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Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Courses (Consultation with Employers)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 20th November 2019.

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Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

2. To ask the Scottish Government what consultation it undertakes with major employers to ensure that science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses are relevant and appropriate to the needs of commerce and industry. (S5O-03782)

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Employers can engage with and input into the curriculum in schools through the school-employer partnerships that are supported by the developing the young workforce regional groups. As part of our STEM education and training strategy, materials on STEM skills needs and careers are being developed for use by teachers.

Employers are actively engaged in consultation on and the development of Scottish Qualifications Authority qualifications and awards through their representation on qualifications development teams. For example, practising data scientists were involved in the new national progression awards in data science.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Particular concerns have been expressed to me about shortcomings in numeracy. Are those concerns also being heard by the Government? In any event, what plans does the Government have to improve school leavers’ skills in that particular area?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Numeracy is at the heart of the curriculum in Scotland, and 95.8 per cent of school leavers attained numeracy at SCQF level 3 or better under the Scottish credit and qualifications framework in 2017-18. Through our STEM education and training strategy, we are equipping young people with STEM skills that they will need in life. The £1.3 million STEM grants programme is increasing STEM support for practitioners, including for mathematics.

With regard to Stewart Stevenson’s local area, under the northern alliance regional improvement collaborative, local lead officers have met employers to hear their concerns and are working collaboratively with Education Scotland and numeracy experts to support practitioners and improve pupil attainment.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

The Scottish Government had an opportunity to take a new approach with foundation apprenticeships by introducing a new generation to the sort of practical, accessible STEM learning that will be vital for the future. However, since their introduction, STEM foundation apprenticeships have fallen into the trap of huge gender divides. In the third cohort, 86.9 per cent of those taking engineering are male; for software development, the rate is 86.7 per cent, and for civil engineering it is 84 per cent.

Why has that happened with an entirely new qualification that is aimed at young people? What action is being taken to address the gender divide in STEM?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I welcome the member’s positive words about foundation apprenticeships, which are playing an increasingly important role. The gender balance, in that particular STEM route or in other STEM routes, is a significant issue and we are taking a number of steps to tackle the gender divide. The recently published report on the first year of the five-year STEM strategy—we have debated some of the issues in the chamber—contains a number of measures to tackle the gender divide and attract more females into STEM qualifications, career paths and, hopefully, careers thereafter.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

Relevant and appropriate courses are no good if we do not have teachers to teach them. We know that we have a particular problem in recruiting computer science teachers. What is the Scottish Government doing, in working with the information technology industry, to address that problem?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The member highlights an important point. As he is aware, STEM bursaries are available for career changers, and they have so far been very successful in attracting teachers who were previously in careers elsewhere into the STEM subjects. I have met a number of teachers who have successfully applied for those bursaries, which have made a big difference to their decision to follow a STEM career in teaching.

We will continue to reflect on what other measures can be taken. Those measures that we are taking are making a difference, but we accept that there is still some way to go.