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.

7 Equity

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

  • Significant reductions in the equity gaps in participation and achievement in STEM learning, engagement, study, courses and training across all sectors in relation to gender, deprivation, rurality, race, disability and for care leavers

The data shows that there is a pressing need for greater diversity of people taking STEM courses and training programmes and employed in the STEM sectors. We need to achieve a better gender balance and address the negative impact of social disadvantage in STEM courses, training and work. There are other disparities in participation and achievement in STEM in terms of race and disability that must be tackled.

Gender imbalances in participation in STEM courses are evident across the education and training system. Overall, girls are under represented in STEM subjects at school. Two thirds of STEM learners at college are male and men outnumber women in the number of Modern Apprenticeship registrations in STEM frameworks. There are wide variations in the pattern of female and male participation in the different STEM subjects and courses with males being over represented in subjects such as physics, engineering, computing and construction.

Conversely, females are over represented in subjects and courses relating to biology, life sciences, medicine, dentistry and veterinary science. For example, in 2016, 67% of Higher Biology and 71% of Higher Human Biology of total passes in the subject were by females whereas only 18% of Higher Computing Science and 30% of Higher Physics passes were by females. In 2016, the percentage of female passes in Higher Mathematics, Chemistry and all the other Technology subjects were 48%, 51% and 44% respectively.

This gender segregation and imbalance is exacerbated in the STEM workforce. Research indicates that women are under represented across a range of STEM sectors such as energy, life and chemical sciences, engineering and ICT/digital and, in particular construction, where in 2015 less than 2% of trade workers and only 10% of professionals were female. Other sectors, in other parts of the economy, such as the care sector have high proportions of women. Gender segregation and imbalance results in lost economic potential for the country and missed opportunities for individuals.

We recognise there are broader societal issues that need to be tackled. Equality for women is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s vision for an equal Scotland and we are taking a range of actions to tackle the gender pay gap, ensure women’s equality in the workplace and to ensure women are represented in senior decision-making roles, including in boardrooms. We will also continue to consider the need for, and support, positive action projects that address gender imbalances in STEM sectors of the economy.

Tackling the equity gaps in the education, training and lifelong learning system is critical in order to diversify and increase the pipeline of talent into the STEM economy and to create equality of access, opportunity and outcomes for all. It will require sustained action and investment co-ordinated across sectors.

1 in 3 of college enrolments were female 2015-16

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

  • introducing new measures to tackle inequality and inequity, including gender stereotypes, in STEM learning and careers from the early years onwards;
  • tackling targeted action to improve participation in STEM further and higher education courses and apprenticeships; and
  • introducing new measures to increase access to public science engagement events by under-served groups including a focus on audiences in deprived and rural areas.

Tackling inequity in STEM learning and careers

Gender stereotypes are a major factor contributing to imbalances across participation in STEM subjects at all stages of education in Scotland and into employment. We recognise the negative influence these stereotypes can have, particularly in discouraging girls and young women from studying STEM, and are committed to tackling this.

Since 2015, Education Scotland, Skills Development Scotland and the Institute of Physics have been collaborating in early learning centres and schools to develop effective approaches to tackling gender imbalances at the classroom level.

Conclusions from this work have been that:

  • concerted action needs to be taken in early learning and primary provision to tackle the stereotyping around toys, clothes and play and other deeply-ingrained cultural practice and beliefs which are prevalent in society and which help perpetuate gender inequality;
  • a sustained focus is then needed through secondary schools to ensure progress is maintained and that boys and girls continue to have a high level of engagement and enjoyment in STEM subjects through the Broad General Education and into the Senior Phase;
  • young people and girls in particular need to be supported and encouraged to continue on their STEM journeys. Whole-school approaches to gender equality are needed as the issues which affect subject choices and career aspirations go beyond STEM departments in schools; and
  • a coherent approach is then required to support the transition of learners from schools into leadership, work, training and further study. Mentoring schemes, appropriate marketing of courses, industry and open day visits can help to build the confidence of learners and help them make effective non-gendered choices.

The learning from this project has already started to be disseminated widely throughout schools. We want to extend and deepen the impact of this project in early learning settings and schools, widen it out beyond STEM to other curricular areas and, as appropriate, other equalities issues. In doing so we want to actively work with equalities and equity experts in the third sector and to join up our activities with similar work being undertaken in colleges, universities, public science engagement and the apprenticeship programmes.

We will work with early learning providers and schools from June 2018 to help them recognise and address unconscious bias and gender stereotyping and tackle inequity. This will include the development and delivery of new professional learning programmes on equity in STEM for practitioners. We will seek to embed good practice from the successful Institute of Physics Improving Gender Balance project across all schools by 2022. We will create a dedicated resource to lead, manage and support this work and will involve equalities experts in the third sector.

We are making a significant investment in closing the poverty-related attainment gap, focussing on numeracy, literacy and health and wellbeing. A wide range of strategies and approaches are being applied across the authorities and schools participating in our attainment programmes. We have extended Read, Write, Count into P4-P7 in areas of high socio-economic deprivation to further support parental engagement in these key areas from April 2017.

