STEM education and training strategy - refresh: annual report

Annual report of progress on delivery of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and training strategy. Sets out a range of actions by education and other stakeholders under each of the four themes of the strategy.

3 Excellence

We will promote excellence by:

  • improving the supply of STEM talent into the teaching profession.
  • improving STEM learning and teaching, and delivering enhanced professional learning.
  • prioritising STEM in the expansion of apprenticeships.
  • maintaining our research excellence in our universities.


Modern Apprenticeships (MA) offer individuals in paid employment the opportunity to develop and learn new skills from SCQF Level 5 to up to Level 12 which includes technical, professional levels and training to support up-skilling new and existing staff. STEM is included in the MA funding priorities.

Skills Development Scotland continues to work with partners at local and national level to promote uptake in STEM-related apprenticeships. During the past six years, Foundation Apprenticeships at SCQF Level 6 have been developed and expanded. Starts for STEM Apprenticeship frameworks accounted for 45% of Modern Apprenticeship starts in 2020/21. This represents an increase from 41% in 2019/20.

There are now nine FA STEM-related apprenticeship frameworks. Statistics published by Skills Development Scotland for 2020/21 show that 61% of all MA starts on STEM frameworks were aged 16-24. For MAs, female representation in STEM frameworks was 11% in 2020/21, reflecting a small increase from 10% at the same point in the previous year.

Foundation Apprenticeships in 2020/21 for males represented 75% of participants in STEM frameworks at SCQF Level 6 and females 24% – up over sixteen percentage points since 2016. In SCQF Levels 4/5, males represent 95% of participants in STEM frameworks. Foundation Apprenticeship uptake at Pilot SCQF Levels 4/5 is dominated by male pupils. This is likely to be due to the scope of the available subject areas, where two represent sectors that have long engrained gender segregation issues. There has been an increase of six percentage points in the number of female participants in 2020.

In March 2022, Education Scotland published a review of Foundation Apprenticeship provision in Scotland. The aim was to identify what was working well and where further development and improvement was necessary. The report noted that almost all FA delivery providers have developed open and inclusive recruitment strategies to support equity of access to FA programmes. It stated that some colleges and universities acknowledge the positive impact of undertaking an FA on a young person's skills development. It also recorded that across Scotland there was now a greater need for partnership approaches to evaluating FA programmes in order to support continuous improvement.

Graduate Apprenticeships (GA) are now in their fourth year of delivery and are co-designed with employers to offer bespoke learning and fresh thinking. They are designed to develop higher-order skills in individuals, including resilience and adaptability, that provide the building blocks for lifelong great learners to better cope in a fast-changing world of work. In the academic year 2020/21, 13 of the GA frameworks are in STEM-related subjects. In 2020 21% of Graduate Apprentices studying a STEM-related framework were female – up three percentage points since 2017. Females apprenticeships were most prominent in the following GA STEM frameworks:

  • Data Science (36%)
  • IT: Management for Business (32%)
  • Construction and the Built Environment (28%)

Although work is underway to promote equal access, this data highlights the barriers that continue to exist and reinforces the need to identify and understand the underlying reasons. Systemic change will be required along with a major cultural shift in course choice processes and career pathways that people choose, as well as the recruitment and employment practices of businesses.

To support the cultural shift required, the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board created the Gender Commission to develop recommendations that offer practical solutions to help address the gender imbalance across the whole Apprenticeship family and to advise the Scottish Government on how it can better support all businesses in this area. The Commission is due to report in the coming months.

Early Learning and Childcare – ELC

STEM already forms a key part of the learning taking place with Early Years and Childcare and the expansion of funded ELC means that children will be entitled to more hours of high-quality, flexible learning at those critical early stages. This will support the development of skills, including STEM skills such as creativity and confidence, prior to moving on to primary learning.

Working with Education Scotland, a refreshed ELC national practice resource Realising the Ambition was published in 2020. This explains how to support children's development, including early STEM skills. This resource is available to ELC practitioners and primary teachers to ensure consistency in approach. We are continuing to support early years practitioners with training and good practice in STEM. We have launched a free online module in STEM for early learning and childcare practitioners, developed by the University of the West of Scotland. This module aims to help build staff confidence, knowledge and skills and covers play-led approaches, supporting scientific enquiry, delivering STEM outdoors as well as indoors and tackling gender bias. The latest data shows that around 3,500 participants have completed their certificate and there are considerably more who are progressing with the training. Feedback has been very positive; with 98% of participants saying they would recommend this module to fellow practitioners.

RAiSE – Raising Aspirations in Science Education

The RAiSE programme is a partnership between the Wood Foundation, Scottish Government, Education Scotland and participating local authorities. Twenty local authorities have been engaged in RAiSE since its inception in 2016.

