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
Proposed actions

Proposed actions

The draft strategy includes a range of actions in relation to each of the four priority themes, including reference to key agencies leading on delivery. This section considers respondents views on the extent to which the strategy is clear and action focused, whether the proposed actions will deliver the required outcomes, and on the contribution that specific sectors can make to the areas for action.

A clear and action focused strategy

Questions 9 sought views on the extent to which the draft Strategy is clear and action focused - and the extent to which proposed actions will achieve the aims and intended outcomes.

Q9. Overall, do you think this Strategy is clear and action focused? Do you think that the actions that we propose to take nationally will achieve the aims and intended outcomes?

A total of 161 respondents provided further comment at Question 9, around 4 in 5 of all respondents. This included 108 group respondents and 53 individuals.

A substantial number of respondents indicated broad agreement that the strategy is clear and action focused, and/or that the actions will deliver the intended outcomes. Around 3 in 5 of those providing comment specifically indicated that they felt that the strategy is action focused and should deliver outcomes, while a number of other respondents suggested relatively minor amendments or additions which may imply broad agreement.

However, the majority of those providing comment raised concerns or suggested additional actions - this included most of those who gave a broadly positive view on the strategy. Most of those providing comment raised issues around the strategy as a whole, or that did not relate to specific priority themes. We summarise these below:

  • A substantial number of respondents had concerns that the strategy and its actions are not clear. Some suggested that the proposed actions are ambitious and could deliver positive outcomes, but felt that the strategy lacked detail on how they will be achieved such that it was difficult to make a judgement on its likely success - and some were concerned about what was seen as subjective or "vague" descriptions of actions. A number of these respondents were also concerned that insufficient detail was provided on how the strategy will be resourced.
  • A small number of respondents specifically referenced what they saw as the strategy's reliance on enhancement of existing actions, and suggested that this will not be sufficient to achieve the degree of change required.
  • Several respondents noted that better co-ordination of actions is required to support STEM across the UK, and concerns that the set of actions remains too complex and lacking coherence. Some felt that the actions need to be consolidated and rationalised.
  • A substantial number of respondents noted that effective measurement of impact and progress will be vital, including suggestions that the Strategy needs to be data driven with better forecasting. The role of local authorities in governance and measuring progress was referenced here, as was benchmarking with leading nations. Some respondents also suggested that the actions could do more to draw on existing good practice.
  • A small number of respondents referred to a need for better data on skills gaps and shortages, including more detail on specific skills. It was suggested that we need to be able to give young people guidance on future careers, including reference to the role of industry in providing guidance on future developments in their sectors.
  • A small number of respondents referred to the importance of action being integrated across all ages and levels, ensuring continuity throughout the "pipeline". This included a suggested need for a stronger focus on early years.
  • A college respondent suggested that a change in perceptions and understanding of STEM and gender inequality is required before the proposed actions can have an impact.
  • A university respondent felt that actions should better reflect the need to communicate the excitement and creativity involved in STEM.
  • A small number of respondents suggested that actions must recognise the need for tailoring of approaches at a local and regional level.
  • Several respondents suggested that the strategy should highlight the need for agencies leading delivery of the strategy to engage with other partners to shape the approach.
  • A STEM education and professional/representative body made specific reference to the important role of Education Scotland in delivering actions, including ensuring that the organisation has sufficient capacity and resources to maintain this, and the potential requirement to review this role following the School Governance Review.
  • A small number of respondents also highlighted specific issues which they felt were inadequately dealt with by the strategy. This included the role of (and ensuring sufficient access to) technicians in schools, colleges and universities; the value of inter-disciplinary learning; potential for professional learning communities, and the importance of creativity and the arts for STEM.

A number of respondents also made specific reference to the significant of resourcing, and the extent to which this may be a constraint on delivering outcomes - this was also reflected in comments noted earlier in relation to greater clarity on how the actions will be delivered. This included suggestions that, while the proposed actions are positive, it is the extent of financial support that will determine whether the strategic aims and outcomes are achieved - one respondent noted the importance of resourcing in relation to improving equity of access. Some were concerned that the draft strategy does not include the required detail to demonstrate how it will be successfully delivered.

Several respondents suggested that prioritisation of actions may be required, particularly if resourcing cannot support a broader set of actions. Assessment of impact of actions was highlighted in relation to prioritising actions. Potential "core" areas mentioned by respondents included improving understanding of the importance of STEM; mathematics, computing and science knowledge and skills as foundational for STEM; and improving STEM knowledge and skills for educators.

Whether proposed actions will achieve aims and outcomes

In addition to the broader points discussed over the previous pages, respondents commented on specific aspects of the areas for action identified under each of the four priority themes. This included a small number of respondents recommending that the presentation of areas for action is structured around education sectors to provide a more coherent picture for each sector, or that clearer linkages are made between proposed actions and the strategy's principles, outcomes and priorities.

