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.

9 Connection

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

  • Increased collaboration between schools, colleges, universities and employers
  • Increased employment in STEM related occupations and employers more satisfied with the STEM skills and capability of the people they employ from schools colleges, universities and from apprenticeship programmes

To ignite inspiration for, and foster excellence in, STEM for all of Scotland’s children, young people and adults, it is critical that we ensure a collaborative effort between all those with interests in STEM learning and the STEM economy. To deliver a step change in terms of meeting the STEM demand in the economy, we must look at all programmes of STEM learning across the sectors and work to strengthen existing relationships, forge new links, and ensure robust and coherent connections. In particular, we need to strengthen the way that schools and colleges work with employers.

We know there is already a great appetite and willingness to support STEM learning and development in Scotland and to strengthen the connection between education providers and employers. This was evident in the consultation and is demonstrated through the many positive initiatives and interventions taking place the length and breadth of the country.

However, the picture is not a consistent or sufficiently coherent one and the cumulative impact of interventions is not being maximised. The suitability and quality of initiatives, and their geographical reach, can vary. Initiatives also tend to be focused on the Senior Phase, but inspiration for STEM needs to start in the early years, and continue into primary and early secondary education. There can also be a lack of awareness among young people, teachers and practitioners of the opportunities that exist with colleges, local industries and businesses in their region and beyond. Schools in our more rural and remote communities can find it particularly challenging to identify partners to support STEM learning.

Our Developing the Young Workforce programme has enhanced careers advice for young people including bringing employers closer together with education and introducing careers advice earlier in secondary school. Building on this, the 15‑24 Learner Journey Review will set out further improvements in how we can help young people to make well-informed choices about subjects, future study or training and careers.

If we are to create a coherent and connected skills pipeline, our education and training providers must be fully aware of the demands of the labour market and be sufficiently agile to respond appropriately and effectively. Employers have a key interest and role to play, and will be encouraged to develop sustained and meaningful partnerships with schools. Alongside individual employers, the DYW Regional Groups will help by co‑ordinating the development of these partnerships. Other employers’ groups, including the Industry Leadership Groups, will also have a role in helping to make the connections between employers and the education system and in bringing coherence.

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

  • Improving and streamlining the support available to schools.
  • Delivering up-to-date advice and information on STEM careers.
  • Increasing the responsiveness of colleges, universities and apprenticeship programmes to the needs of the STEM economy.

Case Study

West College Scotland – STEM Co-ordination

The college hosts the Developing the Young Workforce West Regional team who support the West regions’ DYW group. The team work with both employers and college staff to make links between industry and education in the region.

The Bloodhound Rocket Car Challenge has helped provide a focus for partnership working between the DYW Regional Group, schools and the college. This is a large scale STEM challenge project run across Scotland through a number of colleges, supported by ESP (Energy Skills Partnership). The challenge promotes STEM careers for learners at S1-S3 in a fun and competitive environment. It also provides good opportunities for teachers and college staff to build positive and lasting working relationships. Learners design, build and test a model of a land speed record attempt vehicle within a set of engineering design briefs.

West College Scotland supported the training and development of the different partners involved in the challenge and work with participating schools to bring out the benefits for learning and teaching. The DYW partners in the region helped to make contact with the right people in local authorities and schools to involve as many young people as possible. Two hundred learners from the West region were involved in the national “Big Bang Scotland” STEM event run by the ESP at Perth College UHI in June 2017. Inspired by the national event, West College Scotland are planning their own Big Bang Near Me event on 22-23 November 2017 supported by Engineering UK’s Tomorrow’s Engineers programme.

“I would like to thank you for the excellent Big Bang event and rocket car race at Perth College last week. Our pupils had a fantastic day and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. They have loved being involved in the rocket car competition and were delighted to win an award for best team effort! We will definitely run this as a lunch club again next year. Thanks again.” –
St Stephen’s High School

Improving the support available to schools

In order to develop and sustain children and young people’s interest in STEM, many schools have built effective external partnerships with employers, science centres, festivals and other actors in the STEM field. Local authorities have been active in supporting, developing and promoting these partnerships at a strategic level. However, a recurring issue raised through the consultation was the plethora of STEM school interventions produced by a wide range of external providers that risk causing confusion at school level. In order to ensure the greatest possible impact of these resources, as well as an equitable approach across schools, there is a need to streamline and quality assure the available resources and to make the landscape more navigable for schools.

Through the DYW programme we expect to see school-employer partnerships operating in most secondary schools by the end of 2017-18, and meaningful and productive partnerships operating in all secondary schools by 2018-19. Guidance has been published on establishing and maintaining school-employer partnerships and a national network of industry-led DYW Regional Groups has been established to encourage and support employers to actively engage with education and to recruit more young people. They have an important role to play in the development of school-employer partnerships. The DYW Groups include local authorities as well as employers.

