Schools losing hundreds of science technicians

Hundreds of maths and science technicians have been shed from Scotland’s schools prompting fears that the next generation of doctors and engineers could be lost.

The number of staff qualified to conduct science classes, such as this one in chemistry, has dwindled. Picture: Getty
The number of staff qualified to conduct science classes, such as this one in chemistry, has dwindled. Picture: Getty

There are 333 fewer Stem technicians in primary and secondary schools, down 30 per cent over the past decade, according to figures obtained by Labour through Freedom of Information.

It has prompted fresh concerns over a funding squeeze in schools, with a warning that technicians provide pupils with vital “hands on” experience in subjects related to the key science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects which the Scottish Government is seeking to promote in classrooms.

Of the hundreds lost, 316 have been in secondaries.

Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said: “It is worrying that pupils of all ages may be missing out on the vital support that technicians could provide to their learning experience.

“Technicians can help to facilitate the learning of critical skills our next generation need for the jobs of the future.

“This situation, added to the sizeable drop in attainment in recent years, presents us with the possibility of a Scotland lacking in new scientists, engineers and doctors.

“The government needs to realise that technicians are essential in helping to train Scotland’s future workforce and the SNP must therefore ensure local authorities are properly funded and can afford this indispensable workforce.

“Scottish Labour would make sure schools have the funds they need to raise attainment and urgently address the ongoing teacher recruitment and workload crisis.”

It emerged earlier this month that Scotland’s schools have recorded their worst ever performance in maths and science in a major international survey, despite a significant improvement in pupils’ reading skills.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) report saw Scotland achieve its lowest scores in maths and science since it first took part in the survey almost 20 years ago.

The figures on technicians were obtained by Labour through Freedom of Information from 30 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring children and young people are equipped with the Stem skills they will need in later life, as evidenced by our Stem Education and Training strategy, and a network of specialist advisers is working with local authorities to deliver this.

“For the second year running, we have provided bursaries of £20,000 to career changers to support teacher training in certain Stem subjects where demand is at its greatest. This is in addition to a £1.9 million grants programme to increase Stem support for primary and secondary school teachers, school technicians and early and community learning practitioners, including for mathematics and engineering, which is being delivered by Education Scotland.”

Ministers say that staffing in schools is a matter for local authorities and insist that this year’s budget for town halls has seen a real terms boost in both revenue and capital funding. However, councils have complained that their resource budgets, which would cover staff costs, are falling.

Ministers insist that the Stem bursaries supporting career changers to retrain as teachers in technical subjects were extended for academic year 2018-19 after the target was exceeded with 107 bursaries awarded in its first year.

The Raising Aspirations in Science Education (RAISE) programme has provided science development officers since 2016 to lead Stem learning in primary schools and early years across a whole council for two to three years. Funding of £400,000 has so far been provided for the RAISE programme since 2016/17, with a further £190,000 for the programme in 2019/20.

Education Scotland has also established a new network of specialist advisers to work with local authorities to improve Stem learning, ministers say.