Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: education and training strategy

A Strategy which offers a programme of actions for education, training and lifelong learning in Scotland to achieve our goals for STEM.

6 Excellence

As a result of the actions in this section, by 2022, we expect to see:

  • Increases in the proportion of people undertaking STEM-related learning, engagement, study and training across all sectors including in school-level qualifications and awards, and participation in apprenticeship programmes.
  • Increased practitioner confidence in STEM learning in the early years, primary years and in CLD settings, and increased practitioner engagement in STEM professional learning opportunities.

To successfully meet the growing demand and requirements for STEM skills, we must ensure that we are a nation that builds its STEM enthusiasm, skills and knowledge. Achieving this requires excellence in the education offered in early learning settings, schools, colleges and universities and in our wider communities. We need sufficient teachers and practitioners in our education system who are well equipped with the knowledge, skills and confidence to develop and deliver inspirational, high-quality interdisciplinary STEM teaching for all learners, across all ages and stages. In particular we must ensure that all children and young people get the grounding in STEM that they will need in later life through early learning and in the Broad General Education.

Teacher recruitment in Scotland, as in many other countries, is challenging. Many local authorities experience difficulties in filling vacancies in some secondary subjects, with STEM subjects being a particular issue. Teacher education universities face similar challenges in recruiting sufficient student teachers in STEM subjects.

Effective career-long professional learning is vital to allow teachers and practitioners to develop their STEM knowledge and skills. There was strong support in the response to the strategy consultation for more and improved STEM resource, training and support for teachers and practitioners, and in particular for those working in primary schools and early years settings. The consultation also indicated a requirement for more professional learning and collaboration in STEM, beyond the core STEM disciplines and across sectors including early learning, schools, colleges and community learning.

As well as ensuring a good supply of STEM talent into the workforce and keeping practitioners’ skills up to date, the curriculum and programmes of STEM learning need to be of high quality. Courses should be relevant to business and employer requirements and real-life contexts, and should help equip learners with the skills they need to thrive in work and in their wider lives. It also means providing a sufficient range of learning pathways through schools and on to positive destinations.

In responding to these challenges, we will promote Excellence by:

  • improving the supply of STEM talent into the teaching profession;
  • delivering a new, enhanced STEM professional learning package for practitioners, teachers and technicians;
  • introducing new measures to improve STEM learning and teaching;
  • prioritising STEM in the expansion of apprenticeships; and
  • maintaining research excellence in our universities and forging closer links between universities, colleges and industry. This theme and the important role of colleges and universities in ensuring learners have the necessary skills to meet the needs of employers is further developed in the chapter on Connection.

Improving the supply of STEM talent to the teaching profession

We need to have the appropriate number of STEM teachers throughout Scotland’s schools. We are currently experiencing shortages in numbers of mathematics, computing and some science subject teachers. In order to help address this, new STEM-focused courses commenced at a number of universities from August 2017. These include courses at the University of the West of Scotland and the University of Stirling to enable primary and secondary teachers to develop specialist STEM knowledge and teaching approaches, and a course at the University of Glasgow that will enable practitioners to teach mathematics from P6 through to S3. Evaluation mechanisms have been built into the accreditation process that is managed by the General Teaching Council for Scotland ( GTCS). These developments will be supported by the next phase of the Teaching Makes People recruitment campaign and through the tender to develop a new route into teaching, specifically designed to attract high-quality graduates in priority areas, including STEM subjects. We will also make sure that teaching is highlighted as a potential career to STEM graduates through the action we are taking in this strategy on careers advice and guidance.

We will attract high-quality STEM graduates into teaching through the Teaching Makes People recruitment campaign and through the proposed new routes into teaching.

In addition, we have recognised the need to reach beyond recent graduates and attract people into STEM subject teaching in secondary schools who are working in business or industry. These “career changers” will require a degree in a relevant subject and also undertake initial teacher education before they can become teachers. However, we want to make it easier for them to make that career change by providing help to enable them to balance family and financial responsibilities that new graduates may not face. We will provide targeted help to enable career changers to choose a career in secondary teaching in a shortage STEM subject. Currently these are mathematics, computing and technical education. We will keep these under review from year to year.

Starting in August 2018 we will offer bursaries of £20,000 to eligible career changers to allow them to undertake an initial teacher education course and qualify as a teacher in one of the STEM shortage subjects.

