STEM subjects suffering due to lack of staff, MSPs told

Schools “don’t have enough bodies on the ground” to teach science, maths, engineering and technology (Stem) subjects effectively to younger children, teachers have told MSPs.

Holyrood’s Education Committee heard evidence from teachers and education officials, who raised issues including teacher confidence, training and staff numbers.

The committee is conducting an inquiry into the importance of Stem subjects in early years education.

Susan Boyd, a primary teacher in Aberfeldy, said: “Workload and additional needs – they are the biggest issues on my challenges to deliver Stem.

“You can have a passion for science, you can have all the training in the world but you need the staff to deliver that.”

Schools also have a “deficit” of scientific expertise, Ms Boyd told MSPs, arguing the lack of teachers and staff with a good understanding of the subjects is “the major factor in inconsistency of delivery of Stem”.

Ms Boyd said: “When teaching science in any way in primary or early years, we need to create the resources, we need to set them up and then we need to teach them, and we don’t have enough bodies on the ground to do that effectively.”

“We may be doing it but we’re not doing effectively,” she added, calling for a “framework that’s really going to deliver support for Stem and support for teachers”.

Elisabeth Kelly, the principal teacher for early years teachers in Midlothian Council, said in early learning childcare “the majority of staff” are not qualified teachers and come from backgrounds with “very, very limited Stem input”.

“There’s very few authorities left that have teachers within early learning and childcare,” she added.

“Stem can’t just be one teacher’s passion, it has to be everybody’s – it has to be every teacher that can deliver this to a really high quality all the time, not just on one-off science visits.”

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The comments were supported by figures produced by Education Scotland’s senior education officer for sciences Ian Menzies, who said just 43% of early learning practitioners and 63% of primary teachers said they were confident teaching Stem subjects.

Mr Menzies outlined several funding schemes being used to help train and support schools or teachers.

He added: “We know particularly we’ve got work to do in building confidence in technologies and engineering and have identified them as priority areas for grants this year.”

Asked about whether there was an issue with the way teachers are being trained, he said: “I think initial teacher training has got an opportunity to address that but they’ve got a very limited time with those students.

“Obviously there’s opportunities within teacher training to promote that confidence but for us there’s that whole journey of being a professional.

“Building that confidence from the word go but recognising too that there’s people who have been teaching for a number of years who also need that type of support.”