The strategy notes that the range of STEM education and training activity currently underway provides "much to build on". The draft includes an annex setting out a detailed picture of current STEM activity across age groups and sectors including early years, schools, colleges and universities, in other settings such as via the Young Workforce Programme and apprenticeship opportunities, through science centres and museums, and through community learning and development.
The draft strategy included two consultation questions in relation to current activity, seeking views on the extent to which this current activity will contribute positively to the strategy, and about where respondents feel there needs to be a change.
Current activity and fit with the draft Strategy
Question 5 asked for views on the extent to which current STEM education and training activity is a good fit with the draft strategy, and the contribution that this activity will make to the strategy.
Q5. Give us your views on whether you think the actions already underway across the sectors on STEM fit well with the Strategy and will contribute positively to it.
A total of 158 respondents provided further comment at Question 5, 82% of all respondents. This included 104 group respondents, and 54 individuals.
A substantial proportion of respondents gave a broadly positive view on the contribution that current STEM activity will make to the draft strategy - a little more than a third of those providing comment felt that there is a good fit between current activity and the strategy. This included a broad cross-section of respondent types, although comments suggest that colleges and universities, academic/ research institutes, STEM industry, and STEM industry professional/ representative bodies were most likely to take a positive view here.
Relatively few respondents expressed strongly negative views about extent to which existing action supports the draft strategy. However, respondents did raise a range of concerns around specific aspects of current activity and the extent to which this is making a positive contribution - this included some of those who took a broadly positive view on the fit with the draft strategy. For some respondents, these concerns were linked to suggestions that the annex included with the draft strategy highlights the range and volume of activity underway, and questions around why more significant progress has not been made.
- A lack of coherence and connectedness across the range of STEM education and training activity was the issue most commonly raised by respondents - and the strategy was highlighted as a means of providing this. Around 1 in 5 of those providing comment made reference to a lack of coherence across activity, including a broad cross-section of respondent types. Concerns here included reference to coordinating (and encouraging) cross-sector activity, in ensuring "fit" between education and training and employment sectors, and a need to maximise the impact of activity (and provide meaningful measures of that impact). This was highlighted by a number of respondents as particularly important in the context of the significant volume of STEM education activity currently underway, and concerns that current activity could be delivering greater benefits.
- The latter point was also linked to concerns that there is a lack of measurable outcomes and evidence on the effectiveness of initiatives and approaches, and a lack of awareness and sharing of good practice. This issue was specifically referenced by a number of respondents including education sector, STEM education and professional/representative bodies and third sector respondents.
- A lack of a strategic approach to improving STEM qualifications, skills and confidence for teachers was also raised as a concern by a number of respondents including science engagement, STEM industry and professional/ representative bodies and third sector respondents. This included reference to a need for strong STEM skills across all stages, but particularly for early years and primary teachers given the strategy's focus on these stages.
- Several respondents, across a range of respondent types, suggested that there is a lack of genuine recognition of and commitment to gender equity, with gender a fundamental element in the design of initiatives. This included reference to activity across education sectors (from early years upwards), in training delivered by STEM employers, and in STEM employees' experiences more widely.
- Funding and resourcing constraints were highlighted by several respondents. This included specific reference to the need for additional resourcing to support work to improve gender and deprivation balance, improving STEM skills and confidence in teachers, and ensuring access to STEM specialist teachers across secondary schools.
- A small number of respondents suggested a lack of clarity on the specific STEM skills required, including for example a need for a stronger focus on mathematics.
- A university respondent felt that there is insufficient inter-disciplinary working to raise STEM awareness across the curriculum.
- A university respondent suggested that a broader range of opportunities are required for experience of STEM and vocational pathways such as internships or Modern Apprenticeships.
- A science engagement respondent suggested that there are geographic disparities in access to STEM education and training activities, including schemes such as the STEM Ambassador programme.
- A STEM industry professional & representative bodies felt that there is a need to ensure that engagement with employers is not limited to larger employers and colleges, and includes for example small and medium enterprises.
In addition to the above concerns regarding the range of current STEM activity, some respondents queried the presentation of current activity in the strategy. This included suggestions from a small number of STEM education and professional/ representative bodies and science engagement respondents that the annex does not adequately represent the degree of variation in the activities listed, including for example highlighting where activity is part of a large programme of work, or a smaller project. Others felt that the strategy needs to capture on-going work more comprehensively, including reference to specific activities which respondents felt could be better highlighted by the strategy. An academic/research institute also suggested that it may be helpful to structure the Annex to link more clearly to the strategy aims and priority themes.
Respondents referred to a broad range of specific STEM education/training programmes and initiatives, including some providing significant detail on approaches taken and how these can contribute to the draft strategy. A number of common themes were evident across these examples, and we provide a brief summary of these below:
- The range of collaborative approaches and partnerships was the area most commonly referenced, primarily by colleges and universities and STEM industry respondents . Examples provided involved collaboration and support across disciplines and sectors, from the early years upwards, and with a particular focus on stronger employer engagement in STEM education and training. These respondents referred to a broad range of partnerships and initiatives including for example the STEM Ambassador programme, vocational pathways such as Modern Apprenticeships, and community learning and development partnerships.