The Primary Science Development Officers who deliver the programme have been critical to its success. Half of local authorities engaged since its launch have now exited their formal funding period. However, all remain engaged with the collaborative national network, connected to a growing cohort of regions committed to the development of primary STEM. In the last academic year, the programme has provided 500 professional learning opportunities, engaged more than 4,000 primary practitioners and delivered over 3,500 hours of professional learning.

RAiSE aims to establish high-quality experiences of STEM education at primary school in order to support the election of STEM subjects at further or higher education level. It seeks to build capacity at local authority level to deliver a co-ordinated approach to STEM education. Objectives include to:

  • Build the confidence, skills, knowledge and enthusiasm of primary school practitioners;
  • Create opportunities for education practitioners to consider weaving STEM as a context into other areas of the curriculum for the development of literacy and numeracy skills;
  • Promote joint curriculum planning from early years to secondary schools to ensure effective progression in STEM learning;
  • Contribute to curriculum developments that supports high-quality, relevant and contextualised STEM learning, teaching and assessment;
  • Establish and grow STEM education partnerships through connection with a wide range of agencies and industry at local, national and international level;
  • Develop and promote opportunities for all learners to increase their experiences, engagement, enthusiasm and achievement in STEM; and
  • Support the development of skills progression in STEM through real life, contextualised learning and opportunities linked to STEM careers.

Easter Bush Science Outreach Centre (EBSOC) developed a microbiology toolkit and professional learning session, working alongside RAiSE to ensure these were delivered to school communities throughout Scotland. The initiative was made possible thanks to a successful funding bid by Dr Laura Glendinning to the Microbiology Society. Primary Science Development Officers (PSDOs), Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) leads, and teachers took part in a two hour-long professional learning session with members of the EBSOC team to understand how to deploy the resources. This learning is now being cascaded throughout the country with different learning opportunities evolving to suit context.

In the Western Isles, students connected the lessons to the world of work and learned more about microorganisms' role in the local fish farming industry. They captured samples in a loch by the school. The resources were translated into Gaelic.

Primary 7 pupils in Clackmannanshire designed their own investigations, developing skills in scientific inquiry. The kits given to the authority have become a central resource and particularly beneficial to schools who have access to ponds to better understand their local habitat. These have been loaned out already.

STEM Bursaries

In relation to teacher recruitment, we continue to offer 150 bursaries of £20,000 for career changers to undertake teacher training in the STEM subjects where the demand is greatest. The STEM Bursaries programme is administered by Skills Development Scotland and to date 505 bursaries have been awarded.

Year Bursaries Awarded
18/19 107
19/20 111
20/21 150
21/22 137

Teacher Numbers

Latest data, published in December 2021, shows that teacher numbers have risen for the sixth year in a row, rising to 54,285 in 2021 and representing an increase of 885 on the previous year. In addition, we continue to support teachers in dealing with the pandemic; including through funding of £240 million to ensure additional teachers and support staff are available. More broadly, we are committed to funding 3,500 additional teachers and 500 support staff over this parliamentary term.

Secondary School Teachers by Main ( STEM) Subject Taught – 2016 to 2021
  2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Mathematics 2,331 2,361 2,364 2,362 2,412 2,464
Biology 1,183 1,153 1,213 1,256 1,312 1,343
Chemistry 942 982 948 967 999 1,019
General Science 131 136 144 149 151 165
Physics 814 826 806 806 824 836
Computing Studies 594 582 595 579 595 595
Total 5,995 6,040 6,070 6,120 6,292 6,422
STEM Entries – SCQF Level 6 (August data)
Subject 2018 2019 2020 2021 % change 2020-21
Biology 7,305 7,685 7,428 7,388 -0.5%
Chemistry 9,990 10,047 10,038 9,833 -2.0%
Human Biology 5,937 6,259 6,968 7,549 8.3%
Physics 8,280 8,325 8,392 8,481 1.1%
Other Science 423 392 360 515 43.1%
Computing Science 4,099 3,228 3,166 3,377 6.7%
Mathematics 18,753 18,626 19,182 19,419 1.2%
Technology 12,694 11,506 10,798 11,974 10.9%
Total 67,481 66,068 66,332 68,536 3.3%
Scottish Funding Council – Initial Teacher Education intake targets for STEM subjects
Subject 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Mathematics 237 163 225 230 224
Biology 111 110 134 142 142
Chemistry 86 98 150 150 144
Physics 77 81 122 120 117
Computing Studies 60 55 53 47 47
Technical Education 124 50 82 82 85
Totals 695 557 766 771 759


SSERC (Scottish Schools Education Research Centre) continues to enthusiastically deliver programmes of hands-on experiential professional learning to a broad range of educators in Scotland, with the ongoing focus on curriculum, including digital skills and computing science, but with an ever-increasing offer of wider STEM engagement programmes and activities.

