The focus on literacy and numeracy is leading to Scottish primaries neglecting Stem teaching, with one primary teacher confessing she had not taught computing science for “years”.
The teacher – who made the admission at a learning through technology conference – said she had not taught the computing science curriculum for years but she did not expect to get caught because those experiences and outcomes would never be inspected.
Karen Petrie, the University of Dundee’s associate dean for learning and teaching in science and engineering, relayed the anecdote this morning while giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament Education and Skills Committee inquiry into the teaching of Stem, which today focused on the early years.
Long read: How can we get more girls into Stem?
Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray asked if the promotion of Stem would continue to be an “uphill struggle” while the focus of the Scottish government improvement plan, the National Improvement Framework, was on literacy and numeracy and health and wellbeing.
There was “anecdotal evidence to support that”, said Alastair MacGregor, chief executive officer at the Scottish Schools Education Research Centre (Sserc), which provides professional development for teachers in Stem.
Dr Petrie added: “One teacher at [the Tayside Regional Improvement Collaborative Digifest in May] stood up and said, ‘At the moment, I don’t deliver the ILOs [Intended Learning Outcomes] in computing science at all to my class’. And she said, ‘I think I can get away with that because no one will ever inspect these ILOs in computing science’ and that really surprised me.
“She did not say it was fine and she was there to learn how to do it – she wanted to do it – but she had not delivered for a number of years and she thought no one would ever pick up on that as being an issue, so I wonder how true that is throughout some of our schools?”
According to Dr Petrie, the biggest barrier to the teaching of digital skills for schools was poor internet connectivity, a view that was also expressed at a learning and technology conference earlier this month. She also said it was “appalling” that teachers were having to buy resources like the child-friendly Bee-Bot robots – which cost around £50 each – out of their own pockets.
“Before I came here today, I asked a lot of local schools: ‘What’s the one thing you would like me to bring to this inquiry?’...The main thing that has come back – which surprised me – is a working internet connection.”
Lorna Hay, a primary teacher at Pitteuchar East Primary in Fife, said that she had bought resources using her own money.
She said that money was, however, available for teachers to take part in Stem continuing professional development but the problem was securing supply cover.
“Money is not an issue, it’s actually the bodies,” said Ms Hay. “My headteacher has said to me, ‘It’s not finding money to cover you, but I can’t actually get a supply teacher in to cover you’.”
There was a call for entry requirements for primary teacher education courses to include at least a National 5 – or equivalent – in a Stem subject and for more teaching from specialists across clusters of primary schools. Professor Lesley Yellowlees, chair of the Learned Societies’ Group on Scottish Stem Education, also suggested that gender bias in subject areas in schools needed to be highlighted in the same way the #MeToo campaign had drawn attention to the prevalence of sexual violence.
Dr Petrie said that in computing science there were now fewer girls taking the subject at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher, so Scotland was “going backwards”.