- Several respondents, and particularly colleges and universities, highlighted current action around improving gender and deprivation balance as making a positive contribution to the strategy. This also reflected a clear view that the emphasis on equity is a positive aspect of the strategy. However, a college respondent expressed concerns that this activity is having a limited impact at present (this is considered further at Question 6).
- A small number of STEM industry professional/representative and other STEM education and professional/representative bodies referred to the contribution being made by ongoing work delivering STEM professional development and support to teachers and others involved in delivering STEM education and training.
- A small number of respondents highlighted work to assess STEM skills requirements at a local and regional level, and initiatives to improve digital skills. This included a suggestion from a college respondent that ongoing review will be required to ensure a fit between education and training activity, and changing skills requirements.
- A small number of respondents made specific reference to the contribution being made by innovation centres.
- A university respondent referred to approaches specifically focused on adult learning, and supporting "returners" to re-engage with STEM.
Views on changes required to current activity
Question 6 asked for views on aspects of current activity where change is required - whether approaches that required modification, or activity that should be ceased.
Q6. Tell us about activity currently ongoing that you think could be adapted or stopped and why.
A total of 130 respondents provided further comment at Question 6, around two thirds of all respondents. This included 88 group respondents, and 42 individuals.
The majority of those commenting highlighted specific areas where they felt that current approaches could be adapted, but some made a range of broader points around the range of ongoing activity. For example, a number of respondents referred to the significant volume and diversity of STEM education and training activity, including suggestions that a considered approach is required to coordinate activity to minimise duplication. This also included reference to variation in the distribution of good practice, and suggestions that there are significant differences across local authority areas in good practice examples.
Respondents also referred to factors which had restricted the impact of initiatives. These included examples where the breadth of adoption had been too limited to deliver the desired outcomes, where funding constraints had limited take-up and/or impact, and where flexibility in funding is required to ensure activities can be delivered to maximise impact.
In terms of more specific points made by respondents in relation to where changes of approach are required, the main points were:
- Better coordination and connectivity is required to improve impact, ensure fit with skills requirements, and minimise duplication. This was highlighted by a substantial number of those making comment, included some suggesting there is a need to focus activity on a smaller range of better resourced initiatives.
- More and better collaboration across education sectors and with the STEM industry was also suggested by a substantial number of respondents. This included a particular focus on better engagement between education activity and STEM industry (including a need to better coordinate this engagement to minimise duplication), supporting more "outreach" work across education sectors, and engagement between education sectors and third sector bodies.
- Respondents also felt that more work is required around recruitment, development and retention of teachers. This was highlighted in reference to all stages, but included particular concerns regarding STEM skills and confidence amongst primary teachers and provision of specialist teachers at secondary level. The specific challenge of attracting STEM graduates to education given the disparity in pay with the private sector was also mentioned.
- Several respondents suggested a need for more work to engage with the influencers of young people. This included suggestions that engagement with parents is a particular weakness, but wider engagement with other influencers and the community was also suggested. These respondents made specific reference to more work to enhance family understanding and appreciation of STEM, and initiatives to support STEM-focused community engagement.
- Improving information and advice to young people was highlighted by several respondents. This included a particular focus on providing the information and advice required to support decisions at key stages, for example in relation to subject choices and career pathways.
- A small number of respondents referred to the volume of initiatives and agencies working across STEM education and training, and suggested a need to streamline information for practitioners to assist them in navigating this complexity.
- Respondents referred to a range of specific bodies and programmes where they felt that expansion and additional funding or support could bring positive benefits, including improving access and addressing geographic variations in access. This included SSERC, STEM Ambassadors, Science Centres, Primary Engineer, Innovation Centres, Developing the Young Workforce, ScotCHEM, Developing the Young Workforce, and examples of whole-school and cluster approaches.
- Respondents also identified broader themes or initiatives where they felt that more funding is required. This included around addressing gender and other inequalities (such as recruitment of under-represented groups to Modern Apprenticeships, positive action programmes, improving geographic access across Scotland), addressing gaps in specialist teacher provision, expanding collaboration and "outreach" across education sectors, and support to small and medium enterprises to deliver STEM engagement and training.
- The need to develop a more in-depth and structured understanding of the effectiveness of current approaches was also highlighted, particularly to underpin resourcing decisions. This included reference to improving networks to identify and share good practice and learning.
- A small number of respondents wished to see more support for education and other experiences in different settings, including outdoor education.
- The development of mathematics and numeracy skills was also mentioned by a small number of respondents as a barrier to STEM engagement, and an area where additional work is required.
Email: Frank Creamer