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Improving gender balance in Scotland

​A new programme to tackle gender bias and improve participation by under-represented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning is set to be rolled out in early learning and childcare (ELC) centres and schools across Scotland.

The expansion was announced by Science Minister Shirley-Anne Somerville at the Improving Gender Balance in Scotland conference on 7 June.

Ms Somerville  said: 'Equity is one of the key themes of our STEM Strategy for Education and Training which was published last October. Extending and embedding the Improving Gender Balance project is an important element of the strategy in driving forward improvement in STEM across the education and training landscape to inspire and encourage everyone to pursue STEM study and careers and to promote a better gender balance and increased diversity in the workforce.'

The roll-out delivers a commitment in the First Minister’s Programme for Government. Led by Education Scotland, it aims to transform perceptions and challenge unconscious assumptions about who does what kind of job. Its goal is to reach every school cluster by 2022, including ELC, primary and secondary schools.

This follows a three-year pilot with more than 20 establishments, across six school clusters, which focused on challenging gender stereotypes in STEM subject areas.

The pilot involved Education Scotland, the Institute of Physics, Scottish Government and was funded by Skills Development Scotland. It helped practitioners and senior managers within schools and ELC to understand gender stereotyping and develop approaches to tackle them.

Alan Armstrong, Strategic Director at Education Scotland said: 'We are proud to now be leading the work on improving gender balance in STEM learning, and across other areas of learning within early learning and childcare and schools. Addressing unconscious bias, gender stereotyping and tackling inequity is important to ensure Scotland’s pupils have the opportunity to realise their full potential, irrespective of their gender.

'To help us deliver this, we will soon be recruiting a dedicated team of officers to improve gender balance and equity in STEM learning.'

Katie Hutton, Director of National Training Programmes at Skills Development Scotland added: 'Challenges around gender imbalance are reflective of wider societal issues evident in education and the workplace. The pilot shows that teachers are keen to address the issue of gender balance in schools and that has made a difference to the way young people consider their learning and career pathways.

'This is a long-term issue which requires systemic change and we are delighted that Education Scotland is taking the pilot project forward.'

Heather Earnshaw, from the Institute of Physics and Improving Gender Balance Scotland Project Manager, said: 'Teaching staff have been so supportive and willing to spend time working with us on the pilot. I count myself very lucky to have been able to work with them in early learning and childcare, primary and secondary schools.'

A range of resources were developed during the pilot to help practitioners identity and tackle issues of gender stereotyping in their classrooms and settings. These are available on the National Improvement Hub.

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