STEM Strategy Implementation Group minutes: April 2018

Minutes of the second meeting of the STEM Strategy Implementation Group, which took place on 18 April 2018.

Attendees and apologies


  • Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science
  • Beverley Akinlami, representing Community Learning and Development Managers Scotland
  • Professor Ian Allison, Universities Scotland
  • Alan Armstrong, Education Scotland
  • Janet Brown, Scottish Qualifications Authority
  • Julia Brown, Scottish Enterprise
  • Andrew Bruce, Scottish Government
  • Lauren Bruce, COSLA
  • Morven Cameron, Highlands and Islands Enterprise
  • Sharon Drysdale, Scottish Funding Council
  • Ken Edwards, Skills Development Scotland
  • Eddie Follan, COSLA
  • Phil Ford, South of Scotland Economic Partnership
  • Linda Leuchars, Dundee Science Centre
  • Martin McGuire, Colleges Scotland
  • Roddy McDonald, Scottish Government
  • Sue Pope, Scottish Qualifications Authority
  • Paul Smart, Scottish Government
  • Lorna Sweeney, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)


  • Catherine Agnew, Care Inspectorate
  • Rodney Ayre, Developing Young Workforce
  • Mark Bevan, Chief Executive, SCDI
  • Michael Cross, Scottish Funding Council
  • Robert Hynd, Community Learning and Development Managers Scotland
  • Hugh McAloon, Scottish Government
  • Kevin Mitchell, Care Inspectorate
  • Talat Yaqoob, Equate Scotland


  • Sara Lightbody, Scottish Government
  • Malcolm Pentland, Scottish Government
  • Michelle Wallace, Scottish Government

Items and actions

1. Welcome and introductions

1.1       The Minister noted apologies, and welcome to Janet Brown to the meeting.  It was also noted that Rodney Ayre would be the new representative to cover DYW Regional Group interests.  Skills Development Scotland would continue to represent the South of Scotland Enterprise Partnership, with Phil Ford attending today.

1.2       The agenda for meeting would focus on highlighting areas of progress across the Strategy actions, substantive papers on key strategy actions, and an update on the Strategy External Advisory Group.

2. Minutes and action points from previous meeting

2.1       The minutes from the first meeting had been circulated electronically, with only minor amendments made.  No further amendments were raised.

Action: Agreement that minutes from first meeting would be published on Scottish Government website.

3. Highlight report and action tracker

3.1       The Minister invited members of the group to provide short verbal updates, focusing on highlights in relation to achievements, but also any slippages against milestones or deadlines.

3.2       Issues raised during highlighting reporting were as follows:


  • the STEM teacher bursary scheme went live on the 3rd of April
  • the Strategy KPIs were published as planned in December 2017, with associated technical notes now being developed
  • the deadline for the action to established a STEM skills pipeline group has been rated red.  Since the publication of the Strategy, the Royal Society of Edinburgh announced plans to refresh the Tapping All Our Talents report.  Given the RSE’s report will cover similar territory, the Strategy Group will be established at a later date to dovetail with the RSE’s findings


  • a STEM Hubs steering group has been established, and collaborative work with colleges on developing the Hubs is underway
  • the letter of guidance has been issued, with SFC asked to work collaboratively with colleges on STEM
  • the Learner Journey Review will be published in the summer.  There is a connection here to developing pathways which reflect the importance of STEM


  • grant funding for the Science Centres and Festivals now reflects STEM Strategy priorities
  • the action on producing an analysis of deprivation and rurality to inform public science engagement funding has been rated as amber as the report has not formally written up, but the data has been collected


  • the Scottish Government has announced an expansion in apprenticeships for 18/19, with 28,000 new Modern Apprenticeship starts, and 900 graduate apprenticeships.  
  • Scottish Apprenticeship week took place in March, with a high level of ministerial engagement and STEM apprenticeship case studies were shared.
  • a Parliamentary debate  took place at the end of March on apprenticeships, with STEM highlighted as a priority


  • Education Scotland are scoping how to take forward the career-long professional learning action with partners, including the science centres and learned societies
  • an interim evaluation on the Raising Attainment in Science Education (RAiSE) programme has been produced by Glasgow University.  An additional 5 education authorities are due to join the programme this year
  • an Education Scotland recruitment exercise is underway which will include the appointment of one STEM adviser for each Regional Improvement Collaborative (RIC)
  • this year’s Scottish Learning Festival will have STEM as one of its themes, with a particular focus on the second day


