It’s no secret that Scotland’s independent sector is facing huge challenges at present. This includes the political uncertainty around Brexit and the impending rollout of the Barclay Review, which stands to remove our schools’ charitable rates relief, costing the sector millions and significantly impacting local economies and communities.
Despite the current climate, Scotland’s independent schools continue to thrive and no more so than in the area of Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. This year’s exam results revealed that schools performed better than the previous year in both science and mathematics, not to mention the fact that uptake of Stem subjects is increasing among both boys and girls across Scotland’s independent schools.
This is incredibly encouraging considering that across the UK as a whole, uptake of these subjects is on the decline. As a country, we are facing a widening Stem skills gap with sectors such as engineering and construction already suffering from huge skills shortages.
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According to a report by Engineering UK, the engineering sector generated 23 per cent (£1.32 trillion) of the UK’s total turnover. However, 61 per cent of businesses surveyed in the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey expressed a lack of confidence that there will be enough people available in the future with the necessary skills to fill their high-skilled job vacancies. In order to drive economic growth, therefore, we must address this skills gap, and fast.
As a sector, Scotland’s independent schools are committed to driving Stem education forward, encouraging more young people, both boys and girls, to follow a career path in Stem. This includes helping to overcome the age-old stereotype that engineering and technology careers are for men and urging young people to choose the subjects that interest them the most, not just the ones they think they should do.
It is important that as a sector, we celebrate Stem careers for women and showcase the wide range of possible roles available in the field. Part of this involves partnering with local businesses and industry partners to offer work placements and internships so students are exposed to the variety of roles in the sector. It’s also important to shine a light on the female role models who are succeeding in their Stem careers, helping young people understand the path they took to get there.
There’s no doubt that more needs to be done to encourage young people, and girls in particular, into fields such as engineering and technology. But it is encouraging to see that, as a sector, Scotland’s independent schools are driving Stem education forward by ensuring the uptake of Stem subjects is on the rise, achieving academic excellence as demonstrated by recent exam results and, more importantly, helping to promote the benefits of what a career in Stem can bring.
John Edward is director of the Scottish Council of independent Schools (SCIS)