Strategy Aims, Outcomes and Scope
The first sections of the consultation document summarise the context to the draft strategy, provides the definition of STEM which underpins the strategy, and sets out the aims and priorities and outcomes around which the strategy will be structured. The document includes a series of four consultation questions focused on:
- The definition of STEM set out in the draft strategy;
- The key aims and priorities on which the strategy will be based;
- The outcomes which will be used to measure success; and
- The scope of the strategy.
Definition of STEM
The consultation document sets out the definition of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics ( STEM) on which the draft strategy is based. The definition makes clear that STEM, and STEM education and training, is about developing expertise in each field, but also developing the ability to work across disciplines. In relation to each of the four STEM elements, and digital skills, the draft strategy is based on the following definition:
Science enables us to develop our interest in, and understanding of, the living, material and physical world and develop the skills of collaboration, research, critical enquiry and experimentation.
Technologies cover a range of fields which involve the application of knowledge and skills to extend human capabilities and to help satisfy human needs and wants, operating at the interface of science and society. This covers business, computing science, chemicals, food, textiles, craft, design, engineering, graphics and applied technologies.
Engineering a specific branch of the technologies, draws on scientific methods and knowledge to address and solve real-world problems.
All of STEM is underpinned by Mathematics, which includes numeracy, and equips us with the skills we need to interpret and analyse information, simplify and solve problems, assess risk and make informed decisions.
Similarly, digital skills play a huge and growing role in society and the economy and enable the other STEM disciplines. Digital skills embrace a spectrum of skills in the use and creation of digital material, from basic digital literacy, through problem solving and computational thinking to the application of more specialist computing science knowledge and skills that are needed in data science, cyber security and coding.
The first consultation question sought respondents views on the definition set out on the previous page.
Q1. Do you agree with the definition provided of STEM for the purposes of this Strategy?
A total of 165 (of 192) respondents answered Question 1. A clear majority, 83% of those answering the question, agreed with the definition provided. However, there was some variation across respondent types in the level of support for the definition of STEM. Support was most widespread amongst schools and colleges, science engagement and STEM industry respondents - all STEM industry respondents agreed with the definition. A total of 28 respondents, 17% of those answering, disagreed with the definition of STEM. This included 17 group respondents (including 4 other STEM education and professional/representative bodies and 3 STEM industry professional and representative bodies) and 11 individuals.
Question 1: Response by Respondent Type
|Do you agree with the definition provided of STEM for the purposes of this Strategy?||Yes||No||No answer||Total|
|Education sector - Colleges||9||1||10|
|Education sector - Universities||5||2||4||11|
|Education sector - Schools/Other||5||1||6|
|STEM industry professional & representative bodies||12||3||2||17|
|Other STEM education, professional & representative bodies||2||4||4||10|
|Other professional & representative bodies||4||8||12|
|Local authorities and other public bodies||7||1||1||9|
|Third sector/Non-profit organisations||11||2||2||15|
|Percentage of those answering||83%||17%||-||100%|
|Percentage of all respondents||71%||15%||14%||100%|
A total of 107 respondents provided further comment at Question 1, 56% of all respondents. While most of those providing written comment agreed with the proposed definition of STEM (70 of the 107 providing comment supported the definition), it is notable that nearly all of those answering 'no' at Question 1 provided further comment, as did a number who had not answered the yes/no question.
A number of respondents used written comments to re-iterate their support for the definition of STEM set out in the draft strategy. This included reference to specific aspects of STEM and the definition which respondents particularly welcomed:
- The most commonly mentioned aspect of the definition was reference to digital skills and their importance across the STEM disciplines, and for specific fields such as Computer Science. A mix of respondents including colleges and universities, STEM industry, other STEM education/professional bodies and local authorities made specific reference to the importance of digital skills.
- Several respondents also supported reference to the interconnectedness of the four main STEM disciplines. This included reference to the interdisciplinary skills that apply across the four disciplines (and other parts of the curriculum), such as the fundamental role of mathematics. Again this was highlighted by a cross-section of respondents including colleges, professional/representative bodies, and academic & research institutes.
- A small number of respondents made specific reference to the definition highlighting the importance of STEM subjects and skills across the wider curriculum, and beyond education for society and the economy.
The majority of those who supported the definition of STEM and who provided written comment at Question 1 raised issues or suggestions for amendment. This included potential amendments to the definition of each of the STEM disciplines, and a number of broader points which they wished to see better represented in the definition.
In relation to the definition of Science, a small number of other STEM education and professional/representative bodies suggested that excluding reference to the role of science in solving "real world problems" (as referenced in the definition of engineering) may give the impression that science is focused only on theoretical issues. A small number of respondents also wished to see explicit reference to the role of exploration and discovery in the definition of science - this reflects a wider view discussed later in this section that creativity should feature more prominently in the definition of STEM.