The SSERC Early Years and Primary team provide professional learning courses for Early Years practitioners, childminders and primary teachers. Despite the pandemic and the associated restrictions, by the end of March 2020 SSERC were able to deliver a full year of professional learning support. By April 2021, 1,803 training days had been delivered, exceeding the target by 18%. More recently, for financial year 2021/22, the Early Years and Primary Team has delivered over 2,000 training days. It is particularly noteworthy that there is a strong desire from early years and primary school practitioners to use STEM as a context for learning through interdisciplinary activities.

The Primary Cluster Programme (PCP) continues to be the main focus of SSERC professional learning support for early years and primary schools. Data highlights the programme had engaged with more than 7,000 teachers and early years practitioners, 840 schools comprising more than 19,000 attendees. The pandemic necessitated a creative approach to continued delivery including the use of digital platforms combined with resource kits being sent directly to course delegates.

The Secondary Professional Learning Programme delivered 1,073 training days during 20/21 with the vast majority being online due to the pandemic. A return to more normal delivery methods has seen a significant increase in face-to-face professional learning carried out at SSERC with over 1,200 training days delivered to secondary educators and technicians during 2021/22. The programme includes secondary school teachers, PGDE students, those who are newly qualified and school technical support staff. By necessity, the programme was delivered by website resources, experiments presented on video and "cook along" sessions using pre-delivered kits.

SSERC is continuing to work in partnership with Apple, Education Scotland, the Cyber Skills and Internet Safety programme among others to support digital and computing skills development. A digital manager supports delivery and has devised new and innovative approaches to professional learning in this important area forming part of the wider work of SSERC.

The Young STEM Leader Programme, as referenced later, is continuing to grow, with many new schools and community organisations joining. The programme is delivered in 624 centres across all local authority areas and includes 214 secondary schools, 302 primary schools and 108 other organisations. These include youth groups and community settings.

Learning for Sustainability

The links between STEM subjects and the cross-curricular theme of Learning for Sustainability (LfS) are vitally important. In response to COP26, the Scottish Government is taking further steps to refresh and strengthen our approach to Learning for Sustainability and climate education in educational settings. In the meantime, the Government and partners across the sector and other organisations such as the General Teaching Council Scotland and the SCQF partnership continue to work together to implement our Learning for Sustainability action plan. Much of this work reaches into STEM subjects in both the Broad General Education and the Senior Phase of learning, where the study of environmental science, the living environment, the Earth's resources and sustainability is so crucial to delivering on learners' entitlement to LfS.

Strong links between STEM and Learning for Sustainability exist in engineering and technologies, in particular when looking at energy production and distribution. There has been a noticeable increase in taking STEM outdoors, demonstrated by the Education Scotland professional learning in STEM grants referred to elsewhere in this report.

The Royal Highland Education Trust has also been delivering sessions on STEM in farming and food production across Scotland, as have Kemnay Academy in Aberdeenshire. Projects such as Aviemore Early Learning and Childcare Service in Highland, and Inverkip Primary in Inverclyde have focussed on looking at STEM in their local environment in early and first levels. In addition, the Field Studies Council and the John Muir Trust have been supporting practitioners in developing the "STEM by Nature" project in Tayside.

The Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan (CESAP) published in December 2020, sets out the Government's plan to maximise the transition to net zero for Scotland, ensuring that Scotland's workforce has the skills required to make the transition to net zero a just transition, fair and inclusive to all. STEM-related activity plays a significant role within the action plan. CESAP implementation is supported by a cross sector Industry Steering Group whose membership has a strong STEM footprint.

STEM Grants Programme

Building the capacity and skills of education practitioners is key to improving any education system. Enabling education staff to access high-quality professional learning opportunities involves overcoming many practical and logistical challenges. These include releasing staff from school to attend professional learning sessions, accessing funding for training, finding replacement cover, identifying appropriate training and travelling from remote island communities to attend courses and conferences. We know that practitioners are also seeking more professional learning that is locally owned, led and delivered and there is an appetite for online and recorded learning support; accessible at a time and place that meets their needs.

With these challenges in mind, Education Scotland launched the Enhancing Professional Learning in STEM Grants Programme in 2018. The fund allows for a range of support; from small practitioner-led bids benefitting two nurseries to projects reaching thousands of teachers across Scotland. Funds are available through two funding streams –

  • the Leadership and Collegiate Professional Learning Fund;
  • and the Regional and National Partner Fund

Since the inception of the grants programme over £4 million has been awarded to 248 projects. An estimated 58,161 practitioners have benefitted from the three funding rounds which have run to date. A new round of funding, Round 4, has recently been launched and will provide a further £400,000 of investment in STEM. In Rounds 2, 3 and 4, ring-fenced funding for Numeracy and Mathematics has been made available, amounting to 50% of the totals in Rounds 3 and 4.

