Learned Societies’ Group briefing to MSPs

This briefing paper highlights what the Learned Societies’ Group on Scottish STEM Education (LSG) believes are the most prominent issues for STEM education in Scotland and presents associated recommendations and calls for action.

While the LSG supports national aims around providing high-quality STEM provision for young people at all levels of education, it remains concerned about a lack of progress in the below areas and suggests that they be considered a priority for remedial action:

  • Senior phase curriculum structures – most notably a narrowing of subject choice at the senior 4 (S4) level – have resulted in a reduced uptake of STEM qualification courses.
  • Senior phase teaching in the sciences has become increasingly characterised by multi-course teaching, which can have significant implications for teacher workloads and the quality of learning and teaching.
  • There continues to be a shortage of subject-specialist STEM teachers in Scotland. This has been coupled with a sizeable decrease in the number of school laboratory technicians working in Scotland over the past decade. Teacher trainees and probationers have experienced significant disruption due to the pandemic, which may decrease their readiness for the classroom and confidence as they begin their teaching careers. In particular, trainee science teachers will have had fewer opportunities to develop skills in teaching practical work.
  • Access to subject-specific career-long professional learning (CLPL) is uneven and overall continues to fall short of what is necessary to build greater confidence and capacity in teaching these subject areas. This is particularly relevant among primary teachers in some schools/local authorities but applies to teachers working at all levels.
  • There remain significant gaps in data that are necessary for understanding how Scotland’s education system is functioning in practice.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant repeated lockdowns have both exacerbated many of the above issues, including renewed questions around assessment approaches and attainment, and introduced new concerns such as the loss of laboratory time and opportunities for practical work. A coordinated national response with at least a 3- to 5-year view will be critical in ensuring progress towards key STEM targets does not stall or regress.