  • apologies were offered for the absence of RAG ratings and progress reports from Skills Development Scotland (SDS) within the Action Tracker, which was due to staff leave and absence
  • only one action is rated as amber (I10), due to delays in submitting a paper to the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board Employer Engagement Sub-group
  • an updated equality action plan is in place to cover the apprenticeship family
  • work is on-going to embed the Career Education Standard, with school partnership agreements to be finalised before the end of the academic year
  • on STEM teacher bursaries, the marketing campaign commenced on the 12th of April, and there has been 38 applications to date


  • all Scottish Funding Council actions are on track
  • SFC have been working with colleges and universities on incorporating STEM into outcome agreements
  • aremit for research into existing work placements and internships in college and university sector is currently being developed
  • the working group on STEM hubs has now met twice, with regional workshops taking place at end of this month which will help inform the work of the Hubs, and also shape college STEM strategies

Action: The Minister indicated that she would like progress on the STEM Hubs to be an agenda item at the next Implementation Group meeting.

3.3       Discussions following updates from action owners covered the following:

  • a question was raised on whether the STEM advisers would work with local authorities individually, as well as with the RICs.  Discussions will take place with RIC leads, including on how the type of support might be develop over the longer term.  It was highlighted that the RICs would allow for capacity building in different ways as needed by local areas. 
  • the role of science and technology industry in providing role models was discussed. This links to the Connection theme in the Strategy, and to Developing the Young Workforce and the associated Regional Groups.
  • the Minister requested an update on the marketing of the STEM teacher bursaries.  The SDS Scotland website has information, and Universities have been contacted to highlight the bursary to those who have applied for initial teacher education.  It was suggested digital media could play a role in marketing.
  • it was suggested that more could be done to communicate the range of pathways available to young people as an alternative to a 5 Higher route, and that better clarity is needed on the apprenticeship landscape. It was noted that the recent Apprenticeship week had involved a range of promotional activity, including young people telling their own story through digital means.  SDS are working to support articulation between frameworks, and also with Further and Higher Education.  There are challenges around shifting some parental attitudes towards apprenticeships. The forthcoming Learner Journey Review will also help to highlight the value of gaining awards and qualifications beyond Nationals and Highers, which is an important message for schools as well as parents.

4. Key projects/developments

4.1       Three papers on key Strategy developments had been circulated to the Group for discussion.

4.2       Young STEM Leaders programme 

4.2.1   AB introduced the paper.  The proposal is that the programme focuses on peer support within the early years and schools, and would seek to complement the UK Ambassador scheme.  Existing local schemes within schools would be supported to flourish, while new schools would be encouraged to take part.  Key objectives for the scheme would be to offer training for the young people involved, enable access to STEM experts who could support the young people, and provide routes for accreditation.  It is proposed that SSERC would lead the delivery of the programme, building on their expertise of co-ordinating the UK scheme, in partnership with wider bodies such as the Science Centres and Festivals.

4.2.2  The following comments were received from Group members:

  • given the existing UK Ambassador scheme covers the further and higher education sectors, it was suggested that the new programme should exclude these from its scope.  However, the new programme should consider enabling a smooth transition from being a Young STEM leader to a UK STEM Ambassador.  There are also opportunities to recognise the role models which currently exist in colleges and universities in this area.
  • alongside having a role in the delivery of the training for young people, the centres and festivals could assist by facilitating celebratory events for the Young STEM Leaders and their families.
  • the programme should encourage and enable local authorities and schools who are not currently running their own local schemes to get involved.  Establishing where there are gaps, and encouraging collaborative working across local authorities on best practice could assist here.
  • it was noted that an accredited award would be attractive to schools to help embed the programme.  It would also be helpful to have local support in place – for example, a teacher within a school who is responsible for delivery.
  • the programme should have a connect with the STEM Hubs which are being developed.
  • Foundation Apprentices are a cohort which could be targeted to become Leaders.
  • consideration should be given to including young people undertaking the Leader role within community learning and development settings, and associated accreditation routes.

4.2.3   AB indicated that the next steps would be to develop a more detailed specification for the programme, and discuss a potential bid with SSERC and the centres/festivals. 

4.3       National STEM Engagement Campaign 

4.3.1   RM introduced the paper.   A Steering Group has been established to inform the development of the campaign, and a number of stakeholder workshops have taken place.  The theme is ‘science is for everyone’, with plans to use of terms like curiosity and exploration that would land with people.  The intention is to use have an umbrealls branding approach, like a themed year, and run a focus week in November with associated social media and events. The campaign would be launched in June. It was suggested that hard to reach groups could be targeted.  