In relation to the theme of Excellence, the key points raised by respondents were:

  • Suggestions that developing STEM skills and knowledge for educators will be absolutely essential to delivering the quality of STEM experience required throughout the education system, including further and higher education educators. Some felt that the strategy provided insufficient clarity on how this will be achieved, including specific concerns regarding the time and resourcing required. This included references to a need for STEM skills to be developed for teachers across the curriculum, beyond core STEM disciplines. Resourcing to enable educators to participate in STEM industry placements was also highlighted, and the importance of stability of employment for the benefits of this professional learning to be maximised.
  • In relation to improving the pipeline of STEM teachers, several respondents suggested that development of new routes into teaching could include for example opportunities for international graduates to gain a Master's degree while teaching in schools. One professional/representative body emphasised the need to ensure that expanding the range of pathways into teaching does not compromise standards. A third sector respondent also suggested a need to raise the attractiveness of the teaching profession. Some concerns were also raised in relation to increasing entry requirements for teachers, and the extent to which this could limit the pool of candidates to a level below that required.
  • A college respondent recommended inclusion of further education, higher education and community education in the Digital Schools Programme and Making Maths Count.
  • A number of respondents highlighted the importance of practical experience and work-based pathways in improving STEM skills, and suggested that these could be further emphasised. This included recommendations for further consideration to the resourcing of this experience and pathways, recognising the input of schools, colleges and employers. One professional/ representative body also highlighted the parity of esteem across academic and vocational pathways as a continuing issue. A third sector respondent also highlighted a need to raise awareness of Modern Apprenticeships, and the range of pathways available. The extent to which access to these pathways varies across the country, and that rurality is a barrier for many, was also referenced. In terms of specific actions, respondents made reference to including colleges as key partners in the foundation apprenticeship programme, SCQF accreditation for foundation apprenticeships such that they are accepted by all Scottish universities, and growth in Graduate Level Apprenticeships supported by increasing the proportion of funding from the Apprenticeship Levy.
  • A university respondent referred to the potential need to encourage high level STEM graduates to enter education, including the extent to which remuneration will need to be increased to attract this talent to the sector.
  • A university respondent suggested a role for specialist STEM teachers in primary schools to drive the STEM agenda.
  • A small number of respondents recommended that, alongside increasing uptake of "Masters" level learning, consideration is given to funding for "conversion Masters" to enable moves into STEM. The importance of adequate funding in this area was also highlighted, ensuring equal access across the profession. Although one professional/representative body respondent highlighted the potential impact on payroll, and ensuring this does not negatively impact on non- STEM teachers.
  • A third sector respondent suggested that actions appear to be focused primarily on STEM at secondary level, and noted that a lack of STEM knowledge and confidence amongst primary teachers can become an early barrier.
  • A science engagement respondent felt that the areas for action should better reflect the importance of the transition from primary to secondary for perceptions of STEM and subject selection.
  • A small number of respondents suggested a need for significant improvement in careers advice - this included particular reference to secondary stage, but was seen as important across all stages.
  • A science engagement respondent felt that actions should ensure that teacher recruitment and training provides the skills and confidence to deliver STEM through outdoor learning.
  • In relation to benchmarks for STEM subjects, another STEM education and professional/representative body noted the delay to this as providing an opportunity to consider the role of STEM within these Benchmarks. However, another professional/ representative body respondent raised concerns regarding the bureaucratic burden of the benchmarks, particularly for primary teachers working across subjects.
  • In relation to the Digital Schools Programme, some sought a clearer definition of what "digital" means for the programme, and how the programme will be sustainably resourced in terms of workload for teachers and ICT resources within schools.
  • A third sector respondent referred to the importance of recognising equality and diversity across disciplines to provide students with a curriculum that is relevant to them - including reference to the work of the Higher Education Academy as a resource.

In relation to the theme of Equity, the key points raised by respondents were:

  • Several respondents expressed a view that activity to date to improve gender equality has had limited impact, and a change of approach is required. This included suggestions for a greater focus on promoting STEM skills across a wider set of disciplines, and particularly those that continue to attract a significant number of female participants.
  • A third sector respondent suggested that, while the strategy acknowledges the problem of gender stereotyping, it does not go far enough in tackling the contributing factors to stereotyping, nor how such stereotypes are propagated.
  • Embedding gender equity in initial teacher training was highlighted as a potentially effective approach. This included addressing the gender imbalance of entrants to teacher training programmes, particularly for STEM subjects, to provide role models and more positive experiences for girls and women engaging with STEM. Including equality and diversity within initial teacher training was also recommended.
  • A professional/representative body referred to connections between proposed actions and the Be What You Want project delivered by Close the Gap.
  • A science engagement respondent suggested there is scope to leverage private sector activities to improve equity.

In relation to the theme of Inspiration, the key points raised by respondents were:

  • A small number of respondents suggested that it is important that activity to inspire children and young people to engage in STEM, sets this in the context of the wider curriculum. This included emphasis on the need to equip young people and adults with STEM knowledge and skills that can apply across a range of career pathways.
  • A third sector respondent suggested that inspiring participation in STEM should not rely solely on the education sector, and that greater emphasis on the contribution of Government and the STEM industry should be included. A university respondent also felt that more strategic use could be made of the Chief Scientific Adviser's role, to maximise the impact of her time.
  • A university respondent expressed concern that a focus on this theme over a number of decades may have now met "saturation", such that significant further advances are not realistic.

Relatively few respondents specifically addressed the theme of Connection. The key point raised was around the value of information on the current labour market, and likely future skills requirements. A small number of respondents noted that it will be important that this insight is accessible to all stakeholders (including students, parents, teachers) at key stages to inform choices and aspirations.

Achieving equity of outcomes

Question 10 sought views on whether the Strategy will improve equity of outcomes, and invited respondents to suggest additional elements to improve this aspect of the strategy.

Q10. Will this Strategy improve equity of outcomes? If not, tell us what else it should include, in particular for women and girls and other groups of people - disabled people, care leavers and minority ethnic communities.

A total of 134 (of 192) respondents answered Question 10. Most of those answering (65%) felt that the strategy will improve equity of outcomes. However, there was some variation in views across respondent types, with support most widespread amongst the education sector, academic/research institutes, STEM industry and third sector respondents.

