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Publication - Report

Supporting Scotland's STEM Education and Culture - Science and Engineering Education Advisory Group - second report

Published: 28 Feb 2012
Part of:

Recommendations for improving the profile of science in the community and enhancing science and engineering education.

133 page PDF


133 page PDF


Supporting Scotland's STEM Education and Culture - Science and Engineering Education Advisory Group - second report

133 page PDF




CfE offers a more flexible, less prescriptive and more creative approach to teaching and learning by restoring teacher autonomy and creativity, and providing teachers with the freedom to deploy their professional skills more effectively. It encourages teachers as subject specialists to teach beyond the confines of their specialist knowledge in order to point out the connections between the STEM disciplines and to highlight the real world relevance of STEM. This in turn generates an expectation that teachers will work with colleagues in other subjects, within and amongst schools. This cultural change within the profession requires the development of peer-led and collaborative support structures that will enable new knowledge understanding and skills to be acquired in a sustainable way. These support mechanisms should also support the development, delivery and implementation of high quality professional development. High quality STEM teachers within such support structures are the key multipliers of good practice.

SEEAG has gathered evidence of a widespread perception amongst key stakeholders of a complex landscape of support activities for STEM teachers and learners and of STEM engagement in general. The development of stronger teacher support structures is a key element in communicating a clearer view of the range of available support and the structures within which such support can be readily accessed and delivered.

With the development of a more autonomous system, there are opportunities for teachers to create or further develop their own support and co-ordination networks. Effective network-building across groups of schools may be extended by local or regional alliances involving schools, colleges, universities (including both their mainstream science departments and ITE faculties), professional bodies and local authorities. Many such support structures and arrangements already exist, and others have been proposed in recent reports, so that there is an opportunity to highlight and extend models of good practice and to propose new or modified support mechanisms. These typically fall into two broad types - hubs and networks. The former imply some form of centralised support or distribution such as a school or other science-focused centre, and the latter imply a more distributed arrangement for support, for example clusters involving secondary schools and their associated primary schools and other subject-based teacher learning communities. Here we outline and review different types of support structures, drawing on both research evidence and relevant recommendations in the Donaldson Report [ 12] .

Changing contexts

The adoption and implementation of CfE across all stages and subjects in Scotland takes place against a changing context and pattern of support for STEM teaching in Scottish schools. These changes include [ 45],[46] :

  • Loss of initial teacher education staff
  • Loss of local authority subject advisers and subject networks
  • Loss of subject Principal/Assistant Principal Teachers and move to faculty structures
  • Loss of specialist subject staff in Education Scotland and SQA
  • Donaldson Review of teacher education

In addition, the age structure of the STEM teaching cohort (half of STEM teachers are over 45 and a third over 50), their typically short career paths into teaching and the long subsequent teaching career can introduce an element of inertia into the profession. The scale of rapid and radical change associated with CfE implementation, the lack of vocational emphasis in the current qualifications, the need for greatly improved contextualisation of STEM teaching, the recruitment needs of STEM-related industries both at graduate and technical level all bring additional pressures and uncertainties into the profession and underline the particular need for putting in place robust and widely accessible support structures. Clear, co-ordinated, reliable and readily accessible external support structures will be essential for STEM teachers and schools to empower them to implement CfE, update their skills and subject knowledge, and extend their working to address wider contexts and interdisciplinary opportunities.

Here we examine several potentially competing models that are currently proposed, implemented or deployed, and examine models that might be best suited and/or adapted to support STEM teaching and learning in Scotland. These all involve partnership working with other teachers both in schools and between schools, and encompass external support, for example from universities, colleges, CPD providers and other organisations.

Local authorities ( LAs)

Most CPD has previously been provided by LAs, including central training and supporting school or community based professional development. CPD is now increasingly devolved from LAs to schools, who are encouraged to work in networks, clusters and teacher learning communities. The provision of centrally-delivered CPD is decreasing. In some authorities the central programme for newly qualified teachers is generic, and participants from all sectors and subjects often take part in the same CPD sessions. A significant number of newly-qualified teachers reported that the quality of some sessions was low, particularly when LA officers spent time explaining corporate policy [12] .