Respondents raised a range of points in relation to the definition of Technology. The most common related to examples provided within the definition of specific fields within technology. Several respondents suggested additional fields to be added to the definition - including construction/building technologies, transport, energy, biomedical or microbiological, and food technology. In contrast, one other STEM education and professional/representative body suggested that the definition is simplified to remove reference to specific elements of technology, and a university questioned the inclusion of textiles, craft and design within the definition. A small number of respondents also wished to see consistent use of the term "technology" or "technologies" throughout the strategy.
In relation to the definition of Engineering, the most common issue raised by respondents was around the reference to engineering as a "branch of the technologies". Several respondents (including universities, science engagement and STEM industry) suggested that the definition should include a clearer recognition that engineering is a distinct field. This included a suggestion that engineering may be an important area for engagement in STEM for many young people. A small number of respondents also wished to see specific aspects of engineering given a more prominent role in the definition - including the built environment, construction and transport, and capabilities such as mathematics and design. Finally in relation to engineering, a small number of respondents raised concerns that reference to "real world problems" could imply that engineering is the only STEM discipline concerned with the "real world".
A small number of respondents raised concerns around the definition of Mathematics. As noted above, a number of respondents welcomed the emphasis on the role of mathematics across the other STEM disciplines. Another STEM education and professional/representative body also suggested that the definition of mathematics should not be framed exclusively in the context of other STEM disciplines, but should also recognise the wider role of maths ( e.g. for economics and finance). A university respondent also wished to see specific reference to statistics as a distinct field.
As noted above, several respondents specifically welcomed reference to Digital Skills within the definition of STEM. However, some suggested modifications or extension to the representation of Digital Skills within the definition. This was most commonly related to a wish to see a clearer distinction between digital skills as capabilities needed across all STEM subjects, and Computer Science as a distinct discipline. Several respondents raised concerns that the draft strategy does not make sufficiently clear the distinction between "digital skills", "computer science" and " ICT". A small number of respondents also wished to see a more prominent role for digital skills across each of the STEM disciplines, including suggestions for " STEMD" as an alternative acronym. An other professional & representative body suggested that the definition of Digital Skills should make clearer that these skills include a specific focus on dealing with data and quantitative reasoning, over and above basic digital literacy. An other STEM education and professional/representative body also wished to see recognition of the need for flexibility in Digital Skills to adapt to rapidly changing technologies. Finally, a small number of respondents questioned whether the inclusion of Digital Skills as part of the definition of STEM may "water down" the focus on the core STEM disciplines, or saw digital skills as part of technology rather than as a separate discipline.
In addition to the above points on the five elements of the definition set out in the draft strategy, respondents also raised a range of broader points, including cross-cutting themes which some felt should be better represented by the definition of STEM. The key points are summarised below:
- The most commonly raised issue was that the definition could give greater recognition to the importance of creativity and arts for STEM. A cross-section of respondents made reference to the role of arts and creativity in supporting creative thinking, experimentation and innovation across STEM subjects, and in developing new ideas and products. Some suggested that the growing use of alternative acronyms such as " STEAM" reflected this.
- Several comments were concerned with the balance between presenting STEM as a coherent entity, and providing an account of each of the four distinct disciplines. A small number of respondents raised concerns that
- the definition (and the strategy as a whole) should be clearer that STEM
- is not a single entity but rather a framework for four distinct disciplines. However, others felt that the definition required a stronger recognition of the connections between the main STEM disciplines, including for example
- the importance of mathematics across other disciplines. This included potential concerns that the strategy should not lead to the STEM subjects being approached or promoted in isolation.
- A small number of college and science engagement respondents wished to see a clearer statement on how Computer Science fits within the definition of STEM.
- Several respondents wished to see the definition of STEM focus on " STEM capabilities" or " STEM skills" to represent the wider set of skills and abilities which are important beyond the core STEM subjects. This included a suggestion that a focus on STEM and digital skills (rather than distinct
- STEM subjects) may better reflect the growing emphasis on these skills across disciplines. A third sector/non-profit respondent also suggested that the definition should acknowledge the different "levels" of STEM skills - the basic skills such as numeracy, digital literacy and science literacy that are required by all, and more specialist STEM skills required to support the STEM economy.
- A small number of respondents raised concerns that some of the language used to define the STEM disciplines may not be consistent with the current curriculum, and that consistency with other definitions of STEM (for example as used by the Scottish Funding Council and Higher Education Statistics Authority) should also be ensured.
The 28 respondents who objected to the definition of STEM and who provided written comment also raised a range of issues or suggestions for amendment.
It is notable that there was significant overlap in the points highlighted by these respondents, and those raised by respondents who supported the definition of STEM (as summarised over the previous pages). Below we summarise the key points raised by those who objected to the definition of STEM:
- In relation to the definition of Science, respondents suggested a need for explicit reference to the role of experimentation and discovery in the definition of science, and this appeared to be linked to a wider view that the strategy should present science as an attractive and accessible area. A small number were also concerned that the definition of science focuses on "interest and understanding", rather than the importance of the scientific method for producing and testing ideas.
