STEM Strategy Implementation Group minutes: 4 September 2019

Minutes from the sixth meeting of STEM Strategy Implementation Group.

Attendees and apologies

Members Attending

  • Roddy McDonald [RM], Scottish Government (Acting Chair)
  • Iain Gordon [IG], Universities Scotland
  • Ken Edwards [KE], Skills Development Scotland
  • Beverley Akinlami [BA], Community Learning & Development Managers Scotland
  • Phil McGuiness [PM], Scottish Funding Council 
  • Alan Armstrong [AA], Education Scotland
  • Morven Cameron [MC], Highlands and Islands Enterprise
  • Eddie Follan [EF], COSLA 
  • Stephen Breslin [SB], Glasgow Science Centre 
  • Jonathan Gray [JG], Scottish Government
  • Barbara Morton [BM], Scottish Government
  • Tom Hall [TH], Colleges Scotland


  • Richard Lochhead, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science (Chair)
  • Angela Cox [AC], South of Scotland Economic Partnership
  • Matt Lancashire [ML], Scottish Council for Development International
  • Lorna Sweeney [LS], ADES
  • Oonagh Gil, Head of Fair Work and Skills, Scottish Government
  • Kevin Mitchell, Care Inspectorate
  • Sue Pope, Scottish Qualifications Authority
  • Rodney Ayre, DYW National Group
  • Talat Yaqoob, Equate Scotland


  • Sara Lightbody [SL], Scottish Government
  • Jamie Duguid [JD], Scottish Government

Others Attending

  • Irene Permaul [IP], Scottish Government

Items and actions

1. Welcome and introductions

RD welcomed members to the sixth meeting of the STEM Strategy Implementation Group, offering apologies for the Minister who had a conflicting commitment.

Publication of the Programme for Government and Future Skills Action Plan were highlighted, both of which have key links to the STEM Strategy.

2. Minutes and Action Points from the previous meeting

No comments were received on the minutes of the fifth meeting which were approved and will be published on the Scottish Government web page.

ACTION:  Minutes of the fifth meeting of the Implementation Group to be published on the Scottish Government website.

Discussion was held on the actions from the fifth meeting and it was confirmed that actions 1 and 7 had been completed.

JG provided an update on progress with diversification of pathways and choices in school under the DYW programme under Action 2, highlighting that more than 40% of apprenticeship provision is classified as STEM.

In relation to Action 3, BM advised that it had been agreed that it was not appropriate for SG to define a specification for technicians services as this was a matter for local authorities.  However, it was confirmed that support for technicians services and local authorities would continue to be delivered through SSERC, and that their importance was recognised in several of the CLPL grant bids supported by Education Scotland.

It was flagged that updates on other actions were incorporated within the relevant agenda items. 

3. Progress Update   

3.1 External Advisory Group and Equalities Sub-Group update

SL provided an update on the most recent meetings of the Equalities Sub-Group and External Advisory Group.  

Key points highlighted from the fourth meeting of the Equalities Sub-Group were:

  • Agreed that equalities inputs in the Action Tracker now provided a fuller picture of equality activity across the actions.  
  • There were still a few actions where clarification is required and these would be picked up with Action Officers.  
  • Much discussion around data and it was agreed that it would be better to focus in on areas where there were particular barriers. 
  • SDS and SFC attended the meeting and provided an overview of their equality activity.
  • Potential areas for discussion at future meetings included Teachers/CLPL, Science Centres, SSERC, UrbanRural differences, and Apprenticeships.

MC endorsed the work of the Equalities Sub-Group in looking at rural areas and indicated that she would be happy to contribute to this work.

It was highlighted that the External Advisory Group had looked at the same items and papers as were being considered by the Implementation Group and that feedback would be picked up under relevant items on the agenda.  It was flagged that the Institute of Physics representative on the Group has shared some background research papers on women and science that would be fed in to the STEM Skills Pipeline work.

It was flagged that the frequency of meetings had been discussed with the External Advisory Group and it had been agreed that the Group wished to continue meeting three times per year. The Implementation Group members endorsed this position. 

3.2 Highlight Report

SL provided an overview of the Highlight Report which was distributed prior to the meeting, flagging that good progress was being made with some minor delays to three actions which are not expected to have a significant impact on the outcomes of the Strategy.

AA provided an update for Education Scotland and the CLPL grants:

  • The successful CLPL STEM bids had been confirmed, with 138 successful applicants receiving funding. 
  • More than half of the STEM grants were to grantees with numeracy/ maths aspects in their area. 
  • Education Scotland are now going to support the successful bidders and their initiatives to ensure that there is sufficient progress.
  • The unsuccessful bidders are going to be supported by Education Scotland to help them understand where they need to improve. 
  • Gender Balance Officers and STEM Advisors are now in place and liaising with schools, colleges and Universities.
  • The Gender and Equalities Team are being welcomed and are having positive influences on schools.

ACTION:  Geographical breakdown of the CLPL grants to be circulated. 

PM provided an update for the Scottish Funding Council:

  • SFC are preparing a bid to their Strategic Fund Group for regional support for the STEM Hubs.
  • Suggested that the STEM hubs can currently be split into 3 groups; Very successful/Enthusiastic individuals with some barriers/Struggling to make connections. 
  • SFC are currently finalising their “Yearly Progress and Ambitions Report” which will include a stem activity tracker.
  • Student success from protected characteristics is an area that SFC have started to look at.  Initial review has suggested concerning levels of inequality in relation to success in STEM courses based on gender.