SEEAG commissioned a survey questionnaire sent to Directors of Education of all local authorities to gauge the current level of provision and support for school education in STEM subjects, and to inform progress with the Science and Engineering 21 Action Plan. Responses were received from 24 authorities. Responses are not always easy to interpret. The results of the SEEAG survey [65] give a picture of patchy and variable provision of support for STEM subjects by LAs, although this may in part reflect the variable interpretation of questions and nature of response to the survey. Subject development officer posts have largely disappeared, and in most authorities Quality Improvement Officers/Managers ( QIOs/ QIMs) have a remit that is far broader than the STEM subjects. On the positive side, recruitment to STEM teaching posts is not considered to be a significant problem, and there is evidence of increased work in STEM across the secondary-primary transition. Nonetheless, the survey confirms a decline in the level and quality of specific and high-level support for STEM, with a much higher level of responsibility and autonomy being assumed by schools. This marks a very substantial shift in the role of LAs in STEM support in schools. Nonetheless, it is also important to recognise that the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre ( SSERC), as the major provider of high quality STEM CPD in Scotland, is a local authority shared service. The central role of SSERC in supporting STEM education and technician training across Scotland is considered below.

LAs have often helped to co-ordinate centrally the delivery of CPD to teachers and schools by external providers. However, recent evidence shows that teachers and schools no longer always look to LAs in the first instance for this co-ordination and for information about available external provision, but they obtain this information from a wider range of sources; practice varies across LAs. This is consistent with the conclusion from the Directors of Education survey that ' 'There is no uniform approach to how local authorities and schools engage with external delivery partners, but decision making on involvement most often takes place at school level''. Schools may already have taken over much of the responsibility from LAs for establishing availability of external (usually subject-based) CPD through alternative routes, and CPD providers are modifying their marketing strategies accordingly. This situation reinforces the need to establish robust, reliable and widely-recognised central sources of information about external STEM CPD provision, to which LAs will continue to contribute.

The degree of additional autonomy implicitly adopted by schools is consistent not only with a shift in the level and nature of LA support, but also with the decentralisation of decision-making and empowerment of teachers and schools envisaged in the CfE. The merit of such autonomy is supported by research evidence published by McKinsey in 2010 showing that the best education systems in the world are those in which schools enjoy autonomy [66],[67] . A recent OECD report [68] argues for greater diversity and autonomy within the Scottish educational system. Improvement in educational standards and quality is more likely to come where those delivering change can take responsibility to determine the nature of that change.

The review of Devolved School Management ( DSM) [15] identifies a strong political consensus for the need to enhance devolution of responsibility, giving teachers and schools greater control over provision of learning in order to tailor the curriculum to the needs of learners. To achieve this, schools must acquire the capacity to make relevant decisions, and to exercise that capacity to implement CfE and make decisions about curriculum content, resources and teaching. The DSM Review [15] advocates a model of schools working in partnership through learning communities that include all schools serving the same catchment in order to ensure the most effective and efficient delivery of learning choices for pupils. Recognising that learning goes beyond the confines of the school, there are opportunities to share placements of pupils to support the breadth and depth of provision needed for the senior phase of CfE, for example at Advanced Higher level and for so-called 'low uptake' STEM subjects. This partnership approach is consonant with the model of professional learning communities encouraged below.

Hub schools

Within the context of reform of teacher education and professional development, the Donaldson Report [12] proposes the creation of a network of hub school partnerships across all local authorities. These hub schools would develop close working relationships between a university and schools locally or regionally to support and deliver the practical training of student teachers in placements. The university involvement should also encompass mainstream university departments other than education. Additionally, this working relationship would extend to ongoing professional and leadership development, drawing upon the professional support of local and national organisations. Their remit would extend to interacting with and supporting neighbouring schools and their teachers to enable the wider development of effective practice. Donaldson [12] recommends that " New and strengthened models of partnership among universities, local authorities, schools and individual teachers need to be developed. These partnerships should be based on jointly agreed principles and involve shared responsibility for key areas of teacher education''. While rooted in the reform of initial teacher education and continuing professional development, the report's proposal recognises the important relationship of hub schools to the wider concept of teacher or professional learning communities that would be essential to their success if implemented.