In taking these steps to increase the recruitment of STEM teachers, we will also ensure initial teacher education provided by universities prepares students to enter the profession with consistently well-developed skills to teach numeracy.

Education Scotland will develop a self-evaluation framework to allow each initial teacher education university to evaluate their initial teacher education programmes including how their programmes equip new teachers with the skills required to teach numeracy across the curriculum. The framework will be available in time for universities to start this work during academic year 2017-18.

Delivering enhanced STEM professional learning

The Education Governance: Next Steps document included a commitment to deliver a more streamlined, coherent offer of professional learning for practitioners throughout their careers. At the national level, Education Scotland will lead career-long professional learning ( CLPL) for practitioners, supported by a range of professional learning providers.

Through the development and delivery of a new and significantly enhanced professional learning package in relation to STEM, all early learning practitioners, primary and secondary teachers, technicians and community learning and development practitioners will have the opportunity to build their capacity to deliver effective STEM learning. We will ensure that practitioners and technicians are able to access CLPL in a variety of ways to meet their individual needs. For example, this could include face-to-face-training, online learning and webinars, learning from peers and networks within their school clusters or with colleagues from the college, early learning or community learning and development sectors. The learning could be developed and delivered from a range of sources, including by practitioners themselves. We recognise that many employers are interested in supporting STEM learning in the classroom, and the Learned Societies covering the range of STEM disciplines also have a wealth of expertise from which we can draw. We will seek to involve them in a coherent and co-ordinated manner. By 2022 there will be a demonstrable improvement in practitioner confidence in delivering STEM learning and evidence of increased engagement in professional learning.

Education Scotland will work with partners and, in particular, practitioners, to develop a coherent national approach to STEM professional learning from early 2018. This will include the development of a new national online resource for STEM and an online professional learning offer for early learning practitioners, primary and secondary teachers, technicians and community learning and development practitioners. New opportunities will become available during academic year 2018-19.

As part of this Skills Development Scotland will lead work to provide professional learning to help practitioners contextualise STEM learning from early 2018. This will ensure learners are able to relate their learning and skills to real-life situations, their future careers, and the economy.

Case Study

Shaw Mhor Early Years Centre,
Glasgow City Council

At Shaw Mhor Early Years Centre, STEM is fully integrated into learning experiences. Shaw Mhor staff have been working in partnership with their colleagues in their associated primary and secondary schools through their involvement in Education Scotland’s National STEM Project. This has allowed them to share approaches and plan collaboratively with colleagues in other settings, for instance, to develop STEM bags for children to take home to engage parents in STEM learning. Staff and the wider community now actively tackle gender stereotyping and encourage both boys and girls to get involved with ‘hands-on’ activities, including those focused on engineering and construction. The Centre makes extensive use of its outdoor areas for learning and play.

Examples of activities include:

  • tinker box – children use real-life tools to develop a range of STEM skills and understanding. This included using a screwdriver to make holes of varying sizes, teasing out the child’s understanding of size and measurement;
  • make desk – straws are used to construct a shelter and then painted. The paint is made by the children themselves, developing their curiosity and problem-solving skills; and
  • construction area – the Early Years Centre developed an innovative partnership with Scottish and Southern Electric ( SSE) who supplied hard hats and barriers and helped them to develop a realistic construction-based learning area outdoors.

The focus on STEM at the centre means learners are confidently using scientific vocabulary, developing their investigative and inquiry skills, and are able to ask questions and solve problems.

The early years are crucial in providing a foundation in STEM skills and in inspiring and igniting children’s enthusiasm. The outdoor learning environment, in particular, provides a rich and exciting context for young children’s STEM learning. In supporting the expansion of funded early learning and childcare, we will ensure early learning and childcare ( ELC) practitioners have the appropriate skills, knowledge and confidence to support young children in relation to STEM, as part of the wider work on developing a coherent cross-sector professional learning offer.

As part of a wider programme of CLPL designed to support the expansion of funded early learning and childcare, we will work with partners and key stakeholders including science centres and science festivals to deliver STEM training that will ensure that ELC practitioners have appropriate skills, knowledge and confidence to deliver STEM learning in ELC settings. This will also form part of the coherent national offer for STEM CLPL set out above.