These groups are playing a key role in broadening young peoples’ awareness of STEM careers. Skills Development Scotland has worked with the DYW Regional Groups to develop a simple digital system, Marketplace, to facilitate school-employer partnerships. As these partnerships develop there will be more scope for employers to influence curriculum planning to ensure that our young people are learning skills relevant to current and future STEM employment opportunities.

We will support the establishment of effective school-employer partnerships for STEM through the DYW Regional Groups and encourage links between the Groups and STEM Ambassadors, so that by 2020 every school cluster is working with a STEM partner from the private, public or third sectors.

Education Scotland will develop and quality assure an online directory of STEM inspiration activities, covering early learning and all schools. Education Scotland will work with Skills Development Scotland and the DYW Regional Groups to embed the directory within Marketplace. The online directory will be operational in academic year 2018-19.

The directory will help to ensure external STEM inspiration activities address the needs of each sector and are aligned with the STEM self-improvement framework. Education Scotland will work with partners to provide better co-ordination and to establish criteria for quality assuring any school STEM interventions that are funded by the Government so that we support interventions that are proven to work and to encourage employers and others to bring STEM inspiration into early learning and the early years of primary school.

We currently fund the Scottish Council for Development and Industry’s network of Young Engineers and Science Clubs to provide STEM inspiration and connection to jobs and careers at a national level. In 2017-18 this funding will support the clubs in more than 1,400 primary and secondary schools and involving more than 30,000 young people. We also support the Generation Science schools outreach programme of workshops and shows, operated by Edinburgh International Science Festival, seen by more than 50,000 young people every year in more than 500 primary schools and nurseries. As a condition of funding, these initiatives will be expected to meet targets on reaching learners in deprived and, or rural areas. They must also demonstrate the steps they are taking to ensure their activities provide opportunities for all learners, whatever their gender. Further, they will be expected, where applicable, to work with and support practitioners in early years settings on age-appropriate activities to inspire our youngest learners about STEM.

Through our funding of the Young Engineers and Science Clubs and Generation Science in 2017-18, we will continue to support national initiatives that are delivered to schools in every local authority in Scotland, support STEM learning and teaching, offer real-life relevance, and enthuse and inspire young people about STEM.

In addition to these commitments, we believe that further action is required to both maximise the contribution offered by a range of willing partners and ensure this is delivered in a coherent and accessible way in localities across Scotland.

In the consultation paper we said that we would develop a model of collaboration between schools, colleges, universities and employers learning from existing practice, such as the LUMA centres in Finland. The LUMA centres, which are in universities in Finland, seek to inspire and encourage young people to study STEM and pursue STEM careers, and to promote teaching excellence in STEM. They include the development of physical classrooms and laboratories for STEM education and research.

Most of the elements of the LUMA model are already in place in Scotland or will be delivered through this strategy. For example, our Science Centres and Festivals provide STEM inspiration, this strategy seeks to improve STEM professional learning and stimulate excellent STEM teaching and the DYW Regional Groups are fostering school employer partnerships. We recognise, however, that the Finnish LUMA centres have an important role in fostering and developing collaboration for STEM in regions and localities.

In Scotland, through the DYW programme, colleges are increasingly taking a central role in supporting STEM through outreach to schools and developing regional curriculum planning to co-ordinate programmes of learning between schools and colleges. Over the past year, Education Scotland, SSERC and the Energy Skills Partnership ( ESP) have been working with colleges and secondary schools to develop opportunities for learners, teachers and college staff to work together on exciting STEM challenges and experiences related to engineering. Twenty college campuses have been involved in these activities which engaged with around one third of Scotland’s secondary schools.

Through this activity many schools and young people have become more engaged in STEM. Colleges have also used their contacts with local employers and industry to raise awareness about local STEM careers and we have seen teachers developing stronger partnerships with colleges, learning about new STEM pathways that are available to learners. Given the central role that colleges are playing in developing STEM in their areas they are well-placed to provide a focal point for increased collaboration for STEM in localities.

We now want to expand on the current STEM activity being supported locally, to create a new STEM hub network. The aim of this network will be to:

  • raise the profile of STEM with young people, families, communities and adult learners and work with partners to provide a coherent range of activities and programmes to build engagement in STEM and STEM skills at local and regional level;
  • facilitate and enable local and regional professional learning discussions and collaboration between schools, colleges and universities (and, in time, early learning providers), working with local authorities; and
  • facilitate and enable joint curriculum planning for STEM across schools and colleges locally and regionally, including helping schools develop a curriculum connected to labour market need.