The Scottish Government's response to the hub schools proposal [69] notes unspecified concerns. The hub school proposal raises several questions. Would hub schools provide support for initial and professional teacher development across all subject areas or only in the more generic aspects of teacher training placements?; and if across all subjects, how would it develop the capacity and infrastructure to function in this way? For science and technology, the adequacy of facilities would be a major concern. Would the establishment of hub schools drain funds from other schools in a local authority area? Nonetheless, the place of hub schools at the interface between wider teacher learning communities and universities and their teacher education colleges has merit if these concerns are satisfactorily addressed. Their potential role as centres of subject excellence is considered below .

Specialist schools (centres of subject excellence)

A number of countries have recognized the need to focus on key areas of strength in schools in order to improve achievement, extend opportunities for young people and build capacity both within and across schools. The evidence [ 45],[46] is reviewed here.

Evidence in Scotland

In Scotland, there are secondary schools with nationally-funded specialist units with selective entry (centres of excellence) focusing on music, performing arts and sport, but none in science or engineering. In 2004, more than 50 (mostly secondary) schools were involved in the nationally-funded Schools of Ambition programme, which aimed to create " a radical step change in the approach to transforming educational outcomes in Scotland". Most programmes focused on broad aspects such as creativity, health and well-being, enterprise, information and communications technology and vocational education. Only one school declared a clear curricular focus (modern languages) with the intention that developments in this curriculum area would have a positive impact across the whole school. No school included science as a focus for development and improvement.

Evidence from other systems

In England, more than 350 science specialist schools (of a total of around 2200 specialist schools) have been formed from existing state schools for pupils aged 11-16 or 11-19. Their major aim is to encourage young people to study science and to increase the numbers of students choosing to pursue science both at A-level and at university. They work in close partnership with university science departments, science industries and major UK science bodies. The intention is that they become centres of excellence through developing innovative teaching and learning practices that draw young people of all levels into biology, chemistry and physics, acting as a resource for neighbouring schools. They are also encouraged to teach other science subjects such as astronomy, electronics, psychology and geology. They must collaborate with partner schools, usually associated primary schools and any special schools.

In the USA virtually all states have developed special programmes to promote science education at elementary, middle and high school level, with a diversity of structures and links to local business, industry and higher education. In Texas, very large high schools (~3000 students) are divided into smaller learning communities around a variety of career themes, supported by a high level of guidance and career advice at key stages to ensure that students are in the most appropriate learning community.

Establishing Centres of Excellence in Science in schools in Scotland?

There is a widely-recognised need to improve the status and performance of STEM education in Scottish schools. There are examples of good practice in Scotland and also many initiatives elsewhere where centres of excellence in STEM have been created from which Scotland can learn. However, it is always dangerous to simply transfer initiatives across geographical boundaries without recognising the context and culture in which another country's schools work. This is certainly true in Scotland where the comprehensive education system is widely supported and where selection of pupils across schools based on academic ability or prior attainment is not a widely accepted option.

Hub schools as centres of excellence in STEM

The hub schools model proposed by Donaldson [ 12] centres around their role in ITE. As such, they have merit. If they are to be implemented as such, they would also function in part as centres of excellence. While good STEM teaching should be available in all schools, key features of hub schools as centres of excellence in STEM teaching would be their place within wider professional learning communities, their links with universities (including both ITE faculties and mainstream STEM departments) and perhaps with local industries, and their capacity to make available an enhanced level of provision of science, particularly at qualifications level, that might not be available in practice in all schools. For example, they might provide the capacity to broaden the science subject base (see Part 4A and recommendation 4.2) by delivering so-called 'low uptake' sciences (e.g. Environmental science, earth science, engineering, biotechnology) and in so doing building expertise in interdisciplinary science learning within and across wider learning communities that would otherwise not be widely accessible, thus ensuring greater equality of access.

Recommendation 5.1
It is recommended that the Scottish Government considers the development of hub schools as proposed in the Donaldson Report [12] and that hub schools with a STEM specialism fulfil the additional role of centres of excellence in STEM, with strong links to professional learning communities, universities (including ITE faculties and STEM departments) and industry, and with the capacity to make available a broad provision in science subjects and interdisciplinary science teaching.

