Learned Societies’ Group response to Scottish Parliament Education and Skills Committee’s inquiry into STEM in early years education

The LSG welcomed the opportunity to respond to the Scottish Parliament Education and Skills Committee’s call for evidence on the STEM experiences of three to seven year olds.

Interests and attitudes towards subjects are entrenched from a young age. While most young people enthusiastically enjoy early science education, very few aspire to become a scientist.

Science capital – that is, an individual’s science related knowledge, qualifications, attitudes, contacts, experiences and resources – is unevenly spread among societal groups. Students with low science capital who do not express STEM related aspirations by age 10 are
unlikely to develop such aspirations as they get older. This demonstrates the need for early and sustained interventions to build STEM capital among learners and their families.

Teacher expertise has the greatest effect on student achievement. It is vital, therefore, that practitioners are supported to develop their own knowledge of STEM subjects. There is currently no requirement for those aspiring to become primary teachers to have any level of formal science qualification. The LSG is of the view that ITE applicants should be expected to achieve at least one SCQF level 5 qualification in a science as a minimum requirement.

The LSG recommends that the Scottish Government and the GTCS should review the provision of science and mathematics within ITE Primary Education programmes. This should cover both the disciplinary content and pedagogy of science and mathematics.

It is crucially important that practitioners are able to access high-quality and continuous career-long professional learning (CLPL), covering both subject-specific knowledge and pedagogy. Education Scotland launched its Professional Learning in STEM Grants Programme last year, to build the STEM capacity and confidence of practitioners. However, it is unclear as to whether grant funding will be made available this financial year. The LSG has highlighted the need for sustained funding to support the required step-change in CLPL.

There is evidence that gender biases can become ingrained as early as age six. Systemic change is required, moving away from single actions towards high-quality multiple, sustained interventions throughout the learner journey. A ‘whole school’ approach is needed to embed and mainstream cultural change to achieve gender equality.

Learners of all ages must be able to undertake science experimentation and practical work. This helps to engage learners, particularly young children in science, and also supports their understanding of scientific concepts. In 2014, the LSG investigated the resourcing of
practical science in Scottish primary and secondary schools. Primary school respondents raised issues in relation to access to sufficient equipment and concerns about the funding available for science practical work. In its 2016 report, the STEM Education Committee (STEMEC) recommended that the Scottish Government should commission further research to identify the requirements, including appropriate funding, to enable the adequate delivery of practical science.