4.3.2   The following comments were received from Group members:

  • the campaign should have a STEM focus, rather than science alone.  This would reinforce that science in the ‘real world’ is often linked to other disciplines.
  • there needs to be clarity around the audience for the campaign, including in relation to the sectors (e.g. schools, community learning) it should cover.  There was broad agreement that hard to reach groups would be a key target.
  • there was a need for clearer aims and outcomes for the campaign
  • the campaign will need to motivate STEM ‘influencers’ to get engaged in delivering associated activity.  In this context ‘influencers’ were seen as key organisations and high profile people.
  • the campaign needs to be backed up with follow-up activity the audience can engage with, including linking in with other Strategy actions.  A legacy from the campaign needs to be in place.
  • there should be clarity on the purpose and focus on the proposed STEM-focused week, with a suggestion that it could be focused on celebrating achievements from throughout the year. 
  • the proposed November timing of the STEM-focused week should be further explored, given other time commitments people have (i.e. Halloween, Bonfire Night, pre-Christmas period) and the difficulty experienced in encouraging under-served audiences to engage with evening/weekend events at that time of year.
  • there was enthusiasm for the notion of an umbrella campaign, with distinct branding, which could pull in a range of other on-going STEM activity e.g. Digital Week, Maths Week.  The campaign could learn from the ‘themed years’ approach.

Action:   The Minister indicated that should like to see further development on the aims and scope of the campaign, and seek further advice from the External Advisory Group. 

4.4      Improving Equity in STEM in school and early learning

4.4.1    AA introduced the paper.  This work will build on the Improving Gender Balance project, which Education Scotland has been working on with Skills Development Scotland and the Institute of Physics. The activity will tackle engrained cultural norms that can be found in teaching, and will involve working with guidance and careers staff, parents and the school community, and with young people themselves.  Education Scotland will recruit a team of 6, who will work across local authorities and schools.  It Is suggested that a Steering Group would be established who would report to the Implementation Group.  

4.4.2 The following comments were received by Group members:

  • while the Institute of Physics (IoP) had a key role in taking forward the existing gender balance project, its work extends to the range of STEM subjects and whole-school approaches to addressing gender bias.
  • the proposed development of a gender balance kitemark will help to encourage and support the development of these whole-school approaches.
  • the KPI on gender balance focuses on Physics and Computing Science at SCQF level 6 as the disparity was so stark in these particular subjects.
  • practitioner enquiry focused professional learning could be explored as a route to encourage schools to develop approaches to addressing gender balance issues.
  • given early years workforce expansion, it would be helpful to build awareness of unconscious bias and gender stereotypes into ELC practitioner training.  The community and learning development sector should also be factored in.
  • there are opportunities to learn from the work of the IoP project in schools and take forward with college practitioners, including in relation to colleges’ early years training provision.
  • this project should be linked with wider activity on-going to address gender issues in STEM e.g. SmartSTEMs, which makes links between tertiary education sector and primary schools.
  • it was noted the Developing the Young Workforce programme has a role to play in promoting gender equality, and breaking down stereotypes.
  • success indicators for the project would be developed at the outset, to help monitor progress.
  • the steering group being established should include gender expertise from the third sector

4.4.3   AA indicated that the Group would be kept informed on developments with the project.

5. Conclusions and identification of issues to remit to External Advisory Group

5.1    The Minister informed members that the co-chairs of the External Advisory Group (EAG) have been confirmed as Prof Sheila Rowan, Chief Scientific Adviser and Prof Iain Hunter, Strathclyde University.  Both also chaired the earlier External Reference Group which helped to finalise the Strategy, and there is also some crossover in membership between the two Groups.  The expectation is that the EAG will meet prior to the IG.  Its remit will be help offer challenge. 

5.2     The agenda for the first meeting of the EAG next week will focus on the papers presented to the IG today, with some reframing given comments received.  The Minister asked if there were any additional issues to be remitted to the group.  It was suggested that links to the UK STEM centres could potentially be made.  It was also noted that Allan Colquhoun is a member of the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board, as well as the EAG.

6. AOB

6.1     The Minister encouraged members to consider items for discussion at the next meeting in August date.  It was noted that the STEM Hubs should feature on the agenda, following on from the regional workshops taking place this month.

6.2      It was noted Rob Dickson is leading work on the South of Scotland Enterprise Partnership, and a work plan is currently being developed which will consider skills gaps.  

6.3      AB highlighted the appointment of Sara Lightbody as STEM Strategy Manager, helping to build connections and bring coherence to the programme.

6.4      JB noted that Sue Pope will attend future meetings of IG as the Scottish Qualifications Authority representative.

6.5      The Minister indicated that she was pleased with the level of pace and progress across the STEM Strategy actions, and that it would be important to maintain that momentum.

Meeting close



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