Professional Learning Communities ( PLCs)

"Great teaching is a team sport.''

Background and research evidence

A recurring theme in this report is the need for teachers, educators, colleges and universities, business and industry, CPD providers, professional and learned societies, local authorities and other organisations and stakeholders to work together in partnerships. This may occur in virtual groupings or through face-to-face collaborations. Some partnerships (clusters and networks) already exist, providing working models. The concept of educational partnerships has been formalised under the heading of Professional Learning Communities [70] .

A two-year study by the US National Science Foundation [71] has confirmed teacher effectiveness research showing that STEM teaching is more effective and student achievement increases when teachers join forces to develop strong professional learning communities ( PLCs) in their schools [70] . One of the major advantages of PLCs is the clear, consistent and coherent support provided to teachers from training through to practice. Teachers who work in strong learning communities are more satisfied with their careers and more likely to stay in teaching. Performance appraisal, compensation and incentive systems that focus on individual teacher performance at the expense of collaborative professional capacity building and teamwork undermine the capacity to prepare today's students for 21st-century success.

Six principles that make learning communities effective are [70] :

  • shared values and goals
  • collective responsibility
  • authentic assessment
  • self-directed reflection
  • stable settings
  • strong leadership support.

Participants in PLCs [70] :

  • engaged more openly in discussions about the mathematics and science they teach
  • understood mathematics and science better
  • felt more prepared to teach mathematics and science
  • used more research-based teaching methods
  • paid more attention to students' reasoning and understanding
  • used more diverse modes of engaging students in problem-solving.

McKinsey [66] found that teachers work together in PLCs to:

  • research, try and share best practice
  • analyse and constantly aim for high, internationally benchmarked standards
  • analyse student data and plan tailored instruction
  • map and articulate curriculum
  • observe and coach each other.

In STEM, PLCs may take many forms. The typical PLC is a group of teachers working in the same school. Other PLCs may function across districts (meeting after school, at weekend workshops or during vacations) or as virtual groups. STEM PLCs typically develop and are built around common visions and strategies or around specific STEM challenges.

Models of PLCs in a Scottish context

There are several models of PLCs already in operation in Scotland. Examples include:

1. The Institute of Physics ( IOP) Teacher Network (established in 2002) in which seven Local Physics Teacher Network Co-ordinators provide support to teachers and schools within a geographical area and collaborating beyond. The Network also maintains the SPUTNIK email group to which over two-thirds of all Scottish physics teachers belong and which allows the mutual support of the physics teaching profession and sharing of good practice. Scottish Government funding enhanced the establishment of the Network, which has since been maintained by the IOP.
Recognising the success of the Physics Teacher Network, The Royal Academy of Engineering, with the support of BG Group from the energy sector, set up a similar network across the UK in the autumn of 2011.

2. Aberdeen City Council and The Association for Science Education, with support from BP, are creating a support network for the teaching of science in a cluster of primary schools working towards the Primary Science Quality Mark in Scotland. This is building on the sort of support structures many local authorities already have in place, but adding additional co-operation with professional bodies, industry and the local science centre.

3. Dundee Science Centre, the University of Dundee, Dundee College and SSERC have set up the Dundee Science Centre Science Learning Institute with the aim of sharing resources for the mutual enhancement of provision for science learning students and professionals on Tayside. This initiative has harnessed the capacity and expertise of four sectors (science centre, education, FE and HE) and has established close relationships with LAs and individual schools in order to:

  • enable teachers to benefit from knowledge exchange with researchers
  • enable science access students in FE to engage in dialogue about science in society and science communication
  • enable HE science education specialists to engage a wider teacher audience
  • enable ITE students to access Dundee Science Centre resources to enhance BEd and PGDE courses enable researchers to carry out science communication training and practice
  • enable science undergraduates and Science Baccalaureate students to carry out science communication and science in society placements in the science centre
  • enable SSERC courses to be extended more sustainably to Tayside.

