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.

8 Inspiration

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 numbers of people who understand the benefits and value of STEM for themselves, their families and their communities.

Scotland has a rich history and culture of expertise, innovation and achievement in STEM that is recognised around the world. Yet there persists a view within our society that STEM subjects are more difficult to study than others, as well as an under-appreciation of the vital contribution of STEM to our culture. The need to challenge such societal perceptions of STEM and to demonstrate the opportunities it presents for all children, young people and adults was a strong message from the consultation conducted in preparing this strategy.

In challenging outdated views, misconceptions and stereotypes related to STEM, it is critical that we recognise the role that parents and families in particular can play as key influencers of young people’s attitudes and choices, including the subjects they study and the careers the pursue. Reflecting a wider issue in society, some parents and other family members can lack sufficient awareness of the importance of STEM for future skills and careers and can hold negative perceptions of STEM that are often based on their own prior experiences.

It is likely that these misconceptions about STEM are a significant contributory factor in the ‘leakage’ that exists currently from the STEM skills supply pipeline in Scotland. Data shows a positive picture generally in terms of the overall growth in STEM Higher and Advanced Higher passes at school, the number of college and university STEM enrolments and the number of STEM apprenticeships. However, not all of those with STEM skills and qualifications take up STEM occupations or work in STEM industries when they leave the education system. Not enough people are sufficiently inspired on an ongoing basis to work in the STEM industries or to develop and maintain their STEM capability throughout their lives.

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

  • Creating networks of positive STEM role models, mentors and coaches to inspire children and young people to develop their STEM capability.
  • Promoting the opportunities and benefits offered by STEM learning and careers, including fostering a better understanding of the wider cultural, health and environmental benefits of engaging with STEM and helping learners to make informed choices about STEM study and careers.
  • Recognising and celebrating the successes of learners and providers in developing their STEM capability.

Case Study

Highland STEM Ambassadors

S6 students devise, plan and deliver STEM sessions alongside Mairi Stewart, STEM coordinator, University of Highlands and Islands. They focus on inspiring younger pupils to enthuse about STEM subjects, challenge stereotypes and raise awareness of the importance of STEM in our world. Delivery is focussed on P7 but is not limited exclusively to P7 pupils. The primary visits are part of the whole-school transition programme which prepares P7 pupils for the move to S1.

  • S6 STEM Ambassadors devise and deliver STEM session to each of the associated primaries.
  • S6 pupils achieve the GOLD Crest Award.
  • Primary pupils achieve CREST STAR Awards.

The STEM activities are designed to inspire those who deliver and participate in them. The S6 Ambassadors develop communication, presentation and organisational skills through their participation in the delivery of STEM events in the High School. They work with younger students on developing their understanding of STEM and encourage them to consider studying STEM subjects as they progress through the Broad General Education and on to the Senior Phase.

Rosie Cord, Teacher, Carbost Primary

“It was a great success! The girls were very professional and lots of learning took place.”

Creating positive STEM role models, mentors and coaches

Young children have a natural curiosity and affinity for exploring the world around them and being inspired by STEM can start from the earliest years onwards. Early learning and childcare settings have significant contact with parents and families and are well placed to promote positive perceptions of, and engagement with, STEM. Key to this is to raise awareness among parents and families about the importance of STEM within our society and in terms of the future careers and ambitions of their children. Building enthusiasm for STEM within families at the start of formal education will be an important part of our work within early learning and childcare ( ELC).

We will, from June 2018, support ELC settings to promote positive engagement with STEM and tackle gender stereotypes through their parental and family engagement activities.

We will, from August 2018, extend the resources available for parents through Parentzone [7] and, through collaboration with partners, including parent representative organisations and community learning and development partners, support parents and carers with STEM learning at home.

The role of visible and relatable role models in inspiring people of all ages to develop their talents is well established. We know that the most effective type of role model interactions with young people are those which involve sustained interactions and coaching and mentoring. STEM Ambassadors in Scotland, operating within a UK-wide programme, have played an important role in encouraging and inspiring young people to achieve more and progress further in STEM areas. In Scotland, the programme is delivered by three ambassador hubs and managed by SSERC. We believe that STEM Ambassadors and other role models will continue to have a key role in inspiring young people to develop and sustain their interest in STEM study, jobs and careers and we aim to enhance their impact yet further by supporting, in particular, the development of coaching and mentoring for STEM.

