DISADVANTAGES as a result of social and financial deprivation and gender need to be addressed to improve early years education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), according to MSPs.

Holyrood’s Education Committee found that while a range of positive work is being done across the country, for some young people inequalities are being compounded because of unconscious bias, resource issues and living outside towns and cities.

The inquiry carried out by MSPs focused on how STEM subjects were being taught to three to seven-year-olds in nurseries and primary schools.

In its report, the committee made 22 recommendations for improvement including measures to be put in place to increase teacher confidence in STEM subjects as well as improve internet connectivity in schools to help deliver lessons in the areas.

It also recommended that “Regional Improvement Collaboratives” should examine cluster working between schools across their areas.

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It said: “This work could help establish where cluster working between schools is well established and where there are gaps in support for cluster working. The committee recommends that this work should include mapping cluster work between early learning and childcare settings and primary schools, as well as mapping collaborative work between primary and secondary schools.”

Discussing gender inequality in the take-up of STEM subjects at school, the report found a different approach is needed to counter the “ingrained pattern of early stereotypes limiting people’s aspirations and informing future career decisions and attitudes”. It also noted concerns that parents are being called on to fund activities while teachers and staff are paying for resources out of their own pocket.

In response, the committee called for a 2014 research study into the funding of science in schools to be re-run, with support from Education Scotland to increase the sample size.

Convener Clare Adamson said the committee had learned a lot about the “fantastic” work being done to grow STEM skills.

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She continued: “These are skills which will become ever more critical as we enter the fourth industrial revolution, which will see massive technological changes affecting changes to work and employment in the future.

“To ensure our young people are equipped with the skills of the future, we want the Scottish Government to do more to measure the effectiveness of the strategies in place such as the STEM strategy.

“But measurements alone are not enough. We need systemic change to address continued disadvantage which exists, as identified in the committee report. We need inclusive economic growth, the fourth industrial revolution will provide so many opportunities for our young people and they need the skills to take up these opportunities.”

In October 2017, the Scottish Government published its five-year STEM education and training strategy. It set out challenges for the period which included ensuring people are encouraged to develop an interest in STEM throughout their lives, and ensuring the country’s education system has the right number of specialist STEM teachers to deliver the subjects.

As a result of the action set out in the STEM strategy, the Scottish Government expects to see an increase in the number of pupils studying STEM subjects and greater participation in apprenticeship programmes in engineering, technology and science.

To mark the release of the report and to highlight in particular the committee observations on gender, 50 S1 school girls will visit the Scottish Parliament to take part in a “hackathon” to produce graphics and visuals based on the committee’s report.