The process also allows for successful approaches to be scaled up to benefit greater numbers of practitioners. For example, a small project benefitting one school cluster in Round 2 Phase 1 could be extended in Round 2 Phase 2 to benefit more clusters. A subsequent bid for Round 3 funding could allow for it to be extended across a local authority.

An external evaluation has been commissioned by Education Scotland to support the grants and to guide the development of the programme in the context of this Strategy.

Fraserburgh Academy – Promoting a "STEM for All" approach

This STEM grant project enabled successful collaboration between Fraserburgh Academy and North East Scotland College (NESCOL), bringing the SCQF Level 5 Craft Mathematics course from the college to the school. Training was provided to maths teachers alongside skill-share sessions with the college. The project targeted school students who have an interest in STEM careers but who lacked the SCQF Level 5 Mathematics qualifications that would allow them entry to further education (FE) engineering courses. This pathway was further supported by offering National 5 Engineering Science and the Foundation Apprenticeship in Mechanical Engineering. This reflected the increased opportunities in the local area for engineering skills, including in offshore renewables. The digital learning strand of the project involved upskilling of science practitioners using new instrumentation technologies. This supported progression into new FE STEM courses in automation and renewables. Both the Craft Mathematics and the new in-school engineering provision have increased the number of learners progressing into FE STEM provision and STEM jobs.

Computing Education

The economic potential of Scotland's tech sector is high. The sector contributed £5.1 billion Gross Value Added (GVA) to Scotland's economy in 2020. Our digital world is changing the way we work, do business, entertain, shop and keep in touch with family and friends. Digital education and skills must continue to be supported to meet these challenges and opportunities. Our Digital Strategy aims to ensure that digital skills and knowledge have a place in education, that we build a skilled digital workforce, support up-skilling and re-skilling opportunities and increase diversity in the digital skills pool.

The Skills Development Scotland Tech Industry in the classroom project focuses on the co-delivery of computing science lessons with schools and industry working together and lessons being aligned to real-life working scenarios. An employer toolkit has been created in order to facilitate ease of engagement with schools.

In May 2020 Mark Logan, former Skyscanner COO, was commissioned by Kate Forbes MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, to undertake a review into how Scotland's technology sector can contribute to our economic recovery following the pandemic. The Review's recommendations are primarily concerned with accelerating the maturity of Scotland's "Technology Ecosystem"; the environment that supports and nurtures technology businesses in Scotland, from early stage start-up through to fully scaled maturity.

The Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review put forward a series of recommendations related to education and a programme has since been set up to take forward their implementation.

A core recommendation of the Review is for all pupils to be taught computing science from the first year of secondary school, raising the profile of computing science as a subject to the same status as maths and science. We are continuing to develop a successful and effective strategic approach via a series of interventions across the education system and at university level. The aim is to promote the study of computer science and equip the next generation with the digital skills required for the future world of work.

In addition, we are investing in upgrading the devices and software available to Scottish teachers; ensuring that lessons are stimulating, fun and reflective of the latest available technologies. We are also working to support teachers to enable pupils to engage and interact with digital technologies in a fun and stimulating environment.

Further, and in line with our broader ambitions around equality as noted earlier, we are working to encourage more girls and young women to engage with computing science with a view to strengthening Scotland's future tech sector. By supporting school-stage extra-curricular programming clubs offering exciting extracurricular activities, we aim to expand and diversify the talent pipeline of young people who study technology-related disciplines and ultimately pursue a career in digital technologies.

Closing the future skills gap remains a real challenge. Recent evidence has demonstrated that labour market demand in the rapidly growing fields of Cyber Security and Data Science significantly exceeds supply. Furthermore, demand shows no sign of slowing down. In addition, employment trends indicate that the current shortage will become more acute, resulting in a significant deficit in the coming years.

The Skills Development Scotland Discover Cyber Skills programme was launched in 2017 to provide young people with the opportunity to explore careers in this sector through classroom-based and online lessons and challenges. The programme has now evolved into the Discover Tech Skills programme. Between January 2021 and December 2021 80% of Scottish schools engaged in the programme with 69,764 learners taking part through a mix of live online sessions and "meet the expert" sessions.

At the strategic level, work to improve computing science provision in schools is being informed by a Computing Science in Schools senior steering group led by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and a newly formed Scottish Teachers Advancing Computer Science (STACs) organisation run by and for computing science teachers.



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