A total of 47 respondents, 35% of those answering, felt that the strategy will not improve equity of outcomes. This included 20 group respondents, with around half of these being science engagement and STEM industry professional and representative respondents.

Question 10: Response by Respondent Type

Will this Strategy improve equity of outcomes? Yes No No answer Total
Education sector - Colleges 6 2 2 10
Education sector - Universities 5 1 5 11
Education sector - Schools/Other 4 1 1 6
Academic/Research Institute 3 2 5
Science engagement 3 6 3 12
STEM industry 10 1 3 14
STEM industry professional & representative bodies 9 5 3 17
Other STEM education, professional & representative bodies 3 1 6 10
Other professional & representative bodies 1 11 12
Local authorities and other public bodies 5 2 2 9
Third sector/Non-profit organisations 8 7 15
Groups (Total) 56 20 45 121
Individuals 31 27 13 71
Total 87 47 58 192
Percentage of those answering 65% 35% - 100%
Percentage of all respondents 45% 24% 30% 100%

A total of 144 respondents provided further comment at Question 10, 75% of all respondents. These were split between those who felt that the strategy would improve equity of outcomes (65 providing comment) and those who disagreed (43 providing comment, nearly all of those who disagreed at Question 10). A number of those who had not answered the yes/no question also provided comment.

A substantial number of these respondents re-stated their broad support for the strategy's contribution to equity in relation to STEM - around a quarter of those providing comment made reference to positive aspects of the strategy in relation to equity. This included comments highlighting the central importance of achieving equity as part of the overall approach to STEM education and training. However, most of those providing written comment raised concerns or suggested amendments to the approach set out in the draft strategy. This included suggested changes from those who agreed with the overall approach to achieving equity, and those who had more significant concerns. The range of issues raised by these respondents were broadly similar, and we summarise the key themes over the following pages.

Respondents made reference to a number broader themes and issues that cut across the specific aspects of the draft strategy's approach to equity. This included a number of respondents across respondent types suggesting the strategy takes greater account of the need to tackle underlying gender inequality and stereotypes to enable the proposed actions to have the impact required. Respondents noted specific issues such as the gendered nature of the home environment, tackling unconscious bias in the teaching workforce, and changing expectations and understanding about whether STEM is "for people like me". This included several respondents who saw a need for a strategic approach to public communication and engagement around STEM and equity of outcomes. It was suggested that this more fundamental shift in attitudes is crucial if significant progress is to be made in equity in relation to STEM education and training.

This also related to a view expressed by a science engagement respondent that achieving better gender and deprivation equity should be part of a fully inclusive approach that achieves equity across all disadvantaged groups. This included a perceived need for a strategic approach to public outreach in relation to STEM and equity (and gender equity in particular).

A number of respondents also saw a need to recognise the scale of challenge in achieving equity of outcomes, and acknowledging that long-term commitment will be required to achieve equity. This point was raised by a range of respondents including STEM industry, education sector and local authority respondents. This included some who felt that the draft strategy did not proposed sufficient new activity but rather appeared to focus on ongoing work, and a suggestion that more significant structural change is required to effect real change. Related to comments around the scale of the challenge in achieving equity, a number of respondents saw resourcing as a critical issue for the success of the strategy. These respondents expressed concerns regarding whether funding will be available to fully implement the strategy, particularly in the context of the draft making reference to achieving efficiencies.

A need for coordination and coherence of actions was also referenced by several respondents. This was seen as particularly important in the context of the breadth of activity underway, with respondents referring to a significant range of specific initiatives. References to coordination included suggestions that the approach to address inequality in STEM is aligned with other programmes. Respondents made reference to specific initiatives such as the National Improvement Framework, Close the Gap, Developing the Young Workforce, the Commission on Widening Access, and broader equalities-related policy. Some also linked the need for coordination to the sustainability of initiatives, and the extent to which it may be more effective to focus on supporting and ensuring the quality of a smaller number of good practice initiatives.

In terms of approaches to tackle inequality, respondents referred to the importance of understanding people's experience of inequality and disadvantage, and motivations for choosing subject areas and pathways. Some felt that the strategy has a strong focus on gender, but does not does not go far enough in addressing other forms of inequality - including deprivation, disability, ethnicity, rurality and geography, and looked after children or care leavers. This included particular reference to the extent to which these forms of disadvantage intersect with gender.

A range of respondents highlighted the need for a better understanding of the impact of equity-related actions, and identifying the approaches that work. This related to concerns noted above regarding what was described as a "multiplicity of initiatives", and a need for a structured assessment of their value and impact. Respondents noted that this assessment required baseline measures and ongoing evaluation of impact, and also identifying and sharing of good practice to inform ongoing activity. Some felt that the strategy should include a more specific set of actions focused on "women in STEM" with associated measures. Respondents also mentioned a range of specific approaches in relation to measuring impact including reference to Gender Action Plans as a basis for measuring progress, incorporating indicators of gender equality within HMI Inspectors reporting, encouraging stakeholders (and particularly employers) to publish information on equity performance, and linking funding to assessment of performance.

Respondents also raised a broad range of more detailed points around specific aspects of the approach to achieving equity of outcomes. This included reference to specific sectors and/or target groups for action. We summarise respondents' views over the following pages.

The recruitment and development of teaching staff was highlighted as a vital element of the strategy. Specific points raised included:.