4. A number of Scottish Local Authorities have entered into a partnership with Tapestry which focuses on Professor Dylan Wiliam's model of Teacher Learning Communities ( TLC). This model allows schools to establish TLCs to support teachers in improving their pedagogy or assessment practices, providing an opportunity for clusters (typically a secondary school and its associated primary schools) to work in partnership. Each TLC would be facilitated by a trained Leader of Learning. The professional development programme will support and prepare staff well to deliver the school's own improvement plan.


PLCs offer a very effective way of developing and supporting interdisciplinary STEM teaching, learning and assessment, particularly in a climate of limited resources. They offer the flexibility to adapt to local institutions, local strengths and local needs, which will themselves evolve with time, and articulate well with the new CfE landscape of enhanced school and teacher autonomy. They may nucleate and grow around existing partnerships and should include hub schools [ 12] .They could proactively engage with CPD providers and organisations. PLCs provide key components of local and regional cross-sector collaborations or centres of excellence, interfacing groups of schools with local universities, colleges, science centres, science learning centres and industries. PLCs have the capacity to balance the provision of subject-based and/or skills-based external professional development with the strengths of peer-support to ensure the sustainability and wider delivery of professional development initiatives, ensuring the most effective use of scarce resources.

Recommendation 5.2
It is recommended that Education Scotland and local authorities ensure that support and resources are made available to stimulate the development and growth of Professional Learning Communities in STEM learning and teaching, with strong links to universities and/or colleges where possible.

Recommendation 5.3
It is recommended that the Scottish Government ensures that support and resources are made available to professional societies, colleges, universities, science centres and other stakeholders to support and extend Professional Learning Community networks.

Recommendation 5.4
It is recommended that LAs establish and maintain a record of professional (teacher) learning communities in their authorities, and Education Scotland develops and maintains a profile of learning communities across Scotland, as a basis for stimulating their wider establishment and development, and to document examples of good practice.

A truly ambitious education system should also explore other innovative and imaginative new ideas within the framework of PLCs and comprehensive education system to develop and extend the most talented and best-performing young people in STEM (and across all subject areas) by raising expectations and opportunities. They represent Scotland's innovators and leaders of tomorrow. Initiatives based on researched evidence of successful models might take the form of summer schools, school master-classes, and creative local 'partnerships of excellence' amongst schools across the education spectrum. Such partnerships embedded within professional learning communities might attract the intellectual and financial support of universities, colleges, business and industry.

Support from industry

Scottish Science Advisory Council ( SSAC) work

The Scottish Science Advisory Council ( SSAC) organised a series of meeting and workshops in 2010 and 2011, and met with a range of organisations and individuals to identify key issues, gather evidence, make recommendations and take actions to enhance the links between schools, colleges, universities and industry in supporting STEM education within the CfE. Some of their arguments, conclusions and recommendations [17] have been incorporated in this report and are in excellent agreement with the work and recommendations of the SEEAG.

The SSAC report [17] identified four key themes that present opportunities for better engagement with partners in industry, colleges and universities to support teaching outcomes in STEM and beyond into science and engineering careers. These are:

  • co-ordination of STEM activities
  • importance of science-specific CPD for science teachers
  • support for curriculum development and support for teachers in implementing the new curriculum
  • career advice for pupils.

The SSAC report [17] focuses on the roles of industry in supporting STEM in schools in a variety of ways. There is an evident appetite from industry to work with schools to promote and encourage the uptake of STEM subjects amongst pupils, reflecting the vital importance of STEM skills to industry and the concerns across the major industrial sectors in Scotland and more widely about where their skilled employees will come from over the next decades. A recent report by the Science Council [72] estimates that about 5.8 million people (20% of the UK workforce) are employed in science-based roles, a figure predicted to rise to 7.1 million by 2030, further increasing the demand for skilled STEM graduates and technicians. Declining school rolls present a further challenge.

Forms of engagement by industry with STEM education

Engagement with and by industry works in several ways and can take different forms. Visits by pupils to industry and vice-versa provide important and immediate understanding about STEM careers and the workplace, making apparent the relevance and links to young people's formal STEM education. This work contributes strongly to the range, richness and breadth of activity supporting STEM in schools. Engagement also occurs through the STEM Ambassadors programmes and Skills Development Scotland ( SDS) has paid careers advisors in every school.

