principle 2, around simplifying and streamlining activity to realise efficiencies and value for money, respondents made the following points:

  • Requests for further detail on the approach to this principle, including some expressing specific concern that this principle could imply a reduction in current provision and funding. These respondents suggested that this would undermine delivery of strategic aims and priorities, with several explicitly referring to a need for increased funding.
  • Suggestions that streamlining is undertaken intelligently, including with reference to use of performance information to assess impact, and likely efficiency savings. Respondents also highlighted the importance of a coherent and coordinated approach to streamlining activity, led by national policies. This included reference to other initiatives and policies where alignment would be beneficial such as the Enterprise and Skills Review and Commission on Widening Access. A university respondent also cautioned that streamlining should not mean focusing activity on "traditional" STEM subjects at the expense of developing STEM skills across other disciplines.
  • Recognising different challenges across Scotland, particularly in terms of geography, and the resources required to overcome these.
  • A suggestion that funding approaches could play a role in supporting efficiencies, for example longer-term funding to enable development and planning.

In relation to principle 3 on developing meaningful performance measures, respondents made the following points:

  • The importance that KPIs (and collection methods) are well designed through a coordinated approach which ensures a coherent set of measures. This included specific reference to the potential role of engagement with the STEM industry, to provide information but also to help ensure the correct measures and questions are set.
  • Concerns that development of discrete KPIs should be part of developing a broader understanding of the benefits delivered by STEM activity, and does not become a "box ticking exercise". This included the importance of sharing evidence on performance and impact to enable this to shape ongoing design of STEM programmes and activity.
  • Suggestions that performance measures should not be limited to "Scottish Government and our agencies" as implied in the draft, but also include reference to other partners.
  • A college respondent suggested that detail is required on who will be leading and coordinating the collation and reporting of performance measures. A specific suggestion that governance mechanisms and assessment of performance has access to specialist gender expertise.
  • Reference to the importance of sustainability as a key principle for performance measures.
  • Reference to specific evidence sources and ongoing work that can inform assessment of performance.

Respondents also raised a number of other issues which applied across multiple implementation principles, or reflected broader views on the approach to implementation. The key points here are summarised below:

  • A number of respondents were concerned that the principles are too ambiguous (including for example what would constitute "meaningful" measures). This included suggestions that a clearer and more ambitious statement of approach is required, and that this is linked more explicitly to the strategy's priority themes. This point was raised by a broad range of respondents, but appeared to be a particular concern for some of those who answered "no" at question 7.
  • Respondents also suggested that connectedness and coherence are key themes for all three implementation principles. Some suggested a need for greater coordination of approach including reference to national policies, the potential role of a single agency to support and coordinate implementation, and establishing regional hubs.
  • Several respondents suggested an additional principle focused more specifically on improving standards of STEM education and training including support to providers, and training/experience for educators. This included reference to developing STEM knowledge and skills, but also pedagogical approaches to support STEM education and training. A college respondent suggested a need for a wider understanding of STEM principles, capabilities and careers across teachers and other education professionals.
  • A small number of respondents referred to the importance of improving public understanding and appreciation of STEM, including suggestions that this could form an additional principle.
  • A STEM industry respondent suggested an additional principle recognising the importance that STEM activity understands and responds to the needs of children and young people - and the extent to which this varies across genders and other groups.
  • A small number of respondents specifically noted the importance of dialogue and collaboration between all education sectors and employers for all three principles. It was also suggested that ongoing dialogue across sectors and with employers will be required to continue to shape implementation of the strategy.
  • A number of respondents raised concerns that the role of Chief Scientific Adviser may not have the capacity to act as conduit between Government and STEM employers. This included reference to other elements of the Adviser's brief, and that this is a part-time role. Several respondents suggested the potential for other partners to support the Chief Scientific Adviser in this role, including reference to Learned Societies and the Scottish Science Advisory Council.
  • A small number of respondents were concerned that phrasing of the three principles implies that the value of STEM education and engagement is purely functional, rather than being of intrinsic value.

Implementation approach

Question 8 sought views on what else the Government should do - in addition to the principles for implementation discussed at Question 7 - to ensure a more coherent approach to STEM education and training that maximises impact.

Q8. What else should Government do to ensure a more coherent approach and maximise impact?

A total of 157 respondents provided further comment at Question 8, around 4 in 5 of all respondents. This included 104 group respondents and 53 individuals.

Several of those making comment referred to key aspects of the three principles discussed at Question 7. This included for example ensuring implementation is based on an accurate understanding of skills gaps and barriers to engagement, and the need to simplify the range of activities currently underway. However, most of those providing comment suggested additional principles or approaches to implementation of the strategy. Respondents raised a number of issues, including reference to a significant range of specific initiatives and programmes. A number of common themes emerge in relation to respondents' views on the implementation approach:

