LSG: Enhanced data collection for educational improvement

The Learned Societies’ Group on Scottish STEM Education (LSG) welcomed the Scottish Government’s intention to act on relevant recommendations from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Audit Scotland by ensuring the philosophy and mechanisms underpinning educational data collection in Scotland are fit-for-purpose. As a collection of learned societies, we ensure our policy positions are rooted in the available evidence, yet we are often constrained by what the available data can tell us. As one example, while the STEM Education and Training Strategy lists a Key Performance Indicator of meeting Initial Teacher Education student intake targets for all STEM subjects, there is little corresponding data on retention rates, making it difficult to know whether recruitment efforts have been successful over the longer-term. As long as gaps in the data exist, it will be difficult to gauge the true condition of the Scottish ‘STEM pipeline’ and what could most usefully be done to ensure every pupil can realise their STEM aspirations both in the classroom and beyond.

Key findings

We agree that having reliable assessments of deprivation is critical as there tends to be a negative correlation between affluence and so-called science capital, which is defined as an individual’s science-related knowledge, qualifications, attitudes, contacts, experiences, and resources. Lower levels of science capital can preclude a young person’s continued participation and interest in STEM. As such, it becomes critical to sustain the natural interest that many young children have in the STEM subjects by safeguarding their access to STEM pathways and opportunities throughout their learning journey.

There has been research undertaken into the differential benefit of studying certain subjects and indeed STEM subjects can be ‘enabling subjects’ in terms of facilitating upward mobility. However, research indicates there is still a marked disparity in how people of different socioeconomic backgrounds are represented across various STEM professions

Young people can sometimes have misconceptions about the careers that are available to them after studying STEM subjects, or indeed about STEM careers themselves. Pupils may believe that a STEM education limits their choices or that a STEM career lies outside their reach as they presume it requires specialised or advanced qualifications. While we should continue to promote more ‘traditional’ STEM pathways (e.g. medicine), we would also support more contemporary careers advice for pupils that is informed by a solid understanding of the current and future labour market and which promotes a multitude of progression options.

The LSG is emphatically supportive that a plurality of achievement and attainment markers be equally recognised and valued, reflecting the diverse ways in which pupils can demonstrate their understanding of, and passion for, the STEM subjects

One of the defining characteristics about Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is its flexibility; in theory, pupils can pick up subjects down the line even if they do not take them at the (traditionally) prescribed time. It might therefore be beneficial to have more comprehensive data on how many pupils pick up STEM subjects later on and how they fare so we can tackle attrition at critical stages like S4 and reveal if STEM subjects are disproportionately impacted by this discontinuity. This ties into more fundamental considerations around the health of the STEM ‘pipeline’ and the benefit
of knowing the precise point at which students disengage from STEM so that continuity can be improved

STEM attainment is not always adequately captured by prevailing measures of knowledge and skills attainment, which tend to focus on literacy and numeracy. While we do not necessarily advocate for the introduction of STEM-specific attainment markers, mindful of the bureaucratic burdens this could impose on teachers, we would welcome a consideration of how STEM attainment might be better reflected across existing data metrics

Scotland also needs accurate and accessible data on skills shortages to further underscore the importance of investing in the STEM pipeline, particularly in the context of achieving a just transition. A decarbonised society will require new types of jobs, many of which are likely to lie in STEM fields; it is crucial we understand what these jobs will be and market them accordingly to interested pupils. This reemphasises the importance of having integrated data so that the
wider, societal implications of meeting (or not meeting) educational objectives are properly understood.

Download this Advice Paper