Some types of engagement by industry with schools may have longer-term benefits for pupils than others. A large amount (probably the majority) of the resources and materials prepared and distributed by industry to schools in previous decades remained unused as they were incompatible with the curriculum, articulated poorly with the timetable and were largely aimed at promoting rather specific niches of STEM that related to the interests of a particular industry. The support and resources of industry should be more broadly aimed at attracting more young learners into STEM at school and thence into career pathways across industry sectors and raising awareness of STEM in the workplace. More recently, industries have worked much more effectively in partnerships with professional educators, CPD providers and schools in a range of ways to ensure that a wide range of learners are attracted into STEM.

Recommendation 5.5
In order to ensure that industry input into the curriculum and CPD is aligned with students and teachers needs and CfE in future it is recommended that Education Scotland ensure that all industry engagement is developed and delivered in partnership with appropriate pedagogical partners (see also recommendation 6.6).

There are many examples of such working. This partnership approach articulates well with the concept of professional learning communities.


An important role of industry in STEM education is to educate pupils and their parents about the diverse range of career opportunities that are available through STEM and to emphasise the number of different routes into STEM-based careers beyond the traditional academic route. The recent Scottish Government report [14] on the reform of post-16 education in Scotland highlights its support for developing a wider range of progression and articulation opportunities, including higher level technical and graduate opportunities. SSAC considers that there should be a greater role for industry in educating teachers, particularly career advisers and guidance teachers and parents/carers, about the wealth and diversity of STEM-related careers. Pathways from school to colleges, universities and the workplace are considered in Part 7.

A Scottish Science Learning Centre?

Scottish Schools Education Research Centre ( SSERC)

SSERC is a Local Authority shared service providing a comprehensive CPD programme, supported by the Scottish Government, in practical hands-on science. In providing this CPD, they collaborate with a wide range of organisations including SQA, Education Scotland, the National Science Learning Centre ( NSLC) in York, the Institute of Physics ( IOP), the Royal Society of Chemistry ( RSC), the Association of Science Education ( ASE), the Scottish Earth Science Education Forum ( SESEF), the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, the Science Centres, the Scottish universities and many other providers. SSERC's support is holistic, encompassing professional development in a variety of formats (in-house, outreach, twilight and residential), and extending to an advisory service which also provides guidance on health and safety appropriate to school science, an invaluable resource for local authorities. It offers professional development to classroom teachers, student teachers, technicians and curriculum leaders in science with a view to supporting the best possible environment for learning in schools.

CPD delivered by SSERC with support from the Scottish Government has recently been evaluated by The University of Glasgow [40] . The evaluation reports extremely positive feedback from teachers, technicians and PGDE students on their training, resources, confidence and enthusiasm, with positive impact on teaching practice and enhanced pupil engagement and performance.

On an annual basis, some 1700 teachers and technicians experience face-to-face professional development provided through SSERC. The subject matter covered ranges from health and safety through specialist science and/or technology areas. SSERC's audiences are chiefly secondary science and technology teachers, technicians and primary teachers and the professional development may be tailored for a single or mixed group. SSERC provides bespoke courses for LA partners in their own area. In addition to using its own training facilities, SSERC also delivers courses in Science Centres and other venues across Scotland.

On an annual basis, some two-thirds of Scottish secondary schools have representation at face-to-face SSERC-led courses; over the two-year period from 2009-2011, SSERC had face-to-face contact with delegates (teachers and technicians) from over 90% of Scottish secondary schools. In addition, more than 95% of each cohort of student secondary teachers has attended the Scottish Universities Science School which SSERC runs each year in collaboration with the seven Scottish universities that offer initial teacher education. In total, SSERC's contribution to supporting STEM teacher and technician engagement through residential courses, workshops, summer schools and conferences is immense, amounting in 2010-11 to some 3000 training days. This figure compares strongly with wider UK figures.