We will support STEM Ambassadors to engage with sectors that require more support, such as ELC, parents and families, and community learning and development, with evidence of increases in this engagement by the end of 2018.

We will use digital platforms and web-conferencing to extend the reach of STEM Ambassadors to ensure all schools and settings have access to the support and resources they can provide, with evidence of a broader reach by 2019.

In acknowledging the strengths of the existing programme, we believe that we can inspire yet more young people through the development of a new Young STEM Leaders programme in Scotland that will enable young people to mentor and encourage one another in STEM, in particular for older children to mentor younger ones. A number of early years establishments, schools, colleges and universities already have their own programmes to do this and there was support for these approaches in our consultation. We want to grow and spread these initiatives more systematically.

This will complement the existing STEM Ambassador programme, with a focus on children and young people who are currently in education or training programmes. This is because:

  • we know that children and young people respond well to role models who are similar to them;
  • mobilising the enthusiasm of young people themselves will help grow the number of role model and mentoring opportunities for other young people; and
  • being a Young STEM Leader could, in turn, help motivate that young person to follow STEM study or careers and to become a STEM Ambassador in the future. It will also help them develop ‘soft’ skills that are in demand from employers.

In doing so, we will make sure that Young STEM Leaders help to address stereotypes that act as barriers to participation in STEM. This will include making sure that there is a good gender balance amongst the Young STEM Leaders.

We will establish a new Young STEM Leaders programme to stimulate and strengthen the development of peer mentoring and inspiration in STEM for children and young people by children and young people. The programme will start in early 2018 and be fully operational by 2020.

Promoting the opportunities and benefits of STEM learning and careers

The Scottish Government provides annual funding for a range of science engagement activities, including Scotland’s four Science Centres – Glasgow, Dynamic Earth (Edinburgh), Dundee, and Aberdeen – and typically up to sixteen Science Festivals throughout Scotland in any one year. No other part of the UK has such a comprehensive annual package of support in place for science engagement activities. We will continue to work in partnership with public science engagement providers by providing continued funding to ensure that more than 800,000 people every year have access to quality activities provided by science centres and festivals.

While there is a clear economic imperative to supporting STEM careers and industry, there are wider personal and societal benefits in encouraging people of all ages to engage with STEM. Understanding more about today’s big issues, including climate change and our ageing population, can help empower people to make informed decisions about lifestyle choices. Recognising and celebrating Scotland’s past, present and future contributions to science and innovation helps embed STEM as an integral part of our wider culture.

We will develop a national engagement campaign, in collaboration with the wider science engagement sector, to inspire and engage people of all ages and backgrounds with STEM.

The campaign will include:

  • a ‘national week’ focus for STEM in Scotland;
  • key events across Scotland providing an opportunity to celebrate STEM;
  • social media activity and competitions; and
  • case study video blogs featuring people in STEM, acting as a resource for parents, teachers and young people.

The campaign will complement other awareness-raising activity, such as Scotland’s annual Maths Week which ran for the first time in September 2017. We will make sure that the campaign is inclusive and appeals to the widest possible audience.

Case Study

Maths Week Scotland 2017

Maths Week Scotland emerged from the Making Maths Count report recommendations and is part of the drive to make Scotland more positive in its attitude towards numeracy and mathematics. The first Maths Week Scotland took place over 11‑17 September 2017 and it will become an annual event that we hope will build year-on-year in its impact and reach.

Hundreds of schools and thousands of people took part in Maths Week Scotland with a range of activities led by schools, early learning centres, colleges, libraries and universities. Highlights included events in Kelvingrove Park and the city centre streets of Edinburgh and St Andrews, lectures and talks, class and school activities like code breaking, murder mysteries, alien missions, Dragon’s Den, escape puzzles, outdoor maths trails and digital maths app competitions. Lots of schools involved parents and carers through inviting them to school and encouraging maths activity at home. Numeracy across the curriculum was celebrated through literacy, science, art, physical activity, languages and history. Some inspiring collaborations emerged between schools and the National Museum of Scotland, the NHS, universities and colleges and many schools engaged with local businesses and employers to promote the diversity of maths and careers.

Lourdes Primary School in Glasgow took part. Ahmed Alkhader said: “I liked Maths Week because we got to go outside to time each other running 100m. We compared our times to Usain Bolt!” Zoe Boyd said: “I enjoyed Maths Week Scotland because it was more fun than normal maths!”