- In relation to the definition of Technology, a small number of respondents suggested additional fields to be added to the definition - including construction, transport, and biotechnologies.
- In relation to the definition of Engineering, the most common issue was that the definition does not adequately describe the scope of the discipline, with some objecting to the description of engineering as a "branch of the technologies". Several respondents suggested that the definition should include a clearer recognition that engineering is a distinct field, and suggested that it would be more accurate to describe technology as the product of engineering activity. An other STEM education and professional/representative body suggested alternatives to the definition of engineering, with reference to existing definitions used by professional bodies within the field.
- In relation to the definition of Digital Skills, several respondents again raised concerns that "digital skills", "computer science" and " ICT" appear to be used interchangeably throughout the strategy. It was also suggested that Computer Science should be distinct from digital skills within the definition, for example included under science or engineering. A small number of respondents also wished to see a clearer statement on the level of digital skills required, and suggested that these more advanced "data skills" could be included more explicitly in definition of each of the STEM disciplines, with digital skills focusing on more general digital capabilities.
- Respondents also referred to broader issues and concerns relating to the definition of STEM. This included clearer links between STEM and the wider curriculum (for example the importance of literacy skills across STEM disciplines), and greater recognition for the potential role of STEM and STEM skills across a wider range of curriculum areas and employment opportunities. A small number of respondents also suggested that the definition should highlight the skills and competencies required across STEM, rather than focusing on specific subject knowledge. This included suggestions that the definition of STEM excludes skills around creativity and innovation.
Aims and priorities
The draft strategy is based around two overall aims, and four priority themes identified to deliver those aims. These aims and priorities are summarised below:
- The two key aims are (i) to improve levels of STEM enthusiasm, skills, and knowledge in order to raise attainment and aspirations in learning, life and work; and (ii) to encourage uptake of more specialist STEM skills required to gain employment in the growing STEM sectors of the economy, through further study and training.
- The four priority themes are Excellence, Equity, Inspiration, and Connection.
The second consultation question sought respondents views on these aims and priority themes.
Q2. Do you think the aims of this Strategy and the four priority themes are the right ones to address the challenges identified?
A total of 165 (of 192) respondents answered Question 2. A clear majority, 84% of those answering the question, agreed with the aims and priority themes. However, there was some variation across respondent types in views on the strategy aims and priorities. Support was most widespread amongst schools and colleges, science engagement, STEM industry and local authority/public body respondents. Indeed all schools, college, science engagement and third sector respondents supported the strategy aims and priority themes.
A total of 26 respondents, 16% of those answering, disagreed with the aims and priority themes. This included 9 group respondents (the largest groups being 3 universities, 2 STEM industry professional/representative bodies, and 2 other STEM education and professional/ representative bodies) and 17 individuals.
Question 2: Response by Respondent Type
|Do you think the aims of this Strategy and the four priority themes are the right ones to address the challenges identified?||Yes||No||No answer||Total|
|Education sector - Colleges||10||10|
|Education sector - Universities||5||3||3||11|
|Education sector - Schools/Other||6||6|
|STEM industry professional & representative bodies||13||2||2||17|
|Other STEM education, professional & representative bodies||6||2||2||10|
|Other professional & representative bodies||5||1||6||12|
|Local authorities and other public bodies||8||1||9|
|Third sector/Non-profit organisations||12||3||15|
|Percentage of those answering||84%||16%||-||100%|
|Percentage of all respondents||72%||14%||14%||100%|
A total of 127 respondents provided further comment at Question 2, 66% of all respondents. Most of those providing written comment agreed with the aims and priority themes (89 of the 127 providing comment), but it is notable that nearly all of those answering 'no' at Question 2 provided further comment, as did a number who had not answered the yes/no question.
A number of respondents used written comments to re-state their support for the strategy aims and priority themes. This included reference to specific aspects of the aims and priority themes which respondents felt were particularly positive:
- Several respondents noted the consistency between the aims and priority themes, and ongoing work across education sectors and industry in relation to STEM education and training. Some also referred to the relevance of the strategy aims - and particularly uptake of specialist STEM skills - to Scotland's wider economic strategy.
- In terms of specific themes, several respondents referred to the importance of "challenging perceptions" as highlighted by the draft strategy, and placed particular emphasis on the inspiration theme in terms of encouraging greater uptake of STEM skills. A small number of respondents also highlighted the theme of equity, including some who saw improving equity in engagement with STEM as the key priority for the strategy.
A number of respondents also suggested that the approach to delivery of the aims and priorities will be key. This included suggestions that the high level aims and priorities do not mark a clear change from previous initiatives to increase STEM participation, and that it will be the specific actions (and funding) to take the aims and priorities forward that determine the strategy's success. Respondents' specific views on actions to deliver the strategic aims and priorities are considered in later sections of the report.
Most of those providing written comment at Question 2 raised issues, points for clarification, or suggestions for amendment. These are summarised over the following pages.