  • The importance of ensuring recruitment is effective in attracting more female teachers in STEM disciplines - to increase the range of role models and provide more positive experiences for girls engaging with STEM.
  • Initial Teacher Education was seen as an opportunity to improve STEM skills and confidence amongst teachers. Several respondents referred to the importance that teachers are proficient in STEM, and a small number specifically suggested minimum STEM proficiency is a requirement for Initial Teacher Education. Respondents also highlighted the need to embed gender and equality training as a core element of teacher training.
  • Respondents also noted that the confidence and skills of existing teacher workforce is crucial, particularly in terms of effecting more rapid change. Respondents emphasised the need to improve teacher confidence in STEM and gender, and suggested that improving confidence in early years practitioners should be a particular focus. This included examples of regular annual training for staff on gender awareness.

Respondents also raised a range of points in relation to education sectors more widely ( i.e. in addition to the focus on teacher skills and confidence).

  • Respondents saw a need to embed STEM and STEM equality across school activity. This included reference to the importance of gender equality being within the remit of those in leadership roles within schools, and highlighting the need for more activity to be embedded in classroom learning rather than limited to lunchtime and after-school activity that is likely to attract students already engaged in STEM.
  • A small number of respondents suggested a need for more activity to enable schools to engage with STEM industry and other partners, including coordination to ensure consistency of approach. This included a suggestion for additional funding to support more engagement for schools in economically deprived areas.
  • Cluster working was identified as a model that has shown potential, with a lead role working across a number of schools to promote and support STEM confidence and skills. However, there was some concern that high school teachers going into primaries is not sustainable in the longer term.
  • Another professional/ representative body raised concerns that the strategy does not include reference to Additional Support for Learning, noting a correlation between deprivation and additional support needs.
  • Several respondents saw a need for greater emphasis on increasing opportunities for under-represented groups across further and higher education sectors. This included suggestions that institution-wide approaches are needed for further and higher education sectors, shaping how institutions engage with employers and identifying mentoring opportunities. Reference was also made to potential for a stronger role for further and higher education sectors in identifying and sharing good practice across sectors in relation to equity in STEM.

Engagement with children and young people was also a significant theme for respondents. Several referred to a need for a significant change in attitudes and understanding towards STEM, and that engagement with children and young people should be central to that. In terms of specific approaches, respondents made the following points:

  • Role models and mentors, and particularly those with experience in STEM industries, were referenced as particularly important. These respondents highlighted the importance of role models being relevant and persuasive - in terms of achievements that are seen as attainable (and graded based on audience) and in representing a diversity of opportunity. The STEM Ambassadors programme was noted as a significant opportunity in this context - including suggestions that female STEM Ambassadors are funded and matched to schools and communities.
  • A need to provide children and young people with a better understanding of STEM skills was noted, including as a means of ensuring children and young people are able to recognise their own skills and potential. Mathematical skills were identified as a particular barrier to STEM engagement, and respondents suggested that improving skills can make a significant contribution to improving gender outcomes. Respondents also saw a need for better information on pathways and careers options in relation to gender, available at key points around subject choices. This included suggestions that greater flexibility is required across pathways - enabling lateral movement between subjects, and alternative articulation routes (including distance learning) being required to include gender and disadvantage as part of plans for widening access.
  • Several respondents felt that the strategy lacked specific actions for the early years stage, and suggested that this is a key age group to address stereotypes and gender segregation. This included reference to the large proportion of female early years practitioners as an opportunity to develop more female role models in STEM engagement. Respondents referred to a range of examples including the Equality Challenge Unit 's early years good practice, Zero Tolerance guide "Just Like a Child", Close the Gap produced the 'Be What You Want' resource for teachers and careers advisers, and work by Science Centres. However, one respondent suggested that teachers are no longer based in many nurseries and noted that this could be a barrier to addressing STEM and gender.
  • The Gender Action Plan was referenced by a college respondent who saw value in extending gender action planning to early years, and to include other disadvantaged groups such as disability and ethnicity.

A number of respondents suggested that the strategy should include more emphasis on industry engagement in education as a key element of the approach to changing perceptions of STEM amongst children and young people, and as part of teacher training. These respondents noted that many teachers lack STEM industry knowledge, and some positive experiences were reported around employers' willingness to make connections with schools and other education institutions. However, it was suggested that a framework is required to better enable this kind of engagement. In relation to specific elements of the engagement with STEM industry, respondents made the following points:

  • Several respondents suggested that more emphasis is needed on the role of STEM industries and employers in ensuring equity of opportunity. This included reference to the need to improve women's experiences of the workplace, alongside work to improve engagement in STEM education and training. Some suggested that a change of culture is required within STEM organisations and employers to support and reinforce education and training activity. This included reference to points such as flexible working and the gender pay gap.
  • It was suggested that making it easier for industry to seek help and training on equality and gender impacts could be beneficial, and this was compared to the availability of assistance with environmental impacts.
  • The role of SMEs in addressing equity of outcomes in STEM was seen as under-represented by the strategy. This included reference to a benchmarking toolkit for SMEs developed by Equate.
  • The procurement process for STEM industry was highlighted as an opportunity to strengthen equality and diversity, to ensure businesses take this seriously. This included suggestions that companies should be required to demonstrate activities to address gender imbalances as part of the procurement process.

Several respondents felt that the Strategy's focus appeared to be on young people, despite acknowledging the need to address the whole pipeline. These respondents wished to see a greater emphasis on adults engaging with STEM. This included a particular focus on women returners to STEM and women transitioning from other careers. The need for support networks was highlighted for both groups, as was the role of STEM industry in developing individual's confidence to enable women to use the skills that they often have in place. Comments included reference to flexibility in funding to support retention of women in STEM industries, including a suggestion that Research and Development funding stops if women take a career break. Returners to STEM were also recommended as a potential focus to promote opportunities to enter education.

