The discover cyber skills programme was delivered by Skills Development Scotland between September 2017 and March 2021. The purpose of the programme was to build young people’s, parents’ and teachers’ understanding of good cyber practice and to inspire young people into cyber security careers.
Over the four years of the programme, SDS engaged with more than 130,000 pupils in schools from every local authority in Scotland. In addition, the programme provided upskilling to teachers through the development of a toolkit to support the delivery of cyber skills sessions to young people.
The figures show a 29 per cent decrease in the number of pupils who took computing sciences at higher level between 2016 and 2020, as well as a significant decline in the number of computing teachers over the past decade. What action is the Scottish Government taking to increase uptake in that area to ensure that a pipeline of talent is in place to meet serious challenges such as cybercrime, which has nearly doubled in the past year?
I concur with the member that the issue is important. We need to ensure that we have young people with adequate skills in that area, and part of the matter is having qualified teachers. The latest data show an increase in the number of computing teachers compared with 2019. We know that there is more work to do on that, which is why we are taking forward work from the Logan review to ensure that we move forward with that agenda.
The question is pertinent. Businesses in Dundee regularly tell me that, were sufficient skills available in the local labour pool, they could create hundreds of jobs, but the skills do not exist.
We commend the work of local universities such as Abertay University. Unfortunately, Abertay University cannot use computing as a compulsory subject, because so few state schools now offer higher computing classes. What concrete action can be taken immediately to address the deficit that has been identified and to ensure that people in the first year of their courses are not having to relearn a subject that they should have learned at school?
In my original, or perhaps supplementary, answer, I mentioned the work that has followed from the Logan review. A number of pieces of that work have to do with schools. I recently met with Mark Logan and senior officials to discuss those proposals and we are due to have further meetings in the next few weeks about how to take them forward.
Action in a number of areas is already being undertaken by Education Scotland and other agencies on the issue. However, I recognise that we need to do more, and that is exactly why I will continue engagement with Mark Logan and with others who are interested in that area.
Both Skills Development Scotland and the General Teaching Council for Scotland have previously noted the value of bringing computer experts into the classroom to upskill teachers and pupils on issues such as cybersecurity. Has the Scottish Government any plans to bring further industry experts into schools for other, broader tech-related subjects?
One valuable form of expertise comes from industry voices, who can work with schools to inspire young people and to support teachers. A number of partners are already working with schools to introduce industry skills. Skills Development Scotland is heavily involved in supporting that work and has established a framework that brings agencies together to help them tackle that challenge. It is an important area of work, and we are keen to do more on it to make sure that schools have close relationships with, and discussions with, industry and local and national businesses.