Views on strategic aims
Respondents expressed a range of views in relation to the two aims set out in the draft strategy, and it is notable that the issues raised were broadly similar across those who answered "yes" or "no" at Question 2. Below we summarise the key points raised in relation to each of the aims in turn.
The first strategic aims is focused on improving levels of STEM enthusiasm, skills, and knowledge. This highlights the role of improved STEM skills and knowledge in raising attainment and aspirations throughout learning, life and work. Respondents were broadly supportive of the importance of improving enthusiasm, skills and knowledge. However, a small number of respondents raised specific points in relation to this aim:
- A university respondent suggested that the aim should make clearer the need to change perceptions and increase enthusiasm across society as a whole - from parents, teachers and head teachers, local authorities and government. This was also reflected in comments from a third sector respondent that the aim should recognise the importance of STEM skills and knowledge for the everyday lives of young people and adults.
- A college respondent suggested that the strategy places greater emphasis on lifelong learning.
The second strategic aim seeks to encourage uptake of more specialist STEM skills through study and training, recognising the importance of these skills for employment in the growing STEM sectors of the economy. Again, respondents were broadly supportive of this aim. However, a small number of respondents (primarily colleges) suggested that the aim should better reflect the need to ensure STEM education and training continues to meet the needs of employers, and that there is stronger engagement with employers across all education and training sectors. In this context, respondents also suggested that the aim is clearer on the types of skills required - including for example problem solving, analytical and reasoning skills, higher order mathematics skills, computational and data analysis skills.
In addition to comments on each of the strategic aims, respondents also raised a range of broader points. This included views on how the strategic aims are framed, and themes or issues which some felt should be better represented. The key points are summarised below:
Several respondents (primarily STEM-related and other education and professional/ representative bodies) suggested that the focus on employment and the economy as key drivers of demand for STEM skills should not be at the expense of recognising the intrinsic value of STEM subjects, and their wider social and cultural relevance. This included reference to connections between the strategy and Scotland's wider social, economic and environmental strategies. Some also suggested an additional aim which emphasised the social and cultural importance of STEM, and/or focused on raising awareness and understanding of STEM across the population as a whole.
- A small number of respondents also suggested that the strategic aims should recognise the relevance of STEM subjects and skills across other parts of the curriculum, and the importance of breaking down the current division between STEM and other parts of the curriculum to reach a broader range of young people.
- A small number of respondents expressed concerns that the phrasing of the strategic aims may encourage those involved in delivery of the strategy to think of "inspiration and enthusiasm" and "specialist STEM skills" as distinct areas. These respondents suggested that experience indicates that young people and adults are most likely to develop enthusiasm for STEM (and acquire STEM skills) through discovering their benefits through direct experience - for example, as opposed to being persuaded of the relevance of STEM skills.
- Respondents also referred to additional themes that they felt
should be better represented by the strategic aims - whether this
is within the two proposed aims, or as additional aims:
- A stronger role for equity as a central element of the strategy, in addition to representation as a priority theme.
- Stronger emphasis on making STEM relevant to young people's subject and career decisions.
- Ensuring strong and cohesive partnerships across stakeholders, and reflecting the importance of these partnerships to achieving real change.
- Giving a commitment to the sustainability of the strategy.
- Aims that specifically address the challenges of "developing coherence" and "building partnerships" as highlighted in the draft strategy.
Views on priority themes
Consistent with comments on strategic aims, respondents made a broad range of points in relation to the priority themes. This included comments specific to each of the four themes, and views on other issues or themes that should be better represented. Below we summarise the key points raised by respondents in relation to each of the themes in turn.
The Excellence theme is focused on raising the level of STEM skills and knowledge throughout education, lifelong learning, and training. Relatively few respondents commented specifically on this theme. Specific points made by respondents included suggestions that the strategy makes clear that excellence is relevant to learning and training across formal and informal settings, and highlights the importance of literacy and communication alongside the current reference to numeracy and digital skills. An other STEM education and professional/representative body also suggested that raising standards of STEM skills and knowledge should be the key benchmark of success for the strategy.
The Equity theme is concerned with action to reduce equity gaps, including particular reference to deprivation and gender. Respondents were broadly supportive of this theme, with comments typically focusing on how the theme can be extended or better implemented:
- Several respondents suggested that the theme of equity is broadened beyond deprivation and gender equity (as referenced in the draft strategy) to include other disadvantaged groups. Indeed, a small number of respondents suggested that the focus on deprivation and gender could be read as excluding or relegating the status of other protected characteristic groups. Respondents also referred to other forms of disadvantage and population groups which should be emphasized under the equity theme. This included rurality and geographical disadvantage, expanding reference to care leavers to include looked after children, and including ethnic minorities.
- A third sector respondent also suggested that the equity theme should recognise that real change in equity within STEM requires a wider focus on tackling inequality throughout individual's lives.