The role of influencers of children and young people was also highlighted by a number of respondents. Comments highlighted a need to change perceptions of STEM amongst parents and carers in particular. Some also referred more widely to the impact of media, and suggested a need for work on equity in STEM to be in the context of wider changes in societal attitudes.

Respondents also commented on other specific actions and issues which do not relate to a single sector or group:

  • A number of respondents wished to see a stronger emphasis in the Strategy on training on gender equality and bias for all those who support and guide young people. This included embedding training as part of CPD for teachers, early years staff, lecturers and career advisers, and also included in training for new employees and leaders. A number of respondents referred to Primary Engineer's unconscious bias training
  • Several respondents expressed concern that the perception of STEM often differs from the reality. This included reference to providing a better understanding to children and young people of what STEM means, including STEM skills and raising awareness of employment prospects. Some also suggested a need to modify language use to ensure fit between industry and education, and saw this as particularly important to facilitate young people's understanding of how skills gained through education can translate into career prospects.
  • Some suggested that more investment is needed to ensure equal access across the country to STEM Ambassadors, and that gender equality training should be provided to all Ambassadors. Respondents also suggested a need for greater diversity of Ambassadors, with a particular focus on ensuring pupils can relate to individuals and that they can place their work in the context of the curriculum.
  • Respondents also referred to the role of Modern Apprenticeships, suggesting that these could be better used as a pathway to employment including reference to a significant gender imbalance across schemes. A need to change perceptions of Modern Apprenticeships was also highlighted, to ensure all stakeholders recognise the range of career options that a Modern Apprenticeship can provide. A potential role for STEM Ambassadors was also highlighted here. It was also suggested that the strategy should include a commitment to increased take-up of Modern Apprenticeships by looked after young people and care leavers, and that the age threshold of 24 should be considered for example for women returners.
  • The role of science centres was highlighted in terms of building STEM capital, including reference to outreach work and engagement with community learning and other community engagement providers. However, some suggested that cost can be a barrier to access to centres, and that the demographic of those using science centres and festivals could be more diverse.
  • A university respondent expressed support for expanding the REACH project to include a wider range of STEM disciplines.
  • A small number of respondents emphasised the role of arts in STEM, and suggested that the strategy should acknowledge the " STEAM" approach and potential for impact on gender equity.
  • A small number of respondents suggested that the strategy should include clearer acknowledgement of the value of " STEM in action" - including the role of science centres, museums, outdoor spaces.
  • The potential role of positive action was also referenced, while acknowledging that this must be well evidenced.
  • Respondents suggested that consideration should be given to more single sex courses. These respondents referred to positive feedback from initiatives, although it was noted that more work may be required to assess their impact on gender equity in STEM subjects.
  • An education sector respondent felt that the strategy should acknowledge the role of private sector education providers.

Contribution of education and voluntary sectors

Question 11 sought views on what education sectors, voluntary organisations and science engagement providers could do to support the areas for action identified in the draft strategy.

Q11. What could schools, colleges, universities, community learning and development, the voluntary sector, science engagement providers and museums do to support the areas for action?

A total of 157 respondents provided further comment at Question 11, 82% of all respondents. This included 104 group respondents and 53 individuals.

Respondents provided a range of views on approaches to be taken across these sectors. This included some reference to the four specific priority themes for action, but also wider points in relation to the role of specific sectors.

A substantial number of respondents referred to the role of schools as central to the strategy, with some suggesting that more could be done to integrate schools into the STEM agenda. Suggestions for bringing schools more closely into the STEM agenda included embedding STEM subjects into CfE, bringing STEM ambassadors into more schools, and intervention at early years and primary level and S1 and 2 to promote long-term interest over these subjects.

In relation to colleges, several respondents suggested that many colleges are already active in the area, including in engaging with schools on STEM and contributing to STEM partnerships. Respondents also referred to the work of a number of universities in establishing direct links with schools, science engagement and widening participation activity, and museums. Respondents also referred to plans for further work in this area.

Several respondents referred to community learning as a major component of extending STEM activity, although responses included limited detail on work across this sector. A small number of respondents suggested a need for this sector to be more integrated into the strategy.

A range of respondents gave a positive view of the role played by festivals, science centres and museums in supporting STEM areas for action. This included some suggesting a stronger role for these sectors in the strategy, including specific reference to museums. Respondents referred to a number of existing activities across these sectors:

  • Large scale interventions such as science festivals, Children's University and national events such as National Science Week.
  • Use of STEM professionals as advocates.
  • Apprenticeship programmes.
  • Widening Participation and clearer pathways for STEM students between educational sectors.
  • STEM ambassadors working with various sectors.

The value of coordination to ensure joined up activity across sectors was highlighted by a number of respondents. Specific approaches suggested by these respondents included a shared strategy and approach across sectors, common points of access and dissemination, and provision of resourcing. Respondents also referred to a need to integrate sectors less prominently featured in STEM initiatives such as the voluntary, community and museum sectors.

A substantial number of respondents also saw a need for more joined up thinking, shared planning and resources across education sectors, STEM industries and public bodies within the " STEM ecosystem". Several respondents referred to the potential to use funding structures to encourage and enable these collaborative approaches. Other specific suggestions to improve collaboration included:

  • Improved articulation and pathways between colleges and universities.
  • Building STEM engagement into research grants.
  • National conferences for educators and STEM practitioners.
  • Direct collaborations between teachers supported by adequate resources to buy out staff time.
  • Linking to skills investments plans and other skills development initiatives ( i.e. Energy Skills Partnerships.
  • Regional agreements.
  • Links to DYW groups.