SSERC has a strong funded partnership with the National Science Learning Centre ( NSLC) in York, achieving a percentage of engagement in Scotland which compares favourably with most other regions of the UK. SSERC/ NSLC courses are funded by the ENTHUSE and Research Councils UK awards schemes. In most respects, SSERC already acts as a national STEM learning centre for Scotland, with the potential and scope to develop further and play an enhanced role in supporting the additional and ongoing demands that are arising during the implementation of CfE, supporting primary science, interdisciplinary science and the increased demands of teachers that will arise during introduction of the new qualifications.

In November 2011, the Scottish Government, NSLC and SSERC held discussions around the need for a continuing, extensive long-term programme of professional development in science and technology for primary teachers. Instigated by these initial discussions, SSERC and NSLC have drawn up initial plans. With some resource provided via NSLC and collaborating with Local Authorities, SSERC will in 2012/13 design and pilot a programme of structured professional development that focuses on working with teachers in school clusters. The aim of the programme is to raise the level of confidence in the teaching of science of all the primary teachers in the clusters. In carrying out this pilot, SSERC will build on the successes of its programme of professional development in science and technology for primary teachers, which has run since 2007.

Recommendation 5.6
Building on the proven success and large scale of SSERC's work, delivered with support from Local Authorities and the Scottish Government, it is recommended to the Scottish Government that SSERC, working with partner organisations and linked to the NSLC in York, becomes Scotland's national science learning centre, with enhanced provision to deliver a wider range of support for STEM teaching and learning.

National Science Learning Centre ( NSLC)

The National Science Learning Centre in York was established with funding from the Government and Wellcome Trust. Project Enthuse, launched in 2008 with funding (£30m for four years from 2009) from the Wellcome Trust (£10m), UK Government (£10m) and nine industry partners (£10m), provides generous bursaries to science teachers and school technicians to attend residential professional development courses at the NSLC. By late 2009, almost 1400 teachers had benefited from the scheme, which provides bursaries of £1800 to meet the cost of fees, travel and accommodation for individual teachers plus the cost of teacher cover. Over 90% of participating teachers reported significant positive impacts on themselves, their schools and their teachers, with two thirds reporting development of new skills in teaching methods.

Cross-cutting issues: educational leadership

The Donaldson Report [12] recognises that leadership is central to educational quality. The most effective educational systems are characterised by the development of future leaders in a progressive manner. A report by McKinsey & Co [73] reported that "Apart from classroom teaching, nothing influences improvements in school standards more than the quality of head teachers. Wherever they are in the world, good headteachers share many common attributes and approach the role in similar ways. They spend more time coaching and developing their teaching staff, and interacting with students and pupils. They help each other and establish networks and clusters, which they then use for learning and development, and providing support for weaker schools." Thus, Donaldson [12] recommends that "a greater range of CPD opportunities should be provided for experienced headteachers…" and that " A scheme for national leaders should be developed to enable experienced, high-performing headteachers to contribute to system-level leadership of education in Scotland".

However, for there to be effective learning and teaching, appropriate distributed leadership must be developed and demonstrated at all levels from the classroom teacher through school management to local and national Government, educational support agencies and professional associations . Accordingly, Woods et al [74] found that "experienced headteachers value professional development focused on building leadership capacity at all levels.'' Effective leadership relies on the participants taking ownership of issues within their sphere of influence. Top-down approaches are less likely to work well [75] .

Some make a clear distinction between leadership and management, but Bush and Coleman [76] make the case that for school improvement effective leadership and management are both required. Similarly Boleman and Deal [77] state: "Organisations which are over-managed but under-led eventually lose any sense of spirit and purpose. Poorly managed organisations with strong charismatic leaders may soar temporarily only to crash shortly thereafter."

Research has shown that effective leaders can make a difference in school and student performance if they are granted autonomy to make important decisions. However, autonomy alone does not automatically lead to improvements unless it is well supported and demonstrates a level of accountability. School leaders need time, capacity and support to focus on the practices most likely to improve learning. Policy makers and practitioners need to ensure that the roles and responsibilities associated with improved learning outcomes and pupil experiences are at the core of school leadership practice [75] .