- A small number of respondents suggested specific issues in relation to equity. These included noting that inequality is more significant for some STEM disciplines, that young people need access to high quality information and advice, and the need to provide young people with better insight into the range of careers across STEM industries.
The Inspiration theme is focused on ensuring young people and adults are enthused and inspired to study STEM - and continue to do so to develop more specialised skills. Comments again indicated broad support for the theme, including a schools/other respondent suggesting that this should be the top priority. The key points raised by respondents focused on:
- The importance of not just inspiring young people and adults, but also raising aspirations by ensuring young people see STEM subjects as relevant and "for people like me". Several respondents also highlighted the importance of increasing confidence and awareness in STEM across communities - including key figures such as parents and teachers.
- The importance of building individuals' confidence, alongside inspiring and changing aspirations.
The Connection theme is focused on matching STEM education and training to the needs of the labour market - currently and in the future. Comments were generally supportive of the theme, with the main issues raised by respondents seeking to extend the reach of the theme:
- A number of respondents across respondent types suggested that the connection theme could better acknowledge the connections between STEM skills and other economic sectors, and the relevance of STEM for everyday life. Several respondents suggested that this was important in raising awareness and recognition of STEM beyond those engaging with core STEM disciplines. This included reference to positive outcomes for health and environment associated with public engagement in STEM.
- A small number of respondents suggested that the theme should recognise that connection with the labour market requires a breadth of curriculum, interdisciplinary learning and transferable skills to ensure education and training remain relevant to what are likely to be changing labour market needs.
- A STEM industry respondent suggested that the role of STEM organisations in inspiring young people and adults should be emphasised in the context of these organisations being the future beneficiaries of young people and adults with STEM skills.
In addition to the points outlined above in relation to each of the priority themes, a substantial number of respondents highlighted other issues and themes which they felt should be better represented by the strategic principles. This included cross-cutting issues that applied to all four themes, and suggestions for additional themes:
- A number of respondents, including a mix of respondent types, highlighted the potential for confusion regarding the relationship between the four Economic Strategy priorities summarised at page 5, and the four strategic priorities at page 7. Indeed some addressed their response to Question 2 to the Economic Strategy priorities, in addition to the priority themes.
- Several respondents suggested that the priorities are very general and "difficult to disagree with", but are too general to be helpful for a STEM strategy.
- Some suggested that there should be greater emphasis across the priority themes on understanding and applied skills - for example, over and above acquiring knowledge. Transferable skills and understanding such as mathematics and data skills were seen as particularly relevant given the focus on economic growth, and difficulties in predicting likely future skills requirements. This included some who suggested that better evidence was required on current labour market needs, and potential developments that may change those needs.
- A small number of respondents suggested that the strategy highlights the importance of local and regional approaches, and is clear that there is no "one size fits all" approach.
- Several respondents highlighted the importance of strategic priorities being measurable, and raised concerns around how progress will be measured in relation to the priorities set out in the draft strategy. This included some of those who disagreed with the aims and priorities at Question 2.
- A small number of respondents made specific reference to resourcing as a significant challenge to achieving the strategic aims and priorities - and suggested that this should be better addressed in the strategy.
- Respondents raised a range of other themes or issues which
they felt should be represented in the strategy priorities -
whether across the proposed four priorities, or as additional
priorities. This included:
- Accessibility, and provision of education and training in the context of rurality and physical connectivity;
- The importance of literacy and communication, alongside the current reference to numeracy and digital skills;
- Transferability of STEM skills (particularly in the context of navigating multiple career options, and changing economic conditions);
- The role of STEM subjects and skills in driving productivity growth across the economy as a whole; and
- Ensuring young people, parents, teachers and the industry are better informed.
Outcomes and success criteria
The draft strategy set out five outcomes as indicators of success in delivering the strategic aims and priorities. These outcomes are summarised below:
1. All children and young people experience relevant and engaging STEM learning across all the STEM disciplines.
2. All young people and their families, irrespective of background and circumstance, understand the importance and relevance of STEM to their future success in life and work.
3. There is improved gender balance across STEM qualifications and courses at school, college and university, and Modern Apprenticeships in the workplace.
4. There are a wide range of STEM pathways through further and higher education and other training that young people and adults can follow, well-matched to labour market need and their needs and aspirations.
5. Employers are confident about the STEM skills and capability of their current and future workforce.
Question 3 sought respondents views on these outcomes/success criteria.
Q3. Are these success criteria right? If not, tell us what criteria we should use instead.
A total of 156 (of 192) respondents answered Question 3. Around 3 in 5 of those answering the question (63%) felt that the success criteria set out in the draft strategy were right, indicating somewhat more divided views than was evident in relation to Questions 1 and 2. However, there was some variation across respondent types. Support for the success criteria was most widespread amongst schools and colleges, science engagement and STEM industry - although there remained respondents across most of these groups who disagreed with the success criteria.
A total of 58 respondents, 37% of those answering, disagreed with the success criteria. This included 35 group respondents and 23 individuals. In relation to group respondents, those in the other STEM education and professional/ representatives, third sector and academic/research institutes were most likely to disagree with the success criteria.
