Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Teachers (Recruitment)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 16th March 2023.

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Photo of Michael Marra Michael Marra Labour

3. To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made in STEM teacher recruitment. (S6O-02022)

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

STEM teacher numbers are at their highest level since 2011. There are now 378 more STEM teachers than there were before the start of the pandemic in 2019. I am committed to recruiting more teachers and I recently set out measures to Parliament making it clear that we will provide £145.5 million in next year’s budget to protect increased teacher numbers and support staff.

Local authorities are responsible for the recruitment and deployment of their staff, and we will continue to do everything that we can to help them to maximise the number of jobs that are available for STEM teachers, including permanent posts.

Photo of Michael Marra Michael Marra Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer. Our economy and our young people must have increased qualifications in vital science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, yet the number of candidates is falling dramatically and the targets for teacher recruitment continue to be missed. Almost half of the available STEM bursaries for new teachers went unfilled this year, and the body that runs the scheme has not been told by ministers whether those bursaries will continue. How on earth is it to recruit for the next academic year without a decision from ministers? Will the cabinet secretary confirm today whether the scheme will go ahead? When will we have an effective national strategy that meets the scale of the challenge?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I pointed in my original answer to the improvements that we have seen, but I recognise that we need to do more, which is exactly why a number of working groups within the Scottish Government are looking, with stakeholders, at recruitment and retention—in particular, in the STEM teaching area.

I am happy to confirm to Mr Marra today that the STEM bursaries will, of course, continue. They have been an important part of our policy to date and will continue in the next financial year.

Photo of Audrey Nicoll Audrey Nicoll Scottish National Party

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the Aberdeen computing collaborative, which brings together Aberdeen City Council, the University of Aberdeen, Robert Gordon University and North East Scotland College. It aims to raise the profile of computing science and to make Aberdeen the destination of choice for computing science graduates who are entering teaching.

How is the Scottish Government working with such collaboratives to build on that work and attract new graduates into computing science teaching?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I thank Audrey Nicoll for highlighting the excellent work that has been undertaken by the Aberdeen computing collaborative. It is a very important issue, on which we all work together. One of the key requirements of the Scottish technology ecosystem review programme was to attract more graduates, especially women, into teaching. That is why we formed Scottish Teachers Advancing Computing Science—STACS—which is an organisation that is for, and run by, computing teachers. I am delighted that the work will include Aberdeen. A pilot scheme is being run on computing science teachers at advanced higher level, to see what more we can do to improve and encourage teaching and teachers in an important subject.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Six hundred and thirty-six teaching posts were readvertised last year, many of them in STEM subjects. One technical education teacher post in Aberdeenshire was advertised 11 times. There is a big shortage. I do not get from the minister a sense of urgency and that she understands the scale of the problem. Can she reassure me that she is on top of the matter?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I would be delighted to discuss at length with Willie Rennie the work that is going on with the teacher workforce planning advisory group and the strategic board for teacher education, which is looking at recruitment and retention not just in STEM but across areas—in particular, on geography, in recognition that that is an issue. However, due to the shortage of time, I will be happy to discuss the matter offline with Mr Rennie.