  • The importance of ensuring a coordinated approach to maximise impact and minimise duplication, including reference to the potential value of a centralised hub to collate activities. Linked to this point, several respondents suggested the need for effective communication and promotion of a coherent message around STEM engagement and skills development.
  • The need to support collaboration across all partners including education sectors, science centres, qualifications bodies, funding bodies, and STEM industries. This was in relation to ensuring design of education and training is fit for purpose, to support delivery, and enable sharing of good practice. This included a suggestion that there is a need to address current barriers to engagement between employers and education partners. Comments here included specific emphasis of the contribution that the STEM industry can make - to improving engagement and understanding of STEM, and specifically to the development of education and training programmes. These respondents suggested a need to increase engagement, while ensuring this remains sustainable. This included reference to a potential need for support or incentives for employers.
  • A need for a collaborative approach to implementing the strategy, which is transparent on the outcomes of the consultation, and involves key stakeholders in development of specific elements of the implementation process.
  • The importance of a flexible approach to implementation, that is able to respond to changes over time. This included reference to the need for regular review of skills requirements (potentially led by the Chief Scientific Adviser), and approaches that are able to respond to changing skills requirements more quickly than "traditional" education programmes.
  • Several respondents recommended a stronger focus on equity across approaches - for gender and also for other disadvantaged groups including disability, care experience, and rurality.
  • A university respondents suggested a stronger focus on recruitment and retention of good teachers, recognising their critical role in delivering improvement in STEM standards and engagement.
  • A university respondent suggested a need to ensure sustainability of implementation, and provision of the funding streams required to deliver strategic aims and priorities. This included reference to specific initiatives that have ended as a result of funding being terminated.
  • A university respondent suggested greater emphasis on the role of creative and critical thinking to drive STEM innovation, alongside development of more vocational STEM skills.

In addition to the above points, respondents suggested a range of specific initiatives and approaches. This included:

  • Approaches that promote and support multi-agency collaborative working were recommended by a substantial number of respondents, including reference to existing examples such as the Scottish STEM Partnership. Specific suggestions included development of a central hub or resource to support collaborative work and share good practice; establishing a central independent group able to provide advice on STEM initiatives and approaches; development of regional hubs or working groups bringing together education, employers, third sector, and Government; using funding processes to encourage greater collaboration (rather than competition) between STEM providers; and using the role of the Chief Scientific Advisor to promote dialogue across partners on how to work together in promoting STEM.
  • Equity related initiatives, embedding unconscious bias training throughout STEM education, training and professional development. Reference was made to ensuring a role for EQUATE Scotland initiatives to provide diverse role models, for example via the STEM Ambassadors programme and that equity indicators are built into the monitoring of progress.
  • Promoting initiatives that involve engagement with the STEM industry, in developing STEM engagement, and identifying skills requirements. It was suggested that Innovation Centres could have a role in collating this work given their existing links with STEM industry and other partners, and that a national STEM employer group could be established to provide leadership. It was also suggested that engagement with STEM employers - and particularly SMEs - is required to assess support required to maintain and develop STEM education and engagement.
  • Suggestions for development of a "Task Force" or "Champion" to drive implementation of the strategy. A STEM industry respondent also suggested that the role of the Chief Science Advisor is expanded to the Chief STEM Adviser.
  • A more comprehensive understanding of STEM engagement and activity, including sharing of good practice and mapping of STEM activities to ensure all partners are able to participate. A particular focus on improving understanding of equality-related initiatives was also suggested. One respondent also suggested that implementation should draw on activities elsewhere in the UK, including the Wakeham review of STEM degree provision and graduate employability.
  • Development of a monitoring and evaluation framework, incorporating appropriate quantitative and more qualitative measures to provide a genuine account of the impact of STEM engagement activity. This included reference to the importance of engagement with partners to inform design and implementation of the framework.
  • Research to develop a better understanding of learners' interest in and attitudes towards STEM, and using this to shape the approach to STEM. This included particular reference to the P7/S1 transition, in the context of PISA findings which indicate a decline in interest and positive attitudes towards science from adolescence. A small number of respondents also emphasised the importance of parents and families in supporting learning, and that their perspective is included.
  • Programmes to ensure educators across all sectors are equipped to deliver an inspiring and "more futuristic" curriculum. This included reference to improving STEM skills amongst future educators (for example STEM qualification as an entry requirement for primary teachers), increasing the focus on STEM within training for current teachers (for example enabling teachers to undertake CPD with STEM employers), and ensuring all schools have a clear STEM focus.
  • Recognising the need to tailor approaches to fit the differing needs of different parts of the country - including for example larger urban areas and more rural and dispersed populations with lower school and STEM Ambassador populations. This included a specific suggestion for more targeted funding to enable further education and higher education institutions in high demand areas to make more offers to qualified applicants.
  • Increased investment in enabling the current STEM workforce to update and develop skills, including a suggestion from a STEM industry respondent that given the scale of the workforce and the need for rapid improvement, this may be more important than apprenticeships and other vocational routes for new talent.
  • Ensuring a good understanding across education sectors of the role of science centres, and the education programmes available to support STEM engagement.
  • Consider development of minimum standards and sharing of good practice in delivery of informal science engagement.
  • Ensuring parity of esteem for academic and vocational pathways, included a suggestion that greater and earlier access to vocational qualifications is required.
  • Initiatives with a specific focus on developing digital skills, including Computer Science as a distinct discipline.
  • A review of careers advice and skills development for children and young people to ensure this is fit for purpose, and that it inspires young people - and in particular that it presents the full range of available pathways.
  • Funding to further expand the STEM Ambassador role, including for example funding a 6 month supplement to PhD studentships to act as Ambassadors.
  • Enhancement and integration of school and further education qualification systems to ensure they fit with varying end points.
  • Development and funding of " STEM clubs" to facilitate extra-curricular activities for those engaged in STEM.
  • Initiatives to encourage the role of outdoor learning and nature in STEM engagement, including for example through training for educators.
  • Requiring STEM education or vocational experience as a contractual condition for Government projects.
  • Reference to specific bodies or partnerships such as SSERC and Developing Young Workforce teams, and suggestions that there is scope to raise awareness and use of these.


Email: Frank Creamer