Question 3: Response by Respondent Type
|Are these success criteria right?||Yes||No||No answer||Total|
|Education sector - Colleges||7||3||10|
|Education sector - Universities||2||4||5||11|
|Education sector - Schools/Other||5||1||6|
|STEM industry professional & representative bodies||10||2||5||17|
|Other STEM education, professional & representative bodies||3||6||1||10|
|Other professional & representative bodies||2||4||6||12|
|Local authorities and other public bodies||5||2||2||9|
|Third sector/Non-profit organisations||3||8||4||15|
|Percentage of those answering||63%||37%||-||100%|
|Percentage of all respondents||51%||30%||19%||100%|
A total of 137 respondents provided further comment at Question 3, 71% of all respondents. These were split between those who agreed with the success criteria (59 providing comment) and those who disagreed (58 providing comment). A number of those who had not answered the yes/no question also provided comment. It is notable that all of those answering 'no' at Question 2 provided written comment, compared to around 3 in 5 of those who supported the success criteria.
Nearly all of those providing comment raised points for clarification, issues or suggested changes to the outcomes/success criteria. There was significant overlap in the issues raised by those who supported the success criteria and those who were opposed - suggesting that the motivations for those disagreeing with the criteria were also recognised as issues by a substantial number of those who broadly supported the criteria. Reflecting this, over the following pages we provide a summary of the range of points raised by both groups.
Views on specific success criteria
While comments suggest broad support for the five success criteria set out in the draft strategy, respondents raised a range of issues in relation to these specific criteria. Here we summarise the key points raised in relation to each of the criteria in turn.
Outcome 1 is focused on ensuring all children and young people experience relevant and engaging STEM learning across all STEM disciplines. While a large number of those providing comment recognised the importance of STEM learning being relevant and engaging for young people, a number of issues and concerns were raised.
This included several respondents suggesting that the criteria should recognise that relevant and engaging STEM learning should be present across all parts of the curriculum, and not limited to STEM disciplines. This included reference to the importance of STEM experiences across both formal and informal education settings. Respondents also suggested that the criteria should make reference to children and young people recognising their experiences as STEM learning, and genuinely engaging with the opportunities provided. This included understanding how their STEM learning experience related to their wider learning and life experience.
Outcome 2 seeks to ensure that all young people and their families, irrespective of background and circumstance, understand the importance and relevance of STEM to their future success in life and work. Again comments indicate a common view that understanding the relevance of STEM should be a significant element of the strategy. However, some issues or concerns were raised - including the extent to which it will be possible to measure understanding across young people and their families (this is considered further later in this section under cross-cutting issues).
A small number of respondents suggested including reference to the importance of young people and their families having an understanding of the relevance of STEM at key stages where education and career decisions are made. In this context, a small number of other STEM education and professional/ representative bodies also suggested that the scope of the outcome should be expanded to include ensuring "carers and influencers" (including teachers) understand the relevance of STEM. A science engagement respondent also raised a broader point around ensuring understanding of the relevance of STEM enables young people and adults to make better decisions and choices to improve their lives. An other professional & representative body respondent questioned the extent to which this outcome is achievable, and suggested "increase in understanding" as a more realistic alternative.
Outcome 3 focused on achieving improved gender balance across STEM qualifications and courses at school, college and university, and Modern Apprenticeships in the workplace. A substantial number of respondents provided specific comment on this success criteria, with most of these suggesting areas where the criteria could be extended.
The most common point raised by respondents was that the criteria should be based on a broader understanding of diversity (beyond gender), including reference to the importance of responding to the intersectionality of disadvantage. This is consistent with views noted at Question 2 in relation to the Equity theme. These respondents made reference to a range of other disadvantaged groups and forms of inequality including socio-economic disadvantage, ethnicity, disability, care leavers, and geographical disadvantage.
A small number of respondents suggested that the criteria is extended to include explicit reference to raising the profile of STEM skills across all subjects, and in particular subjects that young women are likely to continue to want to study in substantial numbers. This appeared to be linked in part to concerns that previous initiatives have failed to deliver equity of STEM participation, and a view that a change of approach is required.
A small number of respondents wished to see improved gender balance (and better representation of other disadvantaged groups) in the workplace as part of the criteria. This included a suggestion that improved balance in the workplace should be expected as a result of improved equity in STEM education and training. Another professional/representative respondent also suggested that the strategy should recognise the impact of women's employment experience on their engagement with STEM.
A small number of respondents suggested more detailed changes to the terminology used in outcome 3. This included expanding the reference to Modern Apprenticeships to include all "work based learning routes" to better reflect the range of pathways available, and that "gender equality" would be a more appropriate term than "gender balance".