We will set out plans to enhance opportunities for outdoor learning in STEM in the ELC Quality Action Plan.

The coherent approach will build upon the opportunities that will continue to be available through our existing programmes. We will continue to support the Scottish Schools Education Research Centre ( SSERC) to provide high‑quality programmes of learning for teachers, and technicians, on science and technology in both primary and secondary schools. We are also supporting local authorities to take strategic action to improve STEM learning in primary settings through the Raising Aspirations In Science Education ( RAISE) programme, in partnership with the Wood Foundation.

Through delivery of the recommendations of the Making Maths Count [6] report we are aiming to transform public attitudes to mathematics, improve confidence and fluency in mathematics for children, young people and their families, and promote the value of mathematics as an essential skill for every careers. As part of Making Maths Count we held an inaugural Maths Week Scotland in 2017. We will build on this to establish Maths Week Scotland as an annual event to raise the profile, value and relevance of mathematics and to highlight the vital role of mathematics in education. During Maths Week we launched the Deputy First Minister’s Maths Challenge which will now run in each of the main school holidays every year. Our National Numeracy and Mathematics Hub provides professional learning and teaching resources in mathematics and numeracy for all teachers in all settings and for parents to encourage learning at home.

The Scottish Attainment Challenge is providing targeted support to local authorities to help them close the poverty-related attainment gap in numeracy. Our Read, Write, Count programme supports and motivates parents to continue learning outside school through resources for home learning for all P1 to P3 children and, starting last year, places an enhanced focus on encouraging parents to undertake numeracy activities at home through its social marketing campaign.

We will provide ongoing funding and support for improvements to STEM learning in the classroom in both primary and secondary schools through the SSERC, the National Numeracy and Mathematics Hub, the Scottish Attainment Challenge and the RAISE programme.

The importance of CLPL in driving educational excellence is equally relevant to the tertiary sector. It is essential that STEM students in further and higher education benefit from teaching and research that is informed by developments and advances in the variety of STEM disciplines, with improved input on the needs of industry and the economy being a key influence in shaping a constantly evolving and responsive curriculum.

We will increase opportunities for STEM-related CLPL in colleges and universities by working with the Energy Skills Partnership, College Development Network and the Digital Skills Partnership to ensure lecturers are provided with high-quality skills development within STEM curriculum areas.

Improving STEM learning and teaching

As part of the Government’s Education Reform programme, Regional Improvement Collaboratives will be established to embed and support collaboration for improvement across the education system. They will:

  • reduce inconsistencies in the improvement support that schools across Scotland access, by providing an enhanced support offer;
  • bring a collective focus to driving continuous and systematic improvement, particularly in relation to closing the attainment gap; and
  • strengthen and support collaborative working, innovation and the sharing of best practice between schools and across the education system.

They will do this by drawing on local and national expertise to identify and share effective practice, and create opportunities for education professionals working in different sectors and different local authorities to learn from one another. They will also support wider collaborative working across the system between early learning and childcare settings, schools, community learning, colleges, universities and industry to help create highly motivating and relevant STEM curricula that excite and engage learners, their parents and their communities. By doing so the Collaboratives will improve support for practitioners, teachers and headteachers to deliver excellence and equity in education.

Whilst the detailed operation of Improvement Collaboratives will be outlined in the their operational plans, there are a number of ways in which they could support the STEM agenda:

  • promoting effective strategies and approaches for parental engagement and family learning in STEM in early learning and childcare settings and schools;
  • supporting school cluster and partnership working for STEM to promote joined-up planning and delivery of programmes of learning so children and young people are able to develop the foundations they need to move onto the next stage;
  • promoting the links between STEM learning and raising attainment in literacy and numeracy;
  • building and boosting the teaching and learning of STEM in early learning and primary schools in terms of both STEM skills and knowledge and teaching approaches; and
  • promoting skills progression in STEM learning, including through engagement with the curriculum benchmarks and bringing real-life examples from the world of business and research into STEM learning.

We will work with partners to support the work of the Improvement Collaboratives in their identified priorities for STEM learning, teaching and engagement.

