The bases work with colleges—I do not really see the relevance of the question to the early years. We do not have early years army cadets just yet. However, I know that the army cadets work closely with the colleges, and, with all the interest in the outdoors and engineering, it is a natural fit.
Members know that I have been visiting colleges the length and breadth of Scotland, where I have seen some wonderful practice. At New College Lanarkshire, I was delighted to join pre-schoolers who were concucting a rainbow density experiment and undertaking lots more practical science, led by the students at the college.
Since the publication of the committee’s report, we have launched an online professional learning module on developing skills, knowledge and confidence in delivering early learning and STEM. It is the first module to be launched as part of our new programme of continuous professional learning for the sector. The module is designed to inspire confidence in delivering learning in early years STEM skills and to support the sector to share good practice across Scotland. I launched the module on 30 January, on a visit to Kingsmeadow nursery in Peebles, which is an ELC setting that is showcased in the module. I saw the most fantastic STEM activities in action, with children actively learning outdoors with curiosity and joy about science and STEM in nature.
The Education and Skills Committee’s recommendations on STEM in the early years highlighted the importance of ensuring that training in STEM is accessible to those in private and third sector ELC settings. Our expanded ELC offer is provider neutral, and, regardless of where children access their offer—whether it is with a local authority, with a private or voluntary provider or with a childminder—they can be assured that they are accessing high-quality ELC that supports their learning and development.
By ensuring that the new module is free and that it can be accessed remotely and flexibly, we have helped to address barriers to accessing training for all staff, right across the sector. At the last count, on Monday morning, the module already had 288 participants. We can see that they are progressing well through the course, and 27 learners have already worked their way through the whole module. The feedback from those who have completed it has been very positive.
As well as inspiring play-based approaches to developing children’s early learning in STEM, the module will help to ensure that learning is delivered in a gender-neutral way. Children begin to learn about gender roles and expectations from the very early years and quickly pick up messages about what is perceived as normal for girls and boys. They are influenced by their environment, by the adults around them and by gender stereotypes that can place powerful restrictions on what they believe they can achieve in their futures as adults.
Our national induction resource for the ELC sector also addresses gender-neutral practice. It contains some reflective questions, including one on gender-neutral practice, to prompt staff to think about their values in relation to gender and how those might influence the way in which they interact with boys and girls and how they can promote gender equality in their practice.
We recognise the need to diversify the ELC workforce to improve the gender balance. Children pick up cues about gender roles from observing patterns in the world of work around them, so it is important that they see more gender balance in the ELC profession. To that end, we have created a £50,000 fund to explore innovative methods of recruiting and retaining males in ELC-related training programmes. We are seeing some progress; this is apprenticeship week, and 7 per cent of people who undertook ELC modern apprenticeships in 2018-19 were male, compared with 4 per cent in the workforce.
I am about to finish, but I must mention our fantastic new practice resource, “Realising the Ambition: Being Me”. As well as supporting all aspects of day-to-day ELC practice, it sets out how we can support children’s development of STEM skills, including digital and learning for sustainability. It is a fantastic resource. The early years are crucial in setting strong foundations and harnessing children’s natural curiosity. I see those strong foundations all around me when I visit ELC settings, and I am confident about the future of excellent play-based learning in STEM through high-quality ELC.