Using information from the Scottish Attainment Challenge we will review the impact and effectiveness of numeracy and STEMrelated activity to reduce the poverty-related attainment gap by March 2019. We will share what we know about effective practice through the National Improvement Hub and wider STEM schools programmes and networks, in order to help inform future decisions on the use of funding in schools.

Case Study

Equate Scotland and FanDuel

Equate Scotland and FanDuel have been working together for two years to develop a holistic approach to increase women’s representation in the company and across the tech sector. Over these two years FanDuel has invested in:

  • unconscious bias training;
  • flexible work practices;
  • equality and Diversity training for managers;
  • a women and leadership training day;
  • outreach work and film screenings for women students from colleges and universities who are studying technology or engineering; and
  • strategic development on gender equality with their leadership team.

A number of different interventions and approaches have been used over the last two years in recognition that occupational segregation in STEM will not be overturned through a ‘single silver bullet’, but rather through multiple interventions at all levels of a company, which are embedded into workplace culture.

Sarah, second year Software Engineering student, on attending events at FanDuel: “It was fantastic to hear from the female employees at FanDuel, especially to hear their journeys and how flexible and supportive the company is towards them. Going to events with employers where we can hear about what they are doing for women makes me more confident about working in tech.”

Maria Rooney, Talent Director, FanDuel: “Tackling the gender technology gap is a priority for us both internally and also within the wider tech community. We are passionate about providing opportunities at every level of the pipeline through inspiring students to ensuring that we recruit and retain incredible talent.”

Skills Development Scotland published its Equality Action Plan for Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland in December 2015 and an update in July 2017, which connects with the aims of this strategy. The plan outlines the actions that Skills Development Scotland is taking in collaboration with partners to reduce gender stereotyping and gender segregation in career choices and occupational routes chosen by young people.

Skills Development Scotland will continue to develop its approach to support key influencers (teachers, parents, career advisors and peers) to challenge assumptions of traditional career choices and encourage under-represented groups to take up STEM apprenticeship opportunities. This will include embedding equality considerations in the quality assurance of apprenticeships provision.

Case Study

Improving Gender Balance Scotland ( IGBS)

IGB Scotland is working with schools to tackle the persistent under representation of girls in STEM subjects. The project aims to establish school interventions to effect long-term cultural change with a particular focus on challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging more gender balance across STEM occupations. The project is a collaboration between the Institute of Physics, Skills Development Scotland and Education Scotland.

IGBS works with school clusters, from early years to S6, and with all members of the school community including students, teaching staff, parents and the senior leadership team. The focus of the project is helping practitioners and senior managers within schools and early learning centres understand gender stereotyping and unconscious bias, and develop approaches to tackle them. The interventions are evidence-based and are carried out by the schools, facilitated and supported by the IGBS Project Officers.

An external interim evaluation reported some key successes and changes in the schools participating in the early stages of the project:

  • greater awareness amongst teachers and senior managers of unconscious bias, including gender bias – and how it manifests itself within their activities and what steps need to be taken to promote gender balance; and
  • greater awareness of gender issues among learners – with this feeding into students talking about gender issues more often. For example, a number of teachers highlighted that students are more likely to confront bias, stereotyping or throwaway remarks than in the past.

Chris Deaves, Deputy Headteacher, Auchmuty High School said: “Our involvement with the IGBS project has been a real eye opener for the whole school community. Our collective attitudes, unconscious bias and entrenched positions are now being challenged.”

93% Modern Apprenticeship starts are male

As part of the DYW programme, the introduction of the Foundation Apprenticeships in Scotland offers a new opportunity for young people to benefit from earlier experience of work-based learning. Foundation Apprenticeships can broaden career opportunities for young people and make them better equipped for employment as they undertake real work experience with an employer. The current contracting arrangements for Foundation Apprenticeships embed equality considerations within the requirements and we expect that expansion strategy for Foundation Apprenticeships will be a key route for encouraging more diverse routes and innovative and wider career choices for young people from all backgrounds.

Skills Development Scotland will work with partners at a local level to increase female uptake of Foundation Apprenticeship STEM-related programmes, starting in 2018 and continuing until 2022.

Improving participation in STEM further and higher education courses and apprenticeships

The established partnerships that both colleges and universities have with schools offer the opportunity to encourage more young women to study STEM subjects. In particular, highlighting examples of women in STEM careers and their journey to obtaining rewarding jobs offers a practical way to inspire and attract more women to study and research STEM subjects and embark on associated future careers. Through management of the existing Outcome Agreement process, the Scottish Funding Council will assist and challenge universities and colleges to play an enhanced role in encouraging gender balance in the take up of STEM study. However, further action is required to raise awareness of the opportunities and to accelerate progress.

We will launch a new social media campaign in 2018 to increase gender balance in participation in STEM study and to address STEM occupational segregation. This campaign will be led and championed by Scottish Government, Scottish Funding Council and the college and university sectors. Each college and university has developed a Gender Action Plan, and through the Outcome Agreement process we will monitor their work to implement actions on advancing equity to reduce gender disparities for learners within STEM subject areas.