Outcome 4 is focused on ensuring there are a wide range of STEM pathways through further and higher education and other training that young people and adults can follow, well-matched to labour market need and their needs and aspirations. Relatively few respondents raised issues or concerns specific to this criteria. Points raised included a small number of college, STEM industry and STEM education bodies suggesting that the criteria includes emphasis on the connectedness of STEM pathways, and recognition that these pathways can extend from school, throughout the education and training experience. An other professional/representative body also suggested that the outcome should highlight the importance of raising young people's awareness of the range of STEM pathways. A third sector respondent referred to evidence that availability of a wider range of courses can have a negative impact on equality, and noted that this could imply that delivery of Outcome 4 could be in conflict with Outcome 3 (improving gender balance).
Outcome 5 is around employers being confident about the STEM skills and capability of their current and future workforce. Again, comments from respondents indicate support for the focus on STEM skills and capabilities meeting employers' needs, with several respondents suggesting areas where this focus could be strengthened. This included a small number of respondents suggesting extension of the outcome to include reference to employers' confidence in and understanding of STEM educational programmes, and ensuring employers engagement in STEM education. A small number of respondents also highlighted the need for clarity on the specific STEM skills required, including that employers understand and can recognise the STEM skills and capabilities that will benefit their organisation. An education sector respondent also suggested that the criteria should include a specific measure of the level of STEM skills in entrants to the workforce.
Other success criteria suggested by respondents
In addition to the above points specific to the five success criteria, a substantial number of respondents raised broader issues or concerns for the set of criteria proposed by the draft strategy, and themes which they felt should be better represented. This included a small number of respondents who questioned use of terminology in the draft strategy, and in particular the interchangeable use of "outcomes" and "success criteria".
A key concern raised by a substantial number of respondents (by around a third of those making comment at Question 3) related to the extent to which the success criteria are " SMART", and how progress against the criteria will be measured. These concerns appeared to be a particularly significant factor for some of those who disagreed with the success criteria at Question 3. Respondents raised concerns around how measurable the criteria are likely to be across all five criteria, but included particular reference to difficulties measuring whether children and young peoples' experience of STEM learning is "relevant and engaging", measuring employers' confidence in STEM skills and capability, and assessing young people's understanding of the importance of STEM. Comments from these respondents included suggestions that it will be necessary to develop meaningful measures and KPIs, and associated baselines, which are sensitive to genuine change. A number of respondents made suggestions for specific measures of success, including reference to established performance frameworks and measures.
Also in relation to measuring progress, a small number of respondents suggested that the scale of the problem is currently not properly quantified, for example the proportion of teachers receiving career long professional learning on STEM. These respondents suggested that more detail is needed on the scale of the change required. A STEM industry respondent also suggested a need to specify timescales for progress towards the outcomes.
In terms of other cross-cutting issues raised, respondents also commented on the extent to which the outcomes focus on the experience and skills of "children and young people". A number of respondents, including a mix of respondent types, wished to see this extended, including reference to the importance of STEM engagement in the early years, and to the need to improve STEM skills and experience for adults and those returning to STEM learning and training.
Comments also included reference to specific themes or issues which respondents felt should be given a more prominent role across the success criteria. Suggestions included:
- Several respondents suggested an additional outcome linked to an increase in numbers of people undertaking STEM - across education and training, but also an increase in people entering STEM positions in the workforce. This included suggestions for a measure of longer-term success, for example in terms of STEM skills being retained and/or individuals remaining in STEM fields. These measures were also referenced in comments from a science engagement respondent around the need for a measure focused on changing the perceptions and attitudes towards STEM across society as a whole.
- A range of respondents made reference to the importance of educators and others working with children and young people to develop STEM enthusiasm and skills. This included a wish to see the criteria make specific reference to the need to build educators' confidence, knowledge and skills in relation to STEM.
- A third sector respondent suggested more specific reference to improved attainment in STEM subjects, and that raising attainment should be a key outcome for any education strategy.
- A science engagement respondent suggested that sustainability is explicitly referenced as a success criteria.
- A university respondent wished to see a criteria that reflects the need for a holistic focus on STEM, across sectors and stakeholders.
- A small number of university and STEM industry respondents suggested an outcome around Scotland being recognized as a leader in its commitment to STEM and STEM education and training - including for example benchmarking against comparable education systems.
Scope of the strategy
The draft strategy. relates to children and young people as they move from early learning through school and on into further and higher education, other training or employment. It also emphasises the importance of the current workforce and employers in ensuring development of the STEM knowledge and skills required for the current and future labour market. There is a particular emphasis on early years as being crucial for building enthusiasm and aspiration for STEM, and foundational STEM skills and knowledge. While children and young people are a vital aspect of the strategy, the draft makes clear that learning, work-based learning, training or re-training for adults - across a range of settings - and including specifically girls and women, is of equal importance.
Question 4 sought respondents views on the scope of the strategy as set out in the draft.
Q4. Do you think the scope of the Strategy is right? Tell us if you think it should exclude something or include anything else. For example, should it include training and development that employers provide for their workforce?