The hubs will aim to work with all sectors including early learning and childcare, primary and secondary practitioners, community learning and development and to provide support to school-based technicians. Our ambition is for the hubs to engage with all school clusters across Scotland by 2022.

£23,500 Full-time fi rst degree leavers average wage of £23,500. £1,000 more than another degree subject from Scottish universities

We will create a STEM hub network to strengthen regional level collaboration between partners, including universities, science centres and employers. The STEM hub network will start to facilitate more joint professional learning activities between secondary schools and colleges in 2018, and this will be broadened out to include primary and early learning settings during 2019.

Delivering up-to-date advice and information on STEM careers

In order to improve the quality and consistency of learning about work and careers in schools, the Careers Education Standard (3-18) is being implemented across Scotland. The Standard aims to broaden horizons, challenge assumptions and stereotypes about learning and career paths and ensure that the choices made by young people are well informed and properly reflect their strengths and interests.

We will work with partners, including DYW Regional Groups, to ensure the Career Education Standard (3-18) is fully implemented by 2020.

In response, Skills Development Scotland has revised its careers advice offer to schools. Contact with Careers Advisers now begins earlier, at the transition from P7 to S1 and continues at every stage of secondary school. This blends a universal offer with targeted support for individuals and includes an invitation for parents to meet and discuss young people’s initial subject choices with a Career Adviser in preparation for their move into the Senior Phase. This will help ensure these choices are informed by a sound understanding of the full range of learning and career paths, including STEM, and future labour market trends as well as the benefits to them as individuals. For example, current data shows that average wages for UK domiciled full-time first degree leavers in STEM related subjects from Scottish Universities was £1,000 per annum higher than the all degree subject average.

Starting in 2018, Skills Development Scotland will develop STEM specific labour market information for Skills Development Scotland staff, teachers and other practitioners which describes current demand for STEM skills. This will be accessed through My World of Work.

College enrolments in STEM
26% in 2010 to 30% in 2015

Increasing responsiveness to the needs of the STEM economy

Our HEIs are ranked amongst the best in the world at what they do. Scotland again has five universities in the world’s top 200 according to the Times Higher Education ( THE) 2018 rankings. Colleges and universities in Scotland are direct providers of a wide range of higher and further education STEM courses. Our universities are also at the cutting edge of research and innovation across the spectrum of STEM disciplines. Institutions are already taking action to prioritise STEM teaching provision; to capitalise on Scotland’s research strengths; and to forge improved links between their education and training offer and changing labour market needs. The Outcome Agreement process, led by the Scottish Funding Council, offers the opportunity to accelerate progress in the STEM courses offered by the tertiary sector in Scotland continuing to evolve to both meet the skills requirements of industry and prepare students for employment.

Each college region will build on existing good practice and partnerships to develop an evolving STEM strategy and action plan to take forward relevant actions from this national strategy. This work will be undertaken in partnership with higher education institutions, key regional and local industries, to drive productivity and growth. SFC will provide guidelines on developing these strategies and action plans, so that, by the end of 2018, a suite of regional statements will be in place to enhance collaborative learning and skills development.

This will make use of the latest Skills Development Scotland data on labour market requirements to shape curriculum and inform the expansion of STEM courses by colleges, where partnership dialogue identifies need. This process will be supported by improved links and collaborative dialogue between tertiary education sector institutions and key industry sectors experiencing a pressing requirement to recruit STEM graduates possessing a range of evolving skills.

Increasing the level of work-based learning within college and university courses offers the opportunity to both continuously improve the curriculum in response to the needs of students and employers, and to provide employers with an energetic workforce eager to share what they are learning. Improving the career pathways between graduates, soon-to-be graduates and STEM employers will increase the likelihood of more young people choosing to pursue a STEM career.

University enrolments in STEM
2010-11 44%
2015-16 49%

Our colleges have made significant strides in high standards of teaching and employer engagement in the sector. To date, seven of Scotland’s colleges have obtained STEM Assured status from the STEM Foundation. STEM Assured status provides independent, industry-backed validation of the quality of an institution’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics provision. Education providers (schools, colleges, universities) are assessed against a robust framework that benchmarks their capability to design and deliver STEM courses that keep pace with emerging technology and the evolving needs of employers.

Case Study

Forth Valley College

Forth Valley College’s creative and collaborative approaches to STEM encourage partners and stakeholders across the Forth Valley region to make best use of their existing expertise and resources to promote and inspire STEM learning beyond the core college curriculum.

The college engages extensively with primary and secondary pupils through STEM clubs and summer schools supported by local employers, initiatives such as the Bloodhound Challenge and Primary Engineers and visits and taster activities, including joint events with employers. A great recent example was the Scottish Power “Challenging the Stereotype” event, promoting careers in engineering and energy to young women.

