Media Release: SSE pledges £400,000 to support science and technology in Highland schools

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A HIGHLAND-wide education and accreditation programme, aimed at encouraging take-up of Science and Technology subjects, has received major backing thanks to a £400,000 grant from the SSE Highland Sustainable Development Fund.

The award has been made to the University of the Highlands and Islands Development Trust to roll out the Highland CREST programme across the primary and secondary schools network in the Highland region.

Activities will be co-ordinated from the proposed Science Academy hub at the new Inverness Campus, where investment will be made in remote learning facilities to support the programme.

The Highland CREST programme, based on a nationally-recognised scheme developed by the British Science Association, will be delivered through a mix of interactive projects, challenges and events encouraging interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.

This will be backed up by extensive CPD (continual professional development) for teachers and the creation of networks between schools and with industry.

It will be the first time that a CREST scheme has been promoted and co-ordinated across the Highland area, where a significant skills gap has been identified in the oil, gas, renewable, engineering and life sciences sectors.

Although significant job growth is predicted in these areas, there is a shortage of people in the Highlands who have the skills or educational background to take advantage of these opportunities.

The programme will be operated by the university, alongside its work as STEMNET provider for the area. The university will work with the Highland Council to tailor the programmes to the needs of schools in the area, addressing geographical and small school challenges.

The Science Academy will act as both a virtual and physical resource centre for the Highland CREST programme by distributing CREST resources, delivering CPD and as a showcase for activities and school projects.

The initial target for the programme is to raise the number of schools with active Science and Engineering clubs from 35 per cent (74 schools) to 90 per cent (190 schools) by the end of year three, with an annual total of 3,000 students taking part in the CREST programme.

Targets for years four and five will be measured on additional take up of STEM subjects by pupils and students. The award will be granted in stages over a five-year period based on these targets.

The Highland Crest scheme will comprise of:

* The CREST Awards programme – open to students aged 11-19 that delivers enrichment activities to inspire and engage young people in STEM subjects. There are three different levels of project work (Bronze, Silver and Gold) that students can complete.

* The CREST Star programme – open to 5-11year-olds and enables pupils to solve science, technology, engineering, and maths problems through practical investigation – helping build initial interest in STEM studies.

Sustainable Development Fund panel chair, Lord Jack McConnell, said: “Young people growing up in the Highlands must have every chance to grasp the opportunities created on their doorstep. That’s why it’s vital to support and develop an interest in STEM subjects from an early age and create clear paths to rewarding careers in the engineering, energy and life sciences sectors.

“It is equally important that this support is available to all, regardless of where a young person happens to live or the size of their school and is delivered in a way that is genuinely engaging and exciting.

“I am delighted that the SSE Sustainable Development Fund is able to support this development and encourage the young people of today to become the engineers and scientists of tomorrow.”

Dr Crichton Lang, deputy principal, University of Highlands and Islands, said: “The University of the Highlands and Islands is a partner in the STEM North of Scotland initiative which aims to increase the number of young people with STEM qualifications in the region. To achieve this aim we manage, support and promote a number of projects and activities designed to engage and excite young people in STEM subjects at an early age.

“This substantial grant award will provide a significant addition to the activities the university already carries out with schools in Highland. Over the next five years we have the opportunity to use our expertise to establish a sustainable support network across all Highland schools.

“This will make a real difference in understanding, enthusiasm and uptake of STEM subjects not only at school but also when pupils make choices for further study and careers.”

Cllr Drew Hendry, leader of Highland Council, said: “This is a terrific award that truly puts some momentum behind our joint commitment to maximise the ability for our young people to develop the skills that they will need to take advantage of jobs in the future across our region.

“It’s the start of an innovative period in the history of the Highlands. This will be a comprehensive approach to making sure that our young people are able to increase their opportunities to stay and work in our communities in highly paid jobs.”

Provided as part of a community benefit programme from SSE’s onshore wind farm developments, the SSE Sustainable Development Fund is open to all non-profit making organisations, community groups and charities from across the Highland council region, with weighting given to community projects within SSE’s areas of development.

Applications to the fund were accepted in three clear priority areas: Enhancement of the built and natural environment; community energy; and skills development and job creation.

This award is in addition to the 29 projects supported in May 2014 and takes the total funding from the first round of the SSE Highland Sustainable Development fund to £1,444,984.

The fund is expected to re-open for applications in autumn 2015.

The Sustainable Development Fund panel consists of:

•    Rt. Hon. Lord Jack McConnell – chair, Member, House of Lords; First Minister of Scotland 2001-07
•    Professor Jan Bebbington, Professor of Accounting and Sustainable Development and Co-Head of School, University of St Andrews
•    Professor Jim Hunter, author, historian and Emeritus Professor of Scottish History
•    Damien Yeates, chief executive, Skills Development Scotland
•    Alan Young, managing director, Corporate Affairs, SSE

Biographies of panel members can be found at:

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Contact: Alison Lochhead
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