A total of 170 respondents provided further comment at Question 4, nearly 9 in 10 of all respondents. A substantial proportion of those making comment, more than 2 in 5, indicated broad support for the scope of the strategy as set out in the draft. This included particular reference to early years, and the importance of this stage in building enthusiasm for STEM. Respondents also highlighted the recognition throughout the strategy of the breadth of education and training experiences, and diversity of pathways to STEM education and employment. This included reference to the range of settings for education and training, and in particular reference to more informal education in settings such as science centres and museums.
However, most of those providing comment raised issues and/or suggested specific areas for adjustment to the scope of the strategy. This included several STEM industry, STEM professional/representative bodies, university and third sector respondents expressing concerns that the scope of the strategy may be too broad, and/or that prioritisation of key groups or sectors is required. A small number of respondents suggested that for example a narrower focus specifically on improving STEM engagement and skills for children and young people may be more effective, and were concerned that the broader scope may "dilute" the impact of the strategy.
A third sector respondent also suggested that a specific account of the scope of the strategy should be included earlier in the document, to ensure that the key target groups are clear from the outset.
A substantial number of respondents highlighted specific issues and themes which they felt should be better represented in the scope of the strategy. Key suggestions are summarised below:
- The most common was a suggestion that the role of employers could be stronger across the strategy. This was raised in relation to the importance of employers engaging with and helping to shape the approach to STEM education, and specifically as providers of training and professional development. Around a third of those providing comment at Question 4, including a range of respondent types, expressed support for the scope of the scope of the strategy being expanded to include training provided by employers. This included suggestions that CPD provided by employers is particularly important in ensuring STEM training is tailored to rapidly changing technologies and labour market needs. However, several respondents (including STEM industry, other STEM education/professional bodies, third sector, university and individual respondents) disagreed with expanding the scope to include training provided by employers. These respondents referred to potential for this to detract from the central requirement for more young people engaging with STEM activities and developing more specialist STEM skills through higher and further education, and suggestions that workplace training is often specific to the employer such that it may not provide individuals with transferable skills.
- Respondents' comments on the role of employers also included specific reference to the value of employers' engaging across education sectors (including early years, primary and onwards) and with communities to support STEM engagement, and the extent to which employers have insight into likely future trends in the need for STEM skills across the labour market. Several respondents also specifically noted the potential contribution of employers to improving gender equity and inclusiveness. This includes through development of flexible and sustainable careers to tackle the high attrition rate for females in STEM industries, providing training which recognises the specific experiences and needs of female employees, supporting female adult returners, and the importance of a positive workplace experience for girls and women maintaining a role in STEM. Some respondents also referred to the importance of supporting employers, including small and medium enterprises, to ensure the quality of the training offer across STEM industries.
- Several respondents suggested a clearer reference to the importance of educators - particularly primary and secondary teachers - in achieving the improvement in education required by the strategy. This included reference to the need for suitable resourcing and STEM training for current teachers and as part of the training process for new teachers, and the benefits of teachers' engagement with STEM employers.
- A small number of education sector and individual respondents wished to see stronger emphasis on STEM literacy across the population more widely, including adult learners undertaking Continuing Professional Development.
- A number of respondents recommended stronger emphasis of the role of the "influencers" of children and young people including parents, carers, siblings. This included a small number of respondents referring specifically to the role of intergenerational and family learning.
- Several respondents suggested that the strategy could more explicitly refer to the importance of informal learning outside the classroom, including settings such as science centres and museums.
- A small number of respondents referred to the connections between STEM skills across other disciplines, and for example a suggestion that the strategy could encourage a "whole school" approach to improving STEM participation across non- STEM disciplines. This included specific reference to recognising mathematics within the scope of the study as a foundational skill for STEM engagement, as a key skill across non- STEM disciplines, and the significance of mathematical sciences for the Scottish economy.
- A substantial number of respondents suggested that later primary years and secondary school should be a particular focus for the strategy, in addition to the current emphasis of early years. This included a suggestion that disengagement and the "gender divide" in STEM participation occurs at secondary school, even where there is strong engagement during early years. Several respondents referred to the importance of ensuring that engaging and inspirational STEM experiences continue through primary and secondary school to maintain engagement.
- Reflecting points raised earlier at Questions 2 and 3, several respondents suggested that reference to gender balance in the strategy scope should be expanded to support inclusion of other protected characteristics and disadvantaged groups. A small number of third sector and college respondents also suggested that the strategy scope should include a clearer commitment to ensuring gender balance from the early years, through school and further/higher education, and into training and employment.
- A small number of respondents wished to see more specific reference to the role of STEM skills. This included the importance of core STEM skills in enabling individuals to make the transition through education and into training and employment. and suggestions that the strategy should provide a comprehensive discussion of skills shortages and clarity on the types of skills required.
- An academic/research institute respondent suggested that the strategy should take the opportunity to include support for retention of highly-skilled fixed-term researchers in Scotland's STEM sector through opportunities to diversify their skills.
Email: Frank Creamer