Respondents also referred to quality and benchmarking frameworks to encourage more consistency in outreach and engagement work across all sectors. This include a suggestion for benchmarking to existing frameworks.

A number of constraints were identified in relation to current STEM work across sectors, and the potential for this to be further developed. Comments here related primarily to resourcing, although issues were also identified in relation to CfE implementation, bureaucracy and inconsistent messages from STEM organisations. Several respondents suggested that, while engagement and skills development/promotion activities were positive, these can be too narrowly focused and could be delivered to a wider array of schools - and across the curriculum. Some also suggested that programmes such as Engineering Science (at various levels) or Foundation Apprenticeships could be expanded and harnessed more effectively.

Respondents also raised a number of points specifically in relation to each of the priority themes. These are summarised below:

The main points raised in relation to Excellence were:

  • The need to review professional development programmes to instil confidence and competence in STEM teaching - for example, providing Technological, as well as pedagogical CPD.
  • Adopt approaches used in museum and science engagement initiatives and festivals across the sectors into an integrated cross-sectoral strategy.
  • Better promotion of existing STEM pathways as provided by further and higher education.
  • More evenly distributed STEM education - workshops, tasters and add-ons to the curriculum, in addition to higher-level master programmes and courses.
  • Improving the quality of engagement through auditing, partnerships and sharing best practice.

The main points raised in relation to Equity were:

  • More work to reach out to disadvantaged and peripheral communities, and specifically to females, through targeted initiatives.
  • Moves towards gender equity needed to be holistic, for example on a whole school basis. Some suggested that could be linked to the Public Sector Equality Duty), the work of organisations such as EQUATE Scotland, and the Gender action Plan.
  • Several respondents felt there needed to be a clearer message that STEM was for all classes, genders and ethnicities.
  • Use of digital and online platforms was mentioned specifically in relation to improving equity in STEM, including geographic equity.
  • Developing regional cross-sectoral strategies and pathways to ensure a greater spread of, and access to STEM expertise within the education system.

The main points raised in relation to Inspiration were:

  • Working closely with local science festivals and events.
  • More entry level and early years intervention in schools and community learning settings.
  • Creating a network of larger and better resourced STEM centres, access points and institutes or science/engineering museums across Scotland.

The main points raised in relation to Connection were:

  • A suggestion for a single body to coordinate STEM strategy across the various educational, engagement, museum and third sector providers.
  • Colleges and universities providing CPD for schools through initiatives such as Q-STEP, and potential for STEM work placements for teachers. Early Years should be prioritised, and Community Learning Development Practitioners should also be included.
  • Impact and engagement elements within HEI research funding programmes should embed STEM outreach activities.
  • STEM should be embedded across curriculum areas.

Contribution of professional and representative bodies

Question 12 sought views on what professional bodies and third sector organisations could do to support the areas for action identified in the draft strategy.

Q12. What could professional organisations and bodies and third sector organisations do to support the areas for action? This includes, in particular, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, the CLD Standards Council, the teaching unions and representatives and the Learned Societies.

A total of 139 respondents provided further comment at Question 12, 72% of all respondents. This included 87 group respondents and 52 individuals.

These respondents identified a range of areas where professional and third sector organisations could support the strategy. The most common themes across these suggestions related to the importance of teacher training and CPD, and the need for coordinated sectoral and regional partnerships to join up efforts and apply consistent standards for STEM training and CPD. Resourcing was also highlighted by a number of respondents, including in relation to the STEM ambassadors programme; several respondents suggested that educators and organisations needed more support and access to get the full benefit of ambassadors' expertise. For some of these respondents, this appeared to reflect a broader concern that resourcing constraints were undermining delivery of the priorities identified by the strategy.

A substantial number of those providing comment referred to teachers' unions and representative bodies, and most of these respondents saw their role as central to the success of the strategy, particularly in regard to setting standards for teacher training and competence. However, a small number of respondents questioned whether these bodies were best placed to lead work in relation to STEM education and training. This included for example concerns around the portrayal of the sector as being a challenging one as having potential to affect morale and deter potential new STEM entrants into the profession.

Some respondents felt that the question implied an overly narrow range of professional and third sector bodies as having a role in supporting the strategy. This included several respondents highlighting the contribution being made by STEM industries, and suggesting a clearer recognition of their role in delivering the strategy. This included specifically in relation to a need for greater coordination at a regional level.

Respondents pointed to a number of activities already being delivered by professional and third sector organisations. This included partnership working, and work to embed STEM skills within entry to teacher training, with several respondents supporting this approach. Specific improvements and initiatives included:

  • The use of summer schools and student placement schemes such as Q-Step, to upskill in STEM subjects.
  • STEM industry led initiatives to change teacher's perceptions and promote upskilling.
  • Reference to STEM organisations within the third sector having developed programmes that link to assessment agendas and criteria and could be mapped to the existing curriculum, or better promoted.
  • The work of SSERC in providing high quality STEM CPD was acknowledged by a number of respondents.

In addition to these broader references, respondents also made a range of points in relation to each of the four priority themes. These are summarised below.

