SSA STEM Reduced Size

Science Skills Academy tops the class with Highland pupils

Published: 12/06/2023

New opportunity for industry to inspire young minds and develop a local pipeline of STEM skills for future growth.

An innovative project introducing the world of science and technology to Highland primary and secondary pupils is celebrating a significant milestone, exceeding 20,000 engagements with pupils, teachers and parents.

Over the past four years the Science Skills Academy (SSA) has been at the forefront of empowering young minds and bridging the gap between education and industry needs. Currently operating in Highland, SSA has worked with 98% of local schools across its vast geographical area.  It provides a new way of learning, getting 10-14 year-olds out of the classroom and into specially designed Newton Rooms to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.

SSA is now actively seeking new partnerships with businesses to help fund and expand its impact. Praised by teachers and business leaders for its role in inspiring STEM learning, and loved by pupils for its engaging sessions, SSA wants to reach further. Plans include delivery in new areas, covering more subjects, and establishing itself as a permanent fixture in Scottish STEM industry development.

The initiative, effectively a science centre for the north, was started by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), supported by Highland Council and funded by the Scottish Government through the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal. Its Newton Rooms are part of a global network model, originally started in Norway to ensure rural communities had equal access to STEM learning.

Morven Fancey, head of universities, education, and skills at HIE, expressed the urgency for businesses to seize the opportunity presented by the SSA. She said: "We're standing on the brink of unparalleled investment in STEM sectors such as space, advanced technology, hydrogen, renewables, and marine biotechnology. To fully capitalise on these new opportunities and ensure our region's growth, we need a skilled workforce. The Science Skills Academy plays a vital role in connecting young people with STEM careers and fostering a diverse workforce."

“The success of the SSA lies in its innovative approach to STEM education. By collaborating with schools, the initiative helps alleviate the pressures faced by educators and engages different school departments through project-based learning, making STEM education more appealing and inventive.  

“The SSA has shown a way forward for STEM, joining up services, improving access and achieving great uptake,” added Morven. “This in turn will ensure we have the workforce skills necessary to attract new companies in emerging industries and expand our existing supply chains.“

SSA works in tandem with other regional STEM activities, especially the UHI which, through recent investment, is building its co-ordinating role for STEM and growing its further and higher education offer to meet the needs of the region.

Some young people have now visited their local room three times over the years.  They have explored how renewable energy works, how salmon are farmed, and how rockets are launched. Importantly, they have also heard from some of the young people who work in these businesses.

A recent partnership with the Glasgow Science Centre and plans to expand into the Northern and Western Isles and Moray demonstrate the SSA's dedication to widening its reach and ensuring a sustainable and effective approach to STEM education in Scotland.

The SSA believes that further investment from industry and the public sector will be key to unlocking Scotland's STEM potential and realising the growth of new industries while nurturing and retaining young talent.

Morven added: “Joined up working between agencies and interested enterprises will ensure a greater uptake in STEM during the senior school years and onwards to apprenticeships and further education. Crucially, it’s also about ensuring every child has the same opportunity, recognising that we need to foster a diverse workforce by tackling misconceptions around STEM jobs.”

Is your organisation’s future growth dependent on a pipeline of suitably skilled and enthusiastic young people?  If so, please find out more:

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The Science Skills Academy (SSA) is an initiative introduced by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), supported by Highland Council and funded by the Scottish Government through the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal.

Its primary goal is to enhance STEM skills among young people in the Highland region and align them with the future needs of emerging industries.

The SSA achieves this by providing engaging workshops and activities in collaboration with schools and the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) network, with a focus on fostering a diverse and skilled workforce. ne of fresh talent enthusiastic and informed about STEM subjects.

There are four permanent Newton Rooms in Thurso, Dingwall, Inverness, and Fort William and one touring Pop-Up room. Each room has a dedicated STEM Engagement Officer (SEO) working in the local community expert in modern theories of learning.

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