LSG: National discussion on education

The Learned Societies’ Group on Scottish STEM Education (LSG) were pleased to engage with the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities’ (CoSLA) national discussion on education to deliver a call to action to realise a renewed vision for Scottish education. Their response reflects the shared view that learners should be given ample opportunities to engage with STEM, that the STEM subjects should be afforded appropriate focus within the curriculum, and that a scientifically literate citizenry will be critical to addressing the societal challenges that Scotland will face now and into the future.


The future learning system will need to fulfil a number of objectives: providing all learners with opportunities for growth, success, and personal fulfilment; producing school leavers able to become citizens and apprentices whose skills align with the needs of the economy and our society; and teaching young people how to think critically about the world around them and devise creative solutions to our most enduring societal challenges.

There are numerous education reform initiatives and review exercises that are currently underway. The LSG would strongly argue that these multiple strands of inquiry be appropriately aligned and cross-referenced to arrive at a clear and unified set of recommendations on the way forward.

A learner’s command of reading and writing has significant implications for how well they are able to understand – and therefore access – STEM learning. It may be appropriate to re-evaluate how literacy is taught in schools to ensure it reflects current best practice.

Meaningful baseline data across a range of metrics is scarce. Before Scotland can look to devise and enact the changes necessary to transform the education system, it needs to understand what is currently working well and what is not. This can only be achieved through a commitment to well-informed, extensive, and integrated data-gathering.

An area of growing interest to the LSG is the teaching of the ethics of knowledge, both within the STEM subjects but also more broadly. Rather than merely absorbing knowledge, learners should be able to think critically about its origins, strengths, weaknesses, and eventual applications. Questions such as ‘who is benefiting from this knowledge?’ and ‘does it have the potential to be harmful?’ become particularly resonant in a time of manipulated narratives and ‘fake news’ which make it increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Practical laboratory work is an important component of a high-quality STEM education. The LSG would like to see an enduring commitment to the principle of laboratory work with the scope to make changes where current approaches are found to be inadequate.

There are several strengths within the Scottish education system. It is important that these are maintained and built upon further. For example, Curriculum for Excellence’s (CfE) ethos of breadth remains one of its defining characteristics and a rightful point of pride. The LSG would like to see this subject breadth retained in any future system. However, as was described in its response to the OECD review of CfE, this theoretical breadth is often constrained in its delivery due to factors such as timetabling restrictions and teacher shortages.

The LSG remain concerned about the relatively low level of entrance qualifications in the STEM subjects for those entering primary teacher initial teacher training (ITE) and variability in the quantity of STEM subject provision within primary ITE. In addition, recruitment of secondary teachers in most of the STEM subjects has consistently fallen below Scottish Funding Council targets for many years.

The LSG welcome the explicit commitment to scientific literacy for all as exemplified in policies such as the STEM Education and Training Strategy.

Related to ensuring Scotland maintains a high-quality teaching workforce committed to the professional values of social justice, trust, respect, and integrity, it is important that equity, diversity, and inclusion issues are addressed by practitioners throughout the education system.

It is important that Scottish education benefits from a much clearer curriculum framework, especially for ages 3-15 before young people begin to specialise in their studies. One added element should be a curriculum (and the pedagogy used in its fulfilment) that is not adversely impacted by the corresponding system of qualifications and assessment for certification.

The LSG strongly endorse the need for sustained widespread engagement and are able to offer multiple routes to reaching many of these stakeholder groups through our individual societies’ networks.

In addition to facilitating access to STEM opportunities, young people should be provided with comprehensive and accurate careers advice to illustrate the wide array of STEM pathways and destinations available to them and to raise their aspirations as to what may be possible.

Climate change and sustainability matters should be given more deliberate and consistent focus within the curriculum in order to satisfy the concerns of learners and prepare them to design and implement the solutions required to continue mitigating the climate emergency.

From the LSG’s perspective, knowledge must continue to hold a prominent – if not principal – place in the curriculum as cumulative knowledge gain is the mainstay of STEM learning and attainment.

Scotland should continue to uphold the value of disciplinary knowledge whilst making space for interdisciplinarity in order to keep pace with the changing nature of the labour market and indeed the 21st century.

If teachers are to devote an increasing proportion of their time towards professional and curriculum development (OECD recommendation 3.1, which the LSG continue to endorse), then teaching capacity must be correspondingly increased and teacher wellbeing duly prioritised. If teachers are to meet these expectations, they will need access to ongoing, well-designed support, including subject-specific support. High quality subject-specific professional learning is very effective at improving the quality of teaching and learning, and therefore the outcomes of young people and the performance of the education system as a whole.

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