In relation to Excellence, responses focused primarily on quality control, and adequate supply of STEM-competent teachers. This included the following specific points:

  • Ensuring new activities are approved and quality controlled by national, regional and/or cross-sectoral partnerships - including direct input from STEM industries.
  • A focus on supplying STEM teachers into primary and early years education, and improving STEM skills and confidence levels.
  • Draw on existing initiatives aimed at developing STEM within the roll-out of CfE.
  • Embedding STEM across Initial Teacher Education and ongoing CPD, ensuring that STEM is a core aspect of teacher competence across all subject areas.
  • Ensuring the best mechanisms are in place to encourage STEM partnerships between the various stakeholders, and that these can function and reach their full potential.

In relation to Equity, responses highlighted embedding of STEM training across subjects, and smarter working:

  • Careers advice and student guidance needs to be given early, and with an emphasis on tackling gender stereotypes.
  • Smarter, more targeted initiatives that build on existing good practice are needed to tackle gender equality in STEM and change perceptions of related careers.
  • Geographic equity was identified as a particular concern for Scotland, with shortages in STEM teachers referenced in more remote parts of Scotland. Ensuring supply of STEM teachers across all regions was seen as particularly important.
  • Several respondents referred to funding, support and intervention by learned societies as critical in providing resources to support STEM programmes and outreach.
  • Reference to social barriers that affect STEM uptake, and the role of third sector and public bodies in training staff in education and social services to help their clients overcome these.

In relation to Inspiration, comments were focused on the capacity of teachers, and their performance as educators. This included reference to being able to bring pupils and students in touch with new developments in STEM, or ways of making STEM relatable:

  • The ability of teachers to inspire interest and challenge perceptions of STEM was felt to be a core skill required of teachers across disciplines. In this context, a small number of respondents referred to a need to address the issue of underperforming teachers, particularly in relation to "hard to sell" areas such as STEM.
  • Suggestions for providing inspiration included using the Scottish landscape itself, and using cutting edge research as a "hook" to engage children and young people in the potential of STEM projects.
  • Access and awareness were seen as issues for this theme, including for example the ability of schools to access STEM related events and festivals.

In relation to Connection, respondents focused primarily on infrastructure and information flow. The main points were:

  • Digital Strategies were seen as critical to this theme - existing national strategies and, potentially, new frameworks to support STEM through the most appropriate digital infrastructure.
  • Digital careers were also felt to be an important factor in STEM development, with this workforce being particularly STEM dependent and potential for significant future demand for skills in this sector.
  • There needs to be a better developed digital infrastructure to support the delivery of online courses and support mechanisms for STEM educators, and to disseminate the information we already have on successful STEM approaches.
  • The use of social media to promote STEM - and gauge its impact - was raised as a key area for development.
  • The flow of information on STEM should be more multi-directional -for example, making sure teachers are aware of the dynamics of the labour market and the skills gaps they are working to fill, using bodies such as unions to promote STEM directly to their members, and gaining better information on what is happening within sectors.

Contribution of science centres and festivals

Question 13 sought views on what science centres and festivals could do to support the areas for action identified in the draft strategy.

Q13. What more could science centres and festivals do to complement and enhance STEM formal education, to inspire scientists of the future, and to ensure their activities support those of the Scottish Government and its agencies.

A total of 149 respondents provided further comment at Question 13, 78% of all respondents. This included 97 group respondents and 52 individuals.

A number of common themes emerged across responses in relation to the role of science centres and festivals for the strategy. A substantial number of those providing comment gave a positive view of the work of science centres and festivals in promoting STEM, including ongoing outreach and engagement work. Positive activities and initiatives mentioned by respondents included:

  • Partnerships and collaborations between science centres and STEM industries including for example the Energy Skills Partnership the Goconstruct initiative or Explorathon.
  • Careers pathways and links to careers services were seen as an important area for science centres to be better involved. The Edinburgh International Science Festival's Careers Hive was mentioned here.
  • Regional coordination of engagement work was also referenced and seen as an important element in delivering the strategy. This included reference to the Glasgow City of Science and Innovation partnership, and CPD programmes provided by the Aberdeen Science/Aberdeen Biodiversity Centre.

The need for national and/or regional coordination of science centres was raised as an issue by around 1 in 10 of those providing comment at Question 13. This included several respondents suggesting that science centres should play a more central role in the strategy, with closer integration of science centres within the STEM element of the education system. A small number of respondents also suggested a potential role for a national science centre to which regional centres could be aligned and coordinated.

A substantial number of those providing comment referred to barriers limiting access to science centres and festivals, and particularly issues around funding, resources, and geography. This included specific suggestions that science centres should be supported to increase their schools outreach programmes through direct school visits or roadshows/festivals. Primary schools were identified as a particular focus here.

Resourcing and financial barriers were also highlighted by respondents, in relation to funding for science centres, and entrance costs for members of the public. Several respondents suggested a need for funding for these centres to be more stable and secure. This included a suggestion to encourage greater collaboration and cooperation between museums and science centres, including the potential for a single sector approach. In relation to entrance costs, a substantial number of respondents referenced the impact of this on access to science centres, including for economically deprived families and those in rural areas. One respondent noted that schools could also be disadvantaged in accessing science centres by minimum workshop numbers - it was suggested these could be relaxed or potentially removed.

A small number of respondents urged the Scottish Government to consider free entry to science centres. Other suggestions included investment into schools through public or public/industry partnerships to help sponsor science centre trips, and to shape provision.

Respondents also referred to the importance of science centres and festivals outreach and engagement work. Several respondents suggested that science centres and festivals could play a stronger role in the important tasks of inspiring and promoting interest in STEM. This included suggestions for competitions, and linking STEM work with initiatives such as Year of the Young person, Explorathon or Scottish Science Week. One respondent noted that this would allow different museums, festivals and events to share themes and ensure consistent messages.