The Scottish Funding Council will produce an inaugural annual progress report on institutional performance in this area in December 2017.

Alongside action to close the gender gap, we are also committed to address inequalities associated with socio-economic deprivation. This will involve working with the Scottish Funding Council as their new school engagement framework takes shape. The existing programme, Access to High Demand Professions, and its REACH element, already focus on assisting pupils from deprived backgrounds, in schools with a low rate of progression to higher education, to access degree courses in subjects such as veterinary medicine, medicine and dentistry. This will be augmented through the development of the Scottish Funding Council’s national school engagement framework, with the aim of improving access and enhancing skills for careers in key STEM industries, such as ICT. We will also scope the potential requirement for universities to develop a new targeted geographical outreach programmes related to STEM subjects.

Using the Scottish Funding Council’s new school engagement framework, which will launch in 2018 and be fully implemented by 2020, we will identify new ways of opening up opportunities in STEM study by breaking down gender barriers and encouraging prospective students from deprived areas.

Within the apprenticeship programmes, Skills Development Scotland will take steps to increase the take-up of STEM apprenticeship opportunities by under-represented groups, as well as working with employers to help them recruit and support STEM apprentices from more diverse groups in their workforce.

Skills Development Scotland will increase diversity and equity across Scotland’s apprenticeship programmes through a targeted package of employer engagement, engagement with under-represented groups and mentoring for young people, starting in early 2018.

Increasing access to public science engagement events

Public science engagement providers have the potential to reach large sections of the Scottish population. We recognise the particular need to take specific, targeted action to ensure that the opportunities offered by our world-class science centres and by our inspirational festivals can be enjoyed by all of Scotland’s communities, particularly those currently under represented in STEM learning and careers. Scottish Government funding is a key lever to incentivise this aim and we will aim to maximise the impact of our activity on under-served individuals, groups and communities by directing more of our funding towards science engagement activities delivered in areas that are rural and remote, or deprived.

Case Study

University of Strathclyde – Engineering Academy

Established in 2013, the Engineering Academy ( EA) is a model widening access initiative providing students with a route to a University of Strathclyde degree via an enhanced HNC programme and work placements delivered by college and industry partners.

The EA also offers students the chance to engage with sponsoring companies who mentor EA students throughout their studies and support their professional development, whilst also providing paid summer placements. This allows students to put the theory they learn into practice and get hands-on industrial experience, enhancing their CVs and employability.

We have worked closely within our college partnership and their well-established schools links. This has led to us being invited to a number of parent, pupil and teacher events organised by our partner colleges or local authority. These have proved to be effective in increasing awareness and engagement. Our focus going forward is to engage directly with targeted schools, some of this work has already started. The early indications are extremely positive demonstrated by the level of engagement with the school Heads and their Departmental Heads. The focus of these engagements has been to establish a viable pathway for their Senior Phase into engineering using the academy route.

Paul Bain, MD Wabtec Faiveley: “We are now two years through the journey and I feel a win-win for Wabtec students and the university has been achieved. Wabtec has gained so much to date. The proactive nature of our students has been incredible and has had a significant impact on the staff.”

Student Michaela Silver-Woods: “Studying in the Engineering Academy’s General Engineering has had so many benefits for me. It meant I could choose between five world-class departments at Strathclyde, and I also had a stand alone qualification for my first year of study. There are lots of exclusive recruitment opportunities. Thanks to this I have an amazing placement abroad with a great company.”

We will conduct an in-depth analysis of deprivation and rurality to understand how best to reach under-served audiences. This will inform the use of our public science engagement funding in 2018-19 and beyond.

We will support the science centres to continue to target activities at particular groups currently under-served by science engagement activities, through use of our Community Subsidy. This will include close working with communities and other groups to make sure that activities meet their needs, whether through events in centres or delivered through outreach to community venues.

We will require science festivals to promote at least one event specifically targeted towards women and girls from 2017-18 onwards as a condition for accepting our funding.

The Community Learning and Development ( CLD) sector also has a key role in promoting equity through engaging disadvantaged or vulnerable groups and individuals of all ages in learning. CLD practitioners have identified the lack of low-cost or free STEM activities as a barrier for young people, adults, families and communities engaging with STEM. Increasing partnership working between the CLD sector and the public science engagement sector would help extend the reach of these activities into communities with high levels of socio-economic deprivation.

We will require science centres and larger science festivals to work with the CLD sector to develop Community STEM Plans from 2018-19 onwards as a condition of Scottish Government funding for public engagement activities.

These plans will set out clearly their commitment to engage with diverse audiences and measure learning outcomes of their activities with key groups. As a part of these plans, we will also look to develop new opportunities for young people and families to engage with STEM in communities that experience high levels of deprivation through joint working between the CLD sector and the science centres and festivals.

Education Scotland will work with the science centres and science festivals in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee on a pilot basis to extend the reach of their programmes to parents and families in designated SIMD areas, starting in 2018.


Email: Frank Creamer

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

Back to top