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.

4 Equity

We will promote equity by:

  • tackling inequity in STEM learning and careers.
  • improving participation in STEM further and higher education courses and apprenticeships.
  • increasing access to public science engagement events.

Improving gender balance and equalities – IGBE

The challenge of STEM education is varied and impacted by many diverse socio-economic factors. Teacher competence, personal interest, academic achievement, gender, peer interests and the influence of the media all impact on the interests, career choices and motivations of young people.

There continues to be a pressing need for a greater diversity of people taking STEM subjects, courses and training to tackle the long-standing under-representation of certain groups in STEM jobs and sectors. This includes a strong focus on improving female uptake in subjects such as physics, engineering and computing science, as well as encouraging more males to take subjects like biology and life sciences. Disparities also need to be tackled in relation to race and disability and to encourage greater numbers of young people from our most deprived communities to pursue STEM learning opportunities.

The impact of the pandemic reveals that social inequalities are more present than ever and that specialist support for schools and settings to address inequality is imperative. At the same time, the move to working from home and increase in digital connection will bring new opportunities to those who had previously found it difficult to access the physical workplace.

At a policy level, there has been an increased focus on equality through a number of new developments including the Gender Equality Taskforce in Education and Learning and the Fairer Scotland for Women strategy that is taking action to close the national gender pay gap.

These developments provide the backdrop for Education Scotland's Improving Gender Balance and Equalities (IGBE) Team which was formed in 2019 to put equity and equality at the heart of this Strategy. The team has built on the successful Improving Gender Balance pilot programme which had been supported through a partnership involving Skills Development Scotland, the Institute of Physics and Education Scotland.

A range of measures to promote equality within STEM and tackle stereotypes and unconscious bias have been adopted. A strong focus of engagement has been to support early learning and childcare settings adopting whole establishment approaches to equality to achieve sustainable and long-term change. This approach is fundamental in promoting the deep cultural change that is necessary to change ingrained traditions and norms.

Since the IGBE team was recruited it has undertaken 866 engagements reaching 9,422 attendees in 1,156 education establishments. A rich blend of professional learning has been offered that includes face-to-face sessions, online webinars, enquiry-based research approaches along with gender-aware leadership training for those looking to take on whole-establishment responsibilities for equality.

Evaluation of the IGBE team from 405 respondents show that:

  • 96% of participants rate the session they have attended as very good or good;
  • 88% agreed or strongly agreed that the session had made them more knowledgeable about the impact of gender imbalance;
  • 99% said they would be very likely or likely to consider the issues in their own practice;
  • 96% said they would be very likely or likely to share what they learned.

Similarly, the expertise and skills of the IGBE Team have enhanced and supported a wide range of activity led by Education Scotland. This includes the development of the Promoting Race Equality and Anti-Racist Education website, and collaboration with Education Scotland's Attainment Adviser Team to co-develop professional learning sessions on equality, equity and attainment. During the first lockdown, the IGBE team identified the need for more support and information on domestic abuse for educators. Collaboration with Scottish Women's Aid and Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) colleagues resulted in the development of the domestic abuse information for educators resource.

An extensive bank of IGBE resources is now available for practitioners, settings and organisations to access on Education Scotland's National Improvement Hub. As we move forward into the next phase of the STEM Strategy, the ambition of the team is to further develop the Improving Gender Balance Self-Evaluation Framework as a focal point for their activity to help establishments adopt whole setting approaches. This would include the addition of case study exemplification and good practice.

Women into STEM pipeline project

The Skills Development Scotland two-year Women into STEM project commenced in 2021 and will run to 2023. It aims to work with stakeholders and partners to review and understand the journey individuals may experience, identifying areas of good practice and exploring areas where the pipeline fails.

It will develop awareness, access, and participation for young females to become involved in STEM activities and pathways and by developing a sustainable Apprenticeship Pathways model the project aims to recruit, prepare, and progress females aged 16 to 24 into STEM careers.

Gender Balance – Further and Higher Education

The Scottish Funding Council Report on Widening Access 2018/19 provides an overview of progress in tackling gender imbalances within the most gender imbalanced subjects. Limited progress has been made by all universities in tackling this challenging issue. Three of the eight subjects of focus for the Scottish Funding Council's Gender Action Plan are in STEM: Engineering, Computer Science and Technologies. The gender gap has reduced in Engineering since 2011-12 although it has increased in the two other subjects.

At colleges, progress has varied. Improvements in reducing the gender imbalance were seen in four subjects. The biggest improvement was seen in Engineering/Technology which saw a 2 percentage point increase in female students from its 2011/12 baseline of 10.9% to 12.9% in 2018/19. Two of these subjects saw reductions in the gender imbalance of only 0.6 percentage points since 2011/12. The biggest increase in the gender gap was seen in Building Maintenance Services as well as Computer Science which both saw a 1.6 percentage point decrease in the percentage of female students.

To better address these issues, a decision was taken to develop a more streamlined and targeted approach. This involved working in partnership with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) through a Memo of Understanding to support Scotland's colleges and universities to meet the requirements and achieve the aspirations of the Public Sector Equality Duty. The Scottish Funding Council continues to work with the EHRC to progress their shared ambition of tackling inequality across Further and Higher Education in Scotland.

Equality and Diversity Mainstreaming

The Skills Development Scotland Equality & Diversity Mainstreaming Report was published in May last year. As well as outlining new equality outcomes for 2021-25 the report highlights the progress achieved against the four-year equality outcomes set in 2017. It sets out examples of the ways in which they have worked, and continue to act, to promote and increase equality of opportunity for people in Scotland who face disadvantage because of their protected characteristics or lived experience.

STEM – College Enrolments by Gender
  Male Female Other Prefer not to say Total % Female % Male
2016-17 67,853 26,975 9 30 94,867 28.4% 71.5%
2017-18 69,670 29,961 50 136 99,817 30.0% 69.8%
2018-19 76,592 31,340 87 318 108,337 28.9% 70.7%
2019-20 69,814 30,731 117 308 100,970 30.4% 69.1%
2020-21 68,626 26,496 173 431 95,726 27.7% 71.7%

Source: SFC FES Student Data

Innovative, accessible student pathways; targeting STEM employability gaps

A tripartite partnership between University of the West of Scotland, North Lanarkshire Council and New College Lanarkshire focuses on creating new pathways for previously hard-to-reach candidates by targeting future projected STEM employability gaps in the region with an innovative, fast-track qualification route. Participating S6 pupils complete an HNC in school, an HND in first year at college and enter the third year of study at UWS to complete their degree; with the opportunity of achieving an Honours degree only three years after leaving school. All participating students have employer placement opportunities and are guaranteed an employer interview at the end of the programme. A pilot programme was agreed for initial implementation in August 2021.



Back to top