The relationship between science centres and schools was seen as particularly important, and one that should be long term. Respondents suggested that science centre outreach should involve teachers more directly, and that consideration should be given to how the skills and concepts passed on through outreach work can continue after the event itself, so that it is not simply a "bolt on".

Other suggestions aimed at embedding outreach included holding regular out of school clubs in science centres, online support for home learning and CPD support for educators - particularly primary teachers. The potential value of a forum to support dialogue between teachers and science centres or industry was also mentioned. A number of respondents mentioned the importance of digital platforms to enhance the accessibility of science centres and festivals - including 'virtual science fairs', teaching through apps and social media, and shared information portals The potential for science centres and festivals to work with third sector organisations to provide community outreach with an equality focus was also referenced.

A number of respondents commented on the importance of outreach activities being relevant and placed in context. This included a desire to see more emphasis on potential careers in science centre outreach, perhaps through a more direct connection to careers services.

Several respondents emphasised the role of science centres and festivals in promoting family intergenerational STEM learning, and potential for targeting parents and families in encouraging their children towards STEM. This was seen as a means of promoting greater equity and aiding families with low ' STEM capital'. The need to target science centre provision to boost female engagement in STEM was also mentioned.

Several respondents suggested a need for better systems of feedback and evaluation, including from young people involved in science centre visits and outreach. This included a suggestion for pupils forums to help shape engagement programmes.

Additional sector-specific actions

Question 14 sought views on what other sectors could do to support the areas for action identified in the draft strategy.

Q14. Should this Strategy identify more actions for particular sectors, for example in relation to workplace and work-based training and development?

A total of 121 respondents provided further comment at Question 14, around 63% of all respondents. This included 87 group respondents and 34 individuals.

These respondents referred to a broad range of sectors and specific bodies as having a contribution to make to the strategy. Comments also reflect respondents' views on a broader strategic issues, and we summarise these below.

A number of respondents expressed particular support for a framework for work based training and development, at a national and regional level. This included suggestions that this framework should incorporate sectoral and employer level involvement, and should link to existing strategies and skills investment plans. A number of respondents also referred to the value of industry placement within training and professional development for teachers. Other settings, such as STEM departments in universities were also suggested. Some respondents suggested that these training and upskilling opportunities should be extended to careers advisers and school technicians.

Also in relation to training and development, a number of respondents suggested that supporting those already in the workforce to retrain and move to STEM careers should be an important element of the strategy. Several respondents also suggested that a clearer assessment of skills gaps to inform prioritisation of sectors for development.

Respondents also referred to the role of STEM employers as providers of training and development opportunities. It was suggested that greater support was needed for this work, such as financial incentives and direct partnerships with education. This included specific reference to SMEs and micro businesses as potentially requiring more targeted support to enable them to engage in the strategy process. The role of STEM industries in providing work experience placements was also referenced by some respondents as a particularly important aspect of the strategy. Some respondents suggested that this should specifically include work placements as part of STEM study at schools and further/higher education.

Respondents also gave views on the types of training and outreach required. A number of respondents underlined the importance of apprenticeships, and several STEM industry respondents noted the value of Modern Apprenticeships, Foundation Apprenticeships and degree and Graduate level apprenticeships.

A number of respondents suggested that STEM sectors could be more involved in work to reach under-represented groups. Suggestions here included use of quotas and dedicated funding, and embedding of more inclusive policies across sectors. Comments here focused primarily on gender imbalances.

A substantial number of those providing comment at Question 14 referred to specific STEM sectors. These comments focused primarily on engineering; food, drink and hospitality; construction; healthcare; and digital sectors. The key points raised by respondents are summarised below.

The main points raised in relation to engineering were:

  • Trade Union and Employer partnerships to deliver workplace training could provide a useful blueprint for elements of the strategy within this sector.
  • A need for a stronger system of guidance towards engineering careers - including careers guidance, but also at a subject level for example through better links to schools physics courses.
  • Civil engineering partnerships with education at school and college level are actions that should be linked to the strategy.
  • More sector-specific, tailored approaches. For example some concern was expressed around the suitability of Foundation Apprenticeships for specific engineering sectors due to safety requirements. The National Progression Award was felt to be a preferable option for some sectors.
  • Trade associations should be partners in implementing the strategy.

The main points raised in relation to food, drink and hospitality were:

  • Highlighting that STEM subjects are also important to the industry, and a desire to the strategy to ensure that STEM skills requirements are met.
  • Awareness raising of the role of STEM skills across these industries was seen as an important area for action.

The main points raised in relation to construction were:

  • Noting the relevance of STEM subjects and skills for the industry, and concern that these STEM skills requirements are met.
  • It was pointed out that construction companies were often small in size and needed support and resources to develop STEM skills for their employees. Areas identified for this support included digitisation, automation, offsite manufacture, engineering and infrastructure.
  • Reference was made to the Skills and Training Fund established by the CITB to support STEM training to small employers.

The main points raised in relation to healthcare were:

  • A need to equip Staff with digital and STEM skills, including reference to the relevance of STEM skills within nursing and healthcare situations.
  • Reference was made to NHS Graduate science training schemes.

The main points raised in relation to digital sectors were:

  • Addressing skills gaps and presenting stronger careers pathways in digital industries, including links to earlier comments around placements as part of teacher training and development.
  • Sectors such as healthcare and youthwork have an increasing use of digital technologies and need upskilling in this area.


Email: Frank Creamer