The draft strategy includes proposals for a Scottish STEM ambassador network, building on the current STEM ambassador programme to provide all schools with the opportunity to develop partnerships with public, private or third sectors to improve STEM teaching and learning and STEM engagement. This will include promotion of peer-to-peer mentoring and support. The draft also noted that, in addition to current STEM ambassadors, the proposals would also draw on other relevant programmes including the Modern Apprenticeships Ambassador programme and local peer-to-peer mentoring initiatives.
Question 17 sought views on the proposal for a Scottish STEM ambassador network, and on how this proposal should be take forward.
Q17. Tell us what you think of our proposals for a Scottish STEM ambassador network. How should we now take that forward?
A total of 148 respondents provided further comment at Question 17, 77% of all respondents. This included 104 group respondents, and 44 individuals.
Around a third of those making comment expressed broad support for the proposals, including reference to positive experience of existing STEM ambassadors programmes, recognition of the value provided by ambassadors, and support for extending opportunities to engage with ambassadors. However, the majority of those providing further comment at Question 17 raised concerns or points for clarification, or suggestions for taking the proposals forward.
Respondents raised a number of concerns or points requiring clarification for proposals. This included around a third of those providing written comment who raised questions around how proposals relate to the multiple existing STEM ambassador programmes, and the volume of STEM initiatives more widely. The key concerns for these respondents appeared to be a lack of clarity around what an additional Scottish network will add, concerns regarding duplication of effort, and the potential to add complexity and confusion to STEM engagement. This included some suggestions that the range of existing ambassador programmes already cause some confusion for schools. Several respondents also referred to potential for confusion and/or resistance from STEM industries if proposals are seen as additional requests for support - particularly for UK-wide companies who may be required to work with multiple programmes. It was clear that, for some respondents, these concerns undermined support for the principle of a more comprehensive STEM ambassador programme.
Related to these concerns, a substantial number of respondents suggested that the objectives for the proposed new network could be pursued through existing programmes. This included recommendations that additional resources are provided to expand provision to fill geographic gaps, and to improve the range of ambassadors.
Respondents raised a number of other concerns or issues for proposals. Resourcing an expansion of STEM ambassadors across Scotland appeared to be the most significant of these. Several respondents referred to the logistical challenges of assigning ambassadors to every school across the country, in terms of resourcing but also maintaining the quality of ambassadors and a consistency of approach. Respondents also suggested that organisational support to establish and maintain partnerships has been vital to the success of existing STEM ambassador programmes, and that resourcing restrictions have been the key factor in any limitations in the effectiveness of existing programmes.
A small number of respondents suggested that STEM industry ambassadors give a very specific view of potential career pathways, and cautioned that ambassadors should not be the only way in which children and young people are given insight into STEM fields.
In addition to the above noted concerns, respondents also referred to a range of considerations that should inform the approach to the Scottish STEM ambassadors network. The key considerations raised by respondents were:
- The importance of learning from and linking with existing ambassador programmes, and other engagement work. A range of respondents referred to the knowledge and experience of specific organisations and groups as a resource to inform the development of the network. This included suggestions that current STEM ambassador hubs in Scotland are involved in development of any new network. Respondents also referred to the importance of how the new network is presented in relation to existing programmes to minimise confusion around how the programmes relate to one another.
- Coordination of the network was also highlighted in the context of ensuring it adds value to existing programmes, and to avoid duplication and confusion. This included some concerns that a peer-to-peer approach can lead to gaps in provision, for example where ambassadors move on. Several respondents recommended that a central coordinator role is included in the design of the network. In addition to concerns around coordination, the importance of flexibility was also noted. A university respondent suggested that the network must recognise the different challenges and needs across the country, and enable the approach to be tailored at a local or regional level. Related to the need for flexibility, several respondents referred to the particular challenges of establishing a network in rural areas - for example in terms of travel time and costs. This included previous experience of STEM ambassadors in rural areas, suggesting that most ambassadors were only able to engage with a limited pool of schools.