Skills Development Scotland has developed My World of Work (WoW) Live! to inspire young people’s interest in STEM careers through interactive workshops and exhibits. It brings STEM out of the classroom and into real life by helping young people, parents, carers and teachers understand the breadth of STEM careers, and challenges preconceived ideas about who these are for. My World of Work Live! can be accessed in a range of venues throughout Scotland, including the Glasgow Science Centre.

Skills Development Scotland will build on the success of MyWoW Live! by extending provision to reach and inspire more young people into STEM careers including those in more remote and rural locations, starting in 2018.

The catalyst for an interest in a particular STEM subject may come from home, school or when a student has embarked on a different course at college or university. The ability to be, and remain, inspired is as broad and varied as each learner’s journey. The cutting-edge nature of many STEM subjects can excite and motivate young people in pursuing their studies at both further and higher education levels.

We will ensure that learner journeys in STEM disciplines, and particularly the crucial transitions between schools, colleges and universities, deliver the best results for learners. Progression examples may include taking the step from further education to higher education or taking up STEM postgraduate study, when a first degree may not have been in a STEM discipline. From 2017-18, the Scottish Government has expanded the availability of funding for taught postgraduate study at Scottish universities. All eligible students can access a tuition fee loan of up to £5,500 and a loan to help with living costs of up to £4,500. This funding is available to students who wish to embark on a taught postgraduate course up to Masters level.

We will work with colleges and universities to set out, in their outcome agreements, how higher levels of progression from school to further education and onward to higher education STEM courses in a college or university setting can be promoted.

As part of wider awareness raising of all opportunities available in STEM study after school, we will promote the expansion of financial support for taught postgraduate study from 2017-18.

Scotland’s Modern Apprenticeship Programme relies heavily on the commitment of employers across the country, with over 10,000 employers currently engaged in providing opportunities. In 2016-17, 37% of all Modern Apprentice starts were in STEM frameworks. The strategy consultation highlighted support for increased STEM employer engagement in promoting STEM careers and to provide more opportunities for children and young people to experience the sector. The Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board includes representation from a number of major national employers, including Scottish Power, Scottish Water and Arnold Clark. The Board is well placed, both individually and collectively, to promote shared messages across their various channels about the value of a career in STEM.

The Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board will provide leadership and support in developing a shared approach to promoting the benefits of a career in STEM to key audiences.

Recognising and celebrating success

In encouraging children and young people to build and maintain their passion for STEM-related activity, it will be important to recognise both their individual achievements and the role of providers and partners in creating opportunities for them to flourish. The Digital Schools Award has helped to promote, recognise and encourage a whole-school approach to the use of digital technology in primary schools and has recently been extended to secondary schools. It offers a successful model to extend to other areas of STEM activity.

We will introduce new STEM Awards for ELC settings, schools and CLD settings to promote, recognise and build on activities in these sectors, based on the success of the Digital Schools Award with the first round of awards taking place during academic year 2018-19. We will also explore with partners how the Digital Schools Award may be extended out to early learning and community development settings.

There is a range of CLD-led STEM activity already available across Scotland. This includes:

  • the Girl Guides inspiring young women through their Science Investigator badge;
  • youth awards like the John Muir and Duke of Edinburgh Awards stimulating young people’s interest in science in the environment and nature;
  • initiatives like Generation Code – a partnership between Microsoft, The Tablet Academy, UK Youth and Youth Scotland – offering community-based opportunities for young people to develop their coding skills;
  • the Workers Educational Association working with Glasgow Clyde College to develop resources for adult learners on the theme of ‘Science for a Successful Scotland’; and
  • Men’s Sheds encouraging intergenerational learning around engineering and technology.

However, the strategy consultation also highlighted that CLD practitioners sometimes do not readily recognise their contributions to the STEM agenda and would welcome STEM professional learning opportunities to maximise their skills. The enhanced STEM CLPL offer set out earlier in this strategy will include bespoke support for CLD practitioners. We will also take further action to raise STEM awareness across the CLD sector

We will hold an annual learning conference each year of the STEM strategy from 2018-2022 for CLD practitioners. These events will be organised in collaboration with partners and showcase inspirational lifelong learning STEM practice.


Email: Frank Creamer

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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