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Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Early Years Education

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

As we have heard, the Education and Skills Committee took extensive evidence and recognised the growing seriousness with which schools across Scotland take STEM in the early years. Scotland can flourish as a science nation only if science is embedded in education from the earliest stage, and there is much across Scotland’s education system that seeks to do just that. It is only right that we take an opportunity to celebrate that.

I have been delighted to see some of the positive steps that have been undertaken in recent years. We have made STEM education a clear priority in Scotland through emphasising the importance of numeracy and mathematics education, lessons in the natural sciences, and coding and technological understanding for students in the early years, which other members have alluded to. We are doing that by putting millions of pounds towards boosting STEM education and encouraging people to pursue STEM careers. We are putting those funds towards promoting the programmes of our partner organisations and supporting STEM educator training, and we are seeing some results, with year-to-year percentage increases in important metrics, such as Scottish STEM educator training entrants and female scientific apprenticeship participation.

One reason for the report—it was certainly not the only reason—relates to the wide understanding among teachers of the need to overcome continuing barriers to young women taking up careers in STEM. As Clare Adamson mentioned, we still have to tackle lingering perceptions that are gained at a very early age about whether science is for girls. Research has identified that children as young as six report gendered differences in relation to levels of interest, confidence and self-efficacy regarding STEM learning.

With that in mind, the report recommends that the improving gender balance and equalities programme monitor

“the capacity to provide support that can reach schools and early learning settings”.

It also recommends that the Scottish Government develop

“a means of measuring tangible progress in schools and early years settings in relation to gender balance” in its STEM initiatives.

The need to ensure that teachers have confidence about teaching STEM subjects in the early years is closely related to all those aims. Although 63 per cent of teachers said that they were confident in teaching STEM subjects overall, their confidence levels became more complicated when the component subjects of STEM were separated out. Rona Mackay alluded to that. At the Scottish learning festival workshop, teachers and early years practitioners were asked about which element of STEM they felt most confident in. Forty-five per cent said science; 2 per cent said technology; 3 per cent said engineering; and 50 per cent said maths.

Education Scotland’s £1.4 million STEM professional learning grants are clearly a step that is intended to address some of those issues. Education Scotland has said that the technology side clearly

“needs more support, especially engineering, but .. we also still have work to do in terms of mathematics and numeracy. That is why the second round of the grants programme, which we launched last week, continues to have an extremely strong focus on mathematics and numeracy.”—[

Official Report, Education and Skills Committee

, 5 June 2019; c 8.]

I suspect that the committee and the Government have a shared understanding of the need to address all those matters through emphasising those subject areas in future enhancing professional learning grants and in initial teacher education. The Government has already responded to the committee’s recommendations, and I welcome the positive tone of that response.

To conclude, the report is a constructive one that has, likewise, received a constructive response from the Government.