STEM strategy: minister's speech

Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science addresses Scottish Parliament on the STEM Education and Training Strategy for Scotland.

Presiding Officer, I am delighted to lay before Parliament today a STEM Education and Training Strategy for Scotland which focuses on excellence, equity, connection and inspiration.

Indeed, only this morning, I was privileged – as I have been, on a wide range of visits in recent months to science centres, festivals, early years centres, schools, colleges and universities – to see that inspiration in action.

I visited the Jimmy Dunnachie Family Learning Centre in Glasgow which has established a strong STEM pre-school curriculum, with hands-on activities and exciting topics, and I saw for myself how those activities are capturing the imaginations of the Centre's young learners.

It was also great to hear about the partnerships the Centre has forged with Strathclyde University and with the young STEM Ambassadors from local schools, one of whom I had the chance to meet on my visit.

Enthusing and engaging children from the earliest years in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is at the heart of the Centre's activity. It was an absolute pleasure to see children exploring STEM in all its forms and this work is key to setting children of all ages, both boys and girls, from a range of backgrounds on a journey of wonder, to learn to question, to experiment, to problem solve, to always ask why and what's next.

With some estimates suggesting that 65% of pre-school children will work in careers and jobs that do not yet exist, their future is truly one of opportunity.

We must give them, and the children I met in Glasgow today, the tools they need to seize it.

Presiding Officer, this STEM strategy has a clear focus and a strong purpose. Quite simply, to be a nation with ambition, Scotland must become a STEM nation.

If we are to realise the ambition set out in our Programme for Government to build a modern, dynamic, open economy which benefits everyone in Scotland, we must support everyone in Scotland to develop their STEM capability and skills.

All the sectors which feature in our vision for a high-tech, low-carbon economy have one golden thread. They all require workforces with STEM related skills to develop and to grow.

This strategy has been shaped by extensive discussion and dialogue. It began with a debate here in Parliament marking the start of the formal consultation exercise.

That consultation was available online, and included a series of events covering specific interests such as education leaders, gender equality and business engagement.

I also established a short-life Expert Reference Group to provide support and challenge in finalising the Strategy.

This Group was co-chaired by Professor Sheila Rowan, the Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland, who is here in Parliament today and Professor Iain Hunter from Strathclyde University.

I am grateful to them and all the members of the Reference Group for giving so generously of their time and expertise.

The strategy seeks to address four key challenges – •the need to ensure that people are encouraged to develop an interest in STEM that is reinforced throughout their lives; •to ensure that our education system has the right number of practitioners with the right skills to deliver excellent learning and teaching; •to build a system which equips people with the skills that employers need and has the flexibility to respond effectively to change; •to tackle the gender imbalances and other inequities that exist across STEM education and training.

It does so by focussing on four key themes and aims.

First, we must build the capacity of the education and training system to deliver excellent STEM learning.

Earlier this month, the Deputy First Minister announced a new scheme to provide bursaries for anyone changing career to train as a STEM teacher.

From August 2018, 100 bursaries of £20,000 will be available for people giving up an existing career to undertake teacher training in the STEM subjects. The initial focus will be on subjects where we are currently experiencing a shortage in teacher training students – physics, mathematics, technical education and computing science.

Applicants will be expected to have a relevant degree at a level of 2.1 or above with suitable subject content. Minimum entry requirements for teacher education courses will also apply.

But we must also provide appropriate support and professional learning opportunities for teachers and other practitioners.

We will create a new network of STEM specialist advisers to work with early years providers and schools to ensure that the sharing of best practice and emerging evidence is at the heart of excellence in STEM learning and teaching.

This new network will be operational by December 2018 and advisers will work within the new Regional Improvement Collaboratives being established in partnership with local government as part of our education reforms.

To support STEM learning in schools, we will continue to fund the Scottish Science Education Research Centre and our partnership with the Wood Foundation on the Raising Aspirations in Science Education programme, as well as investing in new resources for practitioners.