- A STEM industry respondent suggested a need to raise the profile of the ambassador programme to maximise take-up and reach. This included a suggestion for creation of a "Chief STEM Adviser" to raise the profile and status of ambassadors.
- A small number of respondents referred to evidence suggesting a link between involvement in the STEM ambassadors programme, and subsequent entry to STEM education. These respondents suggested that consideration is given to the role of the ambassadors programme in promoting teacher recruitment.
Respondents made a broad range of specific points on the detailed approach to a Scottish STEM ambassadors network. These are summarised below:
- A small number of respondents recommended that potential STEM ambassadors (including education and private sector candidates) and potential users of the network, should have a role in determining the overall approach. This included for example in relation to the role of ambassadors, and how the network is organised to ensure the approach is sustainable.
- A number of respondents highlighted the importance of STEM ambassadors being relatable to children and young people, including some who saw a "gulf" between the expertise of some ambassadors and pupils' perspective. This also included suggestions that the "level" of ambassadors should be tailored to the audience, and the importance of identifying more female ambassadors. Another STEM education and professional/representative body also suggested that a "youth ambassador" element is introduced to the programme, enabling upper secondary pupils to assist in early years and primary transition.
- Ambassadors being provided with appropriate training and support was also seen as significant for the success of the network. This was particularly in relation to developing skills in engagement and learning techniques. Respondents also noted the need for ambassadors activity to be better aligned with the wider curriculum. This included reference to providing ambassadors with a clearer understanding of the curriculum. Respondents made reference to ongoing work to improve this that could feed into the new network, including for example a new STEM ambassadors contract in Scotland making a stronger connection between training and SSERC.
- The importance of identifying ambassadors across a range of sectors was raised by a substantial number of respondents. This included a particular focus on more direct engagement with STEM industries to identify ambassadors. Respondents again noted the need for resourcing to enable this broader reach - several respondents suggested that there may be sufficient interest to expand the range of individuals acting as ambassadors, but that a lack of support has been a barrier. Supporting small and medium enterprises to engage was seen as a particular issue requiring additional resources. Specific approaches suggested to expand the diversity of ambassadors included ensuring engagement through the ambassadors network is recognised as an element for staff CPD in STEM industries, and investigating potential to access discounted travel for ambassadors. A small number of respondents also suggested a potential role for the Chief Scientific Adviser and/or innovation centres in promoting dialogue and encouraging engagement across sectors.
- Respondents identified a range of specific sectors and groups as requiring stronger engagement with the STEM ambassadors programme. This included a need for better representation of the STEM industry across the pool of ambassadors (and the importance of demonstrating the value of the programme to STEM industry); small and medium enterprises; increasing the number of female ambassadors and others from less well represented groups, although a small number of respondents noted the need to ensure this does not negatively impact their studies or career; ambassadors who have taken "less conventional" pathways into STEM, for example later life learners, former apprentices, and business entrepreneurs; and third sector organisations.
- A number of respondents referred to a need for more support to industry and schools in rural areas, to enable them to engage with ambassadors. Respondents also suggested a need to tailor the approach in these areas, for example identifying STEM ambassadors from those involved in STEM within the local area such as industry and further and higher education students.
- Several respondents noted the potential for digital technology to supplement the network. This included proposals for an online hub providing information and advice to support development of collaboration arrangements, coordinate ambassadors' activity, and to share practice. Respondents also noted the potential for digital communication to extend the impact of the network for more dispersed rural areas, although several respondents noted the limitations of this approach, including for example connectivity within schools.
- A local authority respondent suggested that there is a need for the network to enable more meaningful, long-term partnerships with ambassadors, for example rather than "dropping in" to deliver standalone engagement sessions.
- Several respondents highlighted the value of coaching and mentoring approaches as part of the ambassadors approach. This included reference to a range of organisations involved in mentoring work.
Email: Frank Creamer