Too often those delivering education to learners lack appropriate support. This support takes many forms including: financial; suitable resources; time; quality CPD and even just the encouragement and enthusiasm from those in leadership positions to make the most of opportunities. Often teachers are restricted in their opportunities to promote STEM education due to perceived factors such as the need to be seen to be equitable in the promotion of different curricular areas, health and safety issues, or concerns about how they might be judged in school inspections or other quality assurance procedures. However, mostly these are pseudo-restrictions. At times teachers and others involved in promoting STEM education feel that those in leadership positions far from facilitating and supporting rather thwart or confound their ability to deliver quality STEM education.

In secondary schools the leadership of STEM subjects has been the remit of suitably qualified and experienced specialist principal teachers. Historically, these teachers acted as champions for their subjects. In 2001 HMIE [54] reported: "Most principal teachers of the sciences were good teachers and fulfilled their remits effectively. They were typically experienced, conscientious and well organised individuals. They devoted considerable energy and expertise to the management of a wide range of resources and to the smooth running and development of courses. They communicated effectively and promoted teamwork, especially within their discrete subject departments." Effective principal teachers:

  • had a clear vision for their subject and its benefit for pupils
  • were outward-looking, professionally up-to-date with good subject knowledge, including awareness of national and local developments in their specialist areas and in science teaching as a whole
  • promoted teamwork, including strong working relationships with staff and pupils and had high expectations of them
  • involved teachers and ancillary staff fully in development tasks in order to promote ownership of provision and develop professional expertise
  • provided guidance and support for staff to ensure a consistently high quality of pupil experience across the department as a whole
  • employed a systematic and rigorous approach to departmental self-evaluation and monitoring in which strengths and areas for improvement of the department were acknowledged and where necessary improvements were planned
  • successfully introduced initiatives which improved learning and teaching, motivated pupils and raised their attainment through time.

In recent years the flattening of management structures in many secondary schools has decreased the leadership in specialist subject areas. It is now less likely that schools will have experienced staff in promoted posts in all STEM areas who are able to provide subject support for newly-qualified and student teachers, subject specific health and safety advice and sound knowledge of practical work and assessment procedures. Earley [78] states that middle managers have long been recognised as crucial to an organisation's success and based on National Foundation for Educational Research ( NFER) research states they are the key to improving the quality of learning and teaching. Those organisations that define strategy predominantly in terms of senior management responsibilities are unlikely to make the best use of the resources at their disposal. With flattening management structures it is essential that leadership is delegated and distributed appropriately. Donaldson [12] recommends that "a clear and progressive educational leadership pathway should be developed, which embodies the responsibility of all leaders to build the professional capacity of staff and ensure a positive impact on young people's learning."

In primary schools it is rare for teachers to have a STEM subject background and even if they do they are not always able to act as subject champions. In 2010 the Royal Society [25] reported: "Historically, recognition of the value of science or mathematics 'coordinators' or 'leaders' has fluctuated over time in accordance with transient funding initiatives, and the people fulfilling these roles have often not had strong educational backgrounds in these subjects. A rigorous approach to improving the quality of science and mathematics teaching and learning is needed across primary and early secondary education."

Jackson [45],[46] has identified that over the last two decades or so the structures providing support and leadership for school STEM subjects have been significantly reduced in capacity. This has included:

  • a reduction in the number of teacher education institute staff
  • a reduction in the number local authority subject advisers
  • a reduction in the number of local authority subject networks
  • a reduction in the number of subject staff in Education Scotland and SQA
  • the move from subject Principal Teachers/Assistant Principal Teachers to flatter faculty structures.

The implementation of Curriculum for Excellence and of the recommendations of the Donaldson Report should provide catalysts for the emergence and development of educational leadership.

We note also the McCormac Review's recommendations [ 16] in respect of Career Structures (Section 5) and support their implementation.

Recommendation 5.7
It is recommended that local authorities and headteachers ensure a supportive framework is in place to allow senior and middle managers and leaders to support and facilitate all those delivering STEM education to our young people. The leadership provided previously by those in the roles such as LA subject advisers and subject principal teachers is still required. LAs and head teachers should ensure that sufficient staff with the range of expertise required across the whole STEM spectrum be employed to provide leadership for STEM education in schools.