James Tooze reflects on today’s exam results from Scotland.

On exam results day in Scotland, we have taken the opportunity to reflect on STEM education in the region, and on the work that is being done by the Scottish Government to improve STEM teaching and learning.

Prior to the 2016 Holyrood election, CaSE wrote to all the major political parties, asking them to outline their priorities regarding science and engineering. In relation to STEM education, Alasdair Allan MSP, wrote:

"The SNP believes that STEM learning is vital to Scotland’s intellectual and economic future, and to the fairer society we want to build. We have invested significantly in educational opportunities relating to STEM and would continue to do so if re-elected in May 2016. In the last government, we invested over £25 million in science-related activity.”

The SNP Government are pleding £855,000 this year to provide STEM training programmes and classroom resources for teachers to help them develop their own skills. In addition, the Scottish Government are also providing a new three-year £1 million fund to boost primary science learning in schools.

The SNP have also promised to ensure that by 2020, every Scottish school is working with a STEM partner from the private, public or third sectors.

In November 2016, the Scottish Government launched a consultation on a new draft STEM Strategy. The consultation sets out the actions we will take to raise levels of STEM enthusiasm, skills and knowledge in Scotland. With 170 published responses, the Government will begin to draft a strategy that aims to:

  1. To improve levels of STEM enthusiasm, skills, and knowledge in order to raise attainment and aspirations in learning, life and work
  2. To encourage the uptake of more specialist STEM skills required to gain employment in the growing STEM sectors of the economy, through further study and training.

Results day; what is the picture?

While on a personal level exam results day can bring delight or disappointment, attainment statistics provide the opportunity to assess the popularity and success of STEM subjects in schools.

Following this year’s results, the proportion of Scottish students taking STEM subjects at Higher has remained level from last year, despite the number of total Higher exams taken having fallen.

The number of students attaining A – C grades in STEM subjects has also remained stable, but the attainment in these subjects continues to fall behind the average attainment levels seen across the whole curriculum.

With regards to Advanced Higher qualifications, core STEM subjects prove a far more popular choice among students. As the graph shows below, four of the five most popular Advanced Higher subjects are Maths, Chemistry, Biology and Physics. Despite the uptake of STEM Advanced Highers being amongst the highest of any subject, the participation in these courses has broadly fallen from last year, falling further from 2015.

The Scottish Government has set out its commitment to STEM education, indeed as a major priority, and we at CaSE are encouraged by the steps the Government has taken to support the improvement of STEM learning. The availability of a skilled STEM workforce, for Scotland and the rest of the UK, is vital to the future of the science and engineering sector beyond Brexit.

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