As part of the consultation on the draft strategy, we sought views on a draft STEM Self-Evaluation and Improvement Framework. This set out a clear and simple approach for local authorities, schools and early learning providers to improve their STEM curriculum and whole-establishment and community approaches to STEM in line with the aims of this strategy. Consultation responses were positive about the draft and we will publish a finalised Framework that addresses the feedback received. The Framework will be widely communicated through local authorities, schools and early learning providers for use as a tool to support improvement in STEM learning and teaching and complement the work that local authorities already do to promote STEM learning.

We will publish the finalised STEM Self-Evaluation and Improvement Framework by December 2017 to support ELC settings and schools in the delivery of STEM learning and teaching.

In order to fully realise the opportunities presented by the Collaboratives to improve STEM learning and teaching, we believe that dedicated STEM expertise will be required to provide specialist support. Building on the Attainment Advisor model, we will appoint STEM specialists that will drive improvement within regions and foster collaboration between regions. They will promote the opportunity to build STEM knowledge and skills into the curriculum through interdisciplinary learning and support the building of STEM capacity within school clusters.

We will recruit a network of STEM specialist advisors to support learning and teaching in the 3-18 curriculum and raise STEM attainment, with the aim of having a fully operational network by December 2018.

Case Study

Port Ellen Primary School

Port Ellen Primary on Islay is an award-winning school that has a passion for STEM. The resourceful staff engaged learners of all ages in many exciting and motivating STEM learning experiences such as:

  • practical investigations on plate tectonics and construction of pneumatic monsters;
  • participating in the rocket seeds experiment using seeds that have been to the International Space Station;
  • taking part in the Scottish Mathematics Challenge;
  • learning about algorithms, computational thinking and game design; and
  • linking STEM to learning for sustainability through Eco-Schools topics.

The school also makes use of its stunning location to bring STEM to life by working regularly with the RSPB and by visiting the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust boat to enhance learning about animal communication. They are also working with Reading University archaeologists to carry out geophysical surveys of local historic sites.

The school is working with colleagues from other schools to promote effective cluster-wide approaches to science through SSERC’s Primary Cluster Programme. In addition, student STEM ambassadors from Islay High help run a popular after-school club.

Maureen McDonald, Headteacher, Port Ellen Primary

“As educators at Port Ellen Primary School, it is important that we equip our children with skills for learning, life and work. Through our work in STEM, we have created a culture and environment that enables our learners to apply their thinking in real-world applications. Our interdisciplinary methodology in STEM is a creative and inclusive approach which stimulates and motivates the youngest to the oldest learners. When children are interested and engaged to this level, it not only helps to raise attainment and achievement, it also harnesses the enthusiasm of our parents, partners and community creating a STEM domino effect”.

We recognise the particular critical importance of people having both broad digital skills and the specific computer coding and cyber security abilities that are in particularly short supply in the economy and are increasingly needed for everyday life. Earlier this year we updated the early years and school curriculum to introduce the fundamentals of coding and cyber security from the earliest years of education onwards and to ensure these are developed right through the Broad General Education. Through partnerships with industry we are supporting the practical delivery of this in schools with the Barefoot Computing programme, the expansion of extra-curricular activities and coding clubs, the Digital Schools Programme and the creation of a Digital Schools Award for primary and secondary schools.

We will provide dedicated support to digital skills development in early learning settings and schools, including primary schools, through the Digital Schools Programme.

We recognise that practical experience is an important part of STEM learning and are clear that opportunities to carry out experiments and engage in practical investigations and activities should be an integral part of STEM learning across all ages and stages. Many practical activities can be done in standard classroom settings but dedicated facilities are also needed, particularly at the more advanced or specialist levels.

We will work with local authorities to ensure that excellent spaces for STEM learning are included in new builds and developed through school refurbishment projects. We will make this a key consideration of the Scottish Government’s support to any project(s) delivered through any future schools investment programme.

Prioritising STEM in the expansion of apprenticeships

Scotland’s Labour Market Strategy ( LMS) published in 2016 redefines the Scottish Government’s strategic direction for our labour market. Our Apprenticeship Programmes are an important example of how the Scottish Government can both deliver the LMS and also make a significant contribution to the promotion and expansion of STEM-focused support for individuals and businesses.

We are committed to further expanding STEM opportunities across all apprenticeship offers, promoting these opportunities as widely as possible, and enhancing our understanding of pathways into, and from, these apprenticeships to ensure Scotland’s labour market meets both our current and future needs.