The college also works closely with school, university and DYW Regional Group partners to provide STEM related CLPL opportunities for the region’s teachers.

Examples include practical workshop skills for technical teachers, safety in microbiology for science teachers and CLPL for Computing and Music Technology teachers. In partnership with the Forth Valley DYW Regional Group the college recently supported an “industry insight” programme of college and employer work placements for teachers.

Lauren Murphy, a Chemistry teacher from Lornshill Academy, undertook placements in the college’s Engineering Department and in Hanson Concrete. She said: “I had no idea there were so many different jobs requiring so many different skills within industry. This will definitely enable me to better inform my pupils.”

The Scottish Funding Council are using the Outcome Agreement process to drive, increase and encourage colleges, in partnership with schools, to develop new Senior Phase vocational pathways in STEM-related subjects. Overall, 33.9% of Senior Phase vocational pathways enrolments in 2015-16 were STEM, an increase from 27.6% in 2013-14 and 33.6% in 2014-15.

By the end of 2018 we will conduct an audit of current college and university student placement and graduate and post qualification internship opportunities. Using this baseline, we will increase the number of college and university student placement opportunities with employers within STEM curriculum areas, and increase the number of graduate and post qualification internships offered with STEM employers.

In educating and training young people in the STEM skills required to support improved productivity and inclusive economic growth, it is also important to provide the appropriate advice, information and support that will allow them to take up careers within the STEM sector in Scotland.

We will enhance the focus on STEM careers by college and university careers advice services. This will involve forging closer links between advisory services and STEM industries, in order to best present current and emerging employment opportunities across STEM disciplines. This will be supported by the 15-24 Learner Journey Review, which will provide evidence and views on the approach to careers advice and guidance within colleges and universities, and how this may be enhanced to meet the needs of learners and of STEM sectors of the economy.

The strategy consultation highlighted the need for greater coherence and connectedness across the range of STEM education and training activity and improved pathways into, between and beyond the Apprenticeship programmes and education and training sectors.

To ensure the relevant skills are available in the labour market of the future, it is essential that the design and development of the Scottish Apprenticeship offer continues to be informed by employer demand and projected skills shortages. This will include taking a data driven approach to establish demand, as well as considering historic and current supply information at sectoral and regional level; reviewing Skills Investment Plans; and engaging with Sector Skills Councils and Industry Leadership Groups.

Skills Development Scotland will take an evidence based approach to link provision of STEM Apprenticeships to the needs of the economy, sectorally and regionally, starting in 2018.

Having access to comprehensive, reliable data is key to ensuring we are able to match the STEM education and training offer to labour market need both now and in the future. The work on aligning skills provision under the Enterprise and Skills Review highlighted the need for Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council to work more closely on identifying skills needs and to collaborate more effectively on planning for and commissioning delivery of skills learning and training.

The STEM data study highlighted that significant numbers of people seem not to progress from STEM education, training and study onto jobs and careers in the STEM sectors. The study also suggested that further research is carried out to look at the STEM skills pipeline in detail, to look at the levels of leakage as well as potential double counting (for example, between college enrolments and apprenticeships).

We will build on the STEM data study published alongside this strategy to continue to improve our data and understanding of the STEM skills needed in the labour market, how these are being met by the education, training and lifelong learning system, and how this might be improved, including the identification of barriers for particular groups.

By the end of 2017, we will establish a short-life working group including external experts, and chaired by one of these experts, to analyse and determine the factors that contribute to the loss of people from the STEM skills pipeline and how these can be addressed. As part of this we will, in particular, ask that the group consider how to ensure more STEM graduates consider careers in STEM industries. The group will provide an interim report in Spring 2018 and conclude their work within a year.

We recognise that technology is also impacting the training needs of current employees in many sectors as increasingly digital and automated approaches are changing the nature of work and creating new business and employment opportunities. STEM skills are fundamental to the future success of companies in sectors like advanced manufacturing as we move into a fourth industrial revolution.

Supporting these companies and their employees to drive our future economic growth by improving their productivity is not directly within the scope of this strategy. However, it remains important in building a modern, dynamic and open economy which benefits everyone in Scotland.

We are working with industry to develop initiatives which complement this strategy in addressing the advanced STEM skills needs of current workforces. For example, we are funding CodeClan, Scotland’s first industry-led digital skills academy, offering an intensive four-month training programme with direct access to employers and an opportunity to attain a professional developmental qualification at SCQF level 8. We are also establishing a National Manufacturing Institute Scotland as an industry-academia centre of excellence including a skills hub.


Email: Frank Creamer

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

Back to top