Crucially, this will include support for STEM learning and inspiration in the early years, as we expand the early years workforce in Scotland.

It is vital that we give everyone the opportunity to fulfil their STEM potential and contribute to Scotland's economic prosperity. So our second aim focuses on closing equity gaps in participation and attainment in STEM.

We will take action to improve the participation of under-represented groups in STEM learning, and to tackle unconscious bias and gender stereotyping that creates barriers to participation, access and attainment.

This must start from the earliest years onwards and be sustained right through the education system at all levels. It will include action to tackle gender segregation and promote equality of opportunity in the early years, apprenticeships, college and university courses.

We will also work closely with equalities experts in the third sector to create a dedicated team to embed practice from the successful Institute of Physics' gender balance project across all schools by 2022.

I have already spoken of the importance of inspiring children, young people and adults to study STEM and to continue their studies to obtain more specialist skills.

The current UK STEM Ambassador programme provides a strong network of support for education. But we can do more.

We will establish a new Young STEM Leaders programme to stimulate the development of peer mentoring in STEM. This will start in 2018 and be fully operational by 2022.

It will focus on children and young people who are currently themselves in education to complement existing STEM Ambassadors.

Earlier today, I announced funding of £2.65 million to support the work and activity of Scotland's four Science Centres and I am proud that we are the only government in the UK to provide such financial support to science centres.

They have a key role to play not only inspiring STEM in children, young people and adults, but also in helping to tackle inequity.

We will therefore target our funding to enable the Centres and science festivals to further encourage girls in particular and, more generally, people from deprived, rural and remote communities to engage in informal STEM learning and experiences.

The fourth aim seeks to connect the STEM education and training offer with labour market need - both now and in the future.

To increase collaboration and connection, we will create a new STEM hub network to strengthen regional-level collaboration between partners, including universities, science centres and employers.

This network will focus on building partnerships between secondary schools and colleges in 2018, and broaden out to include primary and early learning settings during 2019.

Of course, colleges and universities in Scotland are already taking action to prioritise STEM teaching and courses.

Our universities are world-leading and at the cutting edge of research and innovation across the spectrum of STEM disciplines.

Our colleges increasingly play a central role in co-ordinating the approach to STEM across their regions and with partners, including businesses and employers, to deliver our aim of increasing Modern Apprenticeship starts to 30,000.

We will build on this solid foundation in three ways. We will: •Increase the number of college and university student placements with employers in STEM curriculum areas; •Increase the numbers of graduate and post-qualification internships offered with STEM employers; •And, to complement the approach being taken through the Developing the Young Workforce Programme to improve careers and guidance from 3 – 18, we will ensure that college and university students have access to the best advice and guidance about STEM careers. But we must also challenge our institutions to go further, faster.

We invest in our colleges and universities with confidence but, in the ever-more competitive global economy, we must look to them to work with us and partners in industry to ensure that their curricular offer to students and support for researchers remains world leading and always current.

Presiding Officer, this STEM education and training strategy for Scotland is deliberately bold and ambitious.

It has a five year lifetime – from 2017 until 2022 and delivery starts now.

That focus on delivery must be relentless so we will measure progress and success through key performance indicators. Work on developing these has begun and they will be published by the end of the year.

I will also chair an Implementation Group involving expert external advice to drive forward delivery. That group will produce annual reports on progress and provide these to Parliament.

I am confident that through the actions in this strategy, we can unlock the opportunities the future holds for all of Scotland to flourish and thrive and become a STEM nation.

Presiding Officer, this is not the Scottish Government's strategy, nor even that of the Scottish Parliament – though I hope that all members and parliamentary groups will support it.

It is Scotland's STEM education and training strategy, in which everyone throughout our education system, across the public, private and third sectors and within key businesses and industries has a role to play and I am proud to present it to Parliament today.


Email: – Central Enquiry Unit

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

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