KE provided an update for Skills Development Scotland:

  • Work is going well to increase activity and uptake around STEM across the apprenticeships but it was flagged that provision needs to reflect labour market demand.
  • It was indicated that the gender position was improving but is not parable and recognised that more work is needed. 
  • A STEM labour market information steering group has been set up. 
  • A SAAB Sub-Group is being set up to looking at how business can be more engaged in FAs.
  • Discussion held on SCQF level 4/5 FAs and suggested that these are very much still a pilot with small numbers and low employer engagement.
  • Work ongoing to encourage routes via Apprenticeships for young people from deprived backgrounds. 

BM flagged that the STEM Skills Pipeline action is still marked as red as had not yet been fully progressed, and outlined work being taken forward:

  • Initial discussion held with policy colleagues to review position suggested that data sets will be difficult to link and analyse.
  • Suggested that a data driven approach would be lengthy and costly, and that proposing to narrow the scope to particular sectors/pathways.
  • Next steps will involve discussion with wider partners including Lesley Yellowlees and Equate Scotland.

MC mentioned that around 10 years ago Scottish Enterprise reported on the destinations of engineering graduates which could be used as a reference. This is to be shared with BM.

ACTION:  SE Report on destinations of Engineering Graduates to be shared with BM.

The group moved on to discuss the risk register and actions in the highlight report that were flagged as at risk.

BM brought to the Groups’ attention comments from EAG around the use of positive statements in the risk register which has been adopted in line with the suggested corporate approach.  Members were content for this to be reviewed and a more standard approach to be adopted moving forward. 

SL also highlighted proposed amendments to wording of Actions E13 and C9 and these were approved, subject to a minor amendment to the wording for C9.

ACTION: Risk Register to be reviewed in line with standard approach to framing risks, rather than positive risk statements.

4. Overview of Adult Engagement in STEM

SL provided an overview of the paper on Adult Engagement, setting out current action under way to encourage and inspire adults to engage with STEM and to upskill and reskill so as to be able to take up STEM opportunities in the labour market.  It was flagged that an earlier version of the paper was discussed by the External Advisory Group at their meeting on 15 August and the paper shared with Implementation Group had been reformatted and refocussed to reflect their feedback.

Members of the group highlighted a number of points:

  • SB highlighted that over the past few years visitor numbers to the science centres have been growing, including adult only events. However, it was recognised that these tend to be constructed of STEM literate audiences. It was suggested that intergenerational learning activities, where family groups attend, are where there is an opportunity to engage adults with their children who would not normally engage.
  • JG flagged work ongoing to develop an adult learning strategy.  Work needed to ensure partners join up and make connections with a shift from one-off activities to global approaches to family learning.
  • BA highlighted a refresh of the national youth work strategy, looking at pathways from one off STEM events, and flagged that CLD practitioners are working with disadvantaged communities to promote family learning.
  • MC updated on the work she is overseeing on the creation of Newton Rooms. Although the priority target for these is young people, it was highlighted that these are community spaces that can also be used to promote adult and family activity.

The group moved on to discuss the challenges of how to reach those adults not already engaged with STEM and how the system can align itself to promote STEM rather than standalone efforts.  The importance of the CLD sector in increasing awareness of opportunities was recognised. 

ACTION: BA to make CLD practitioners aware of all of the groups that are involved in the STEM pipeline to support their work. 

KE highlighted the My World of Work (MWoW) portal has a parents section which is free to access. 

Members also discussed opportunities to re-engage those who have left STEM jobs and how to re-skill.
It was agreed that consideration needed to be given to comments provided and  what practical steps could be taken to improve the position and capture adult interest in STEM.

5. Key Performance Indicators

BM provided an overview of the update paper on the review of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which had been circulated to the group, welcoming comment after the meeting. 

BM updated the group on the views of the Equality Sub-Group who had asked for more intersectional analysis during data breakdown. 

In relation to KPI VIb (employer skills shortages), it was highlighted that options are being looked at around employer attitudes and density profiles within existing data.  It was agreed that a new employer survey would not be the best option due to the amount of surveys they already receive. 

Discussion was also held on KPI VIa (student placements) where it was flagged that existing HESA data only collected information on placements greater than 10 weeks.  It was highlighted that this does not, therefore, provide a full picture of the breadth of activity.  It was agreed that further options for reporting around this are to be explored.

It was confirmed that Science Centre data is sourced from the annual reports provided by the Science Centres in relation to their grant funding.  

Other points highlighted included:

  • There is an aim to include more qualitative data in the next annual report. 
  • DYW groups are collecting data on interactions between employers and schools.
  • Science Centre target has been met and will be reviewed.
  • Positive data to report on youth and adult awards relating to STEM. 

6. Any Other Business and Date of next meeting

Members were advised that the Minister would be attending the Education and Skills Committee meeting on 2 November to discuss their STEM Inquiry and that an update would be provided at the next meeting.

SL confirmed the expected date for the next meeting was 27 November with a focus on a high level draft of the annual report, due to be published in March. However, it was recognised that consideration may need to be given to the timing of the meeting given its proximity to the potential EU exit date. 

Members suggested that a more central location would be preferable for future meetings and it was agreed that options would be explored.

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