Apprenticeship Frameworks are driven by industry demand and SDS works closely with employers and training providers to ensure that apprenticeships are developed and delivered in line with employer needs. SDS established the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board, following recommendations from Developing the Young Workforce ( DYW), and it is designed to give employers and industry a leading role in informing the future of apprenticeships in Scotland. Vocational provision, such as Modern, Foundation and Graduate Level Apprenticeships have grown significantly since the DYW programme commenced and this will continue to expand during the remainder of the programme.

Foundation Apprenticeships, available as part of the Senior Phase in school, have seen an annual increase in uptake since being introduced in 2014. They are delivered as a partnership between school, employer and college and offer real workplace experience as well as leading to an industry-recognised qualification and are available in all local authority areas. We aim to make 3,500 places available for a 2018 start date – with 5,000 places available by the end of 2019. Approximately half of all Foundation Apprenticeships will be in STEM subjects with seven of the ten current frameworks on offer being STEM-related: civil engineering, creative digital media, engineering, financial services, IT hardware/system support, IT software development and scientific technologies (laboratory skills).

During 2016-17, 37% of all Modern Apprenticeships starts (almost 10,000) were STEM related, with 57% (21,139) of all those ‘in training’ in STEM frameworks. It is intended that the annual number starting a Modern Apprenticeship will rise from the current level of just over 26,000 to 30,000 by 2020.

Graduate Level Apprenticeships ( GLA) provide an opportunity to develop a new way into degree-level study alongside work. GLA provision will increase from 379 places available in four frameworks in 2017 to 520 across seven frameworks in 2018, all of which will be in STEM subjects.

The planned expansion of both Foundation Apprenticeships and Graduate Level Apprenticeships in the coming years will facilitate improved pathways in STEM-related work-based qualifications.

We will prioritise STEM in the expansion of Modern Apprenticeships and the development of Graduate Level Apprenticeships and Foundation Apprenticeships. This will start in 2018 and continue for the five year lifetime of this strategy.

Maintaining excellence in STEM research and building links with industry

Scotland’s universities lead the world in research across many STEM disciplines, ensuring that both postgraduate and undergraduate teaching are informed by that research excellence. In addition, this cutting edge research enhances Scotland’s innovative reputation and potential to further capitalise on the competitive advantage this reputation affords. Building on our investment through the Scottish Funding Council in world-leading STEM research and researchers, there is an opportunity to connect this activity more strongly with the support given to Scotland’s companies to plan and invest for growth. Our Innovation Centres are already working to link businesses to academia in both present and future industries and shaping the jobs of the future for those leaving our colleges and universities. The creation of the new Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board will provide a means of further improving this collaboration in the future.

Scotland’s new Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board will work with the enterprise and skills agencies, including the Scottish Funding Council, to improve collaboration on all aspects of STEM education between colleges, universities and employers to support productivity and growth. The Strategic Board will ensure that the enterprise and skills agencies align behind a strategic plan to drive Scotland’s economic ambitions, and the promotion of growth areas related to STEM disciplines will feature in its consideration.

Our Innovation Centres will continue to improve the effectiveness and impact of links between businesses and academia, and influence jobs of the future. In particular, Innovation Centres will increase their promotion of STEM and its practical applications to help inspire school pupils and students to develop their STEM skills for a range of careers.

Case Study

Innovation centres – Data Lab

Innovation Centres receive support from the Scottish Funding Council for postgraduate taught places with an emphasis on the development of Masters-level provision. Programmes include placements providing on-the-job training where the industry partner benefits from the knowledge of a highly-skilled postgraduate student.

The Data Lab MSc is a collaborative effort between seven Scottish universities with the aim of developing the data science talent and skills required by industry in Scotland. Last year Data Lab provided a number of placements in companies around Scotland. Urban Tide, a SME-based in Edinburgh, specialising in smart cities services hosted an MSc student, Christopher Lunny, as part of the Data Lab MSc placement programme. The goal was to test USMART’s real-time data performance using Transport for London data to answer the question ‘how well do the buses adhere to their timetables?’. Christopher said:

“I’ll hopefully get a chance to work with UrbanTide again in the future – which would be really great because there’s a very good balance of young and enthusiastic, very bright, people there with fresh ideas along with more experienced people with sound wisdom and leadership skills.”


Email: Frank Creamer

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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