Select Committee on Science and Technology Sixth Special Report



The Joint Council is pleased to receive this report, taking an overview of Science Education 14 ­ 19. The Joint Council would endorse many of the individual points made in the Report and particularly those relating to the need for a review of the National Curriculum requirements and range of GCSE courses available to centres and students. A GCSE specification, however good it may be, cannot itself motivate students. There are many inter­related reasons why students might not enjoy and continue with studies in science subjects. The Joint Council would suggest that the professionalism and training of teachers, and techniques of teaching employed, have a far greater impact on whether students enjoy and engage with the subject. Likewise the level of support and working environment of the teachers impacts greatly on their ability to produce motivating and stimulating lessons, etc.

It is noted that the Report has been published before the first cohort of students have completed their studies and assessment based on the revised, 2003, GCSE specifications. There might usefully be a review of the recommendations made in this Report in the light of experience of the new specifications.

The Joint Council has also noted that the sample of teachers, students and users consulted was small.

The following specific comments are offered against the list of recommendations and conclusions given in the Report on pages 59­64.

The GCSE Curriculum

The Joint Council agrees that the current National Curriculum is overloaded and would support a reduced emphasis on content and an increased emphasis on principles, understanding and skills. A more open approach giving Awarding Bodies freedom to develop content which is relevant and interesting to students and to develop stimulating methods of assessment would be welcomed.

The Joint Council would support the introduction of recent scientific developments into the curriculum to make it more relevant to students' personal experiences and interests.

However, teachers report that relevant material is not necessarily interesting, stimulating or challenging. Students can be turned off science by endless discussions of pollution, global warming, ozone depletion, energy generation, topics in which teachers and students often lack sufficient knowledge and understanding to fully appreciate the problems involved. The need to ensure such issues are addressed in the teacher training process is paramount to ensuring their successful introduction into students' courses of study. Teachers constantly ask Awarding Bodies for more detailed schemes of work specifying what to teach and how it will be assessed.

Practical and Fieldwork


The Joint Council supports the expansion of these hands­on learning opportunities and looks forward to changes in the relevant QCA Qualification and Subject Criteria for science that would permit these exercises to play a meaningful role in the assessment scheme of specifications. It is acknowledged that they can be adopted as an effective teaching strategy in the current specifications but more centres are likely to use them to greater effect if they are reflected in the assessment packages.

Whatever practical coursework is required, it must be practicable in schools which at Key Stage 4 often have many large groups of students.

Use of ICT

ICT will play an increasing role in the teaching and, ultimately, assessment, of many subjects. However, care must be taken to ensure that the relevant equipment, knowledge, experience and support mechanisms are in place in all centres to ensure that this does not become the province of the privileged few. Likewise, care must be taken to ensure that the teacher/student relationship and interface is enhanced and not undermined by the introduction of teaching, learning and skills development through the use of ICT.

Take­up post­16

The Joint Council believes that the introduction of the latest core curriculum has, in fact, served to increase the required factual content of A level courses. It has also to be acknowledged that the concerns about parity in demand between A level courses is an issue that has been raised by centres. Awarding Bodies' Research Departments routinely carry out research into the effectiveness of assessment schemes. Despite evidence to the contrary, the Joint Council is aware that the public perception persists that maths and science qualifications are 'harder' to succeed in than arts and humanities subjects and, consequently, would support the recommendation to investigate this issue further.

Gender and Ethnicity

Comments under 'The GCSE Curriculum' above refer.

Student perceptions

The essentially mathematical nature of Physics makes it at least desirable that potential students are reasonably competent in mathematics. To be allowed to select Physics without understanding its mathematical nature would be to mislead students. The reverse is also true. Able mathematicians might not be attracted to physics if its mathematical character and appeal was concealed or played down.

The most able students, those who, in earlier times, may have taken degrees in science or engineering, may now think in terms of 'how much will I earn' and apply for other degree courses. Concerns about the failure of students to be aware of scientific careers should perhaps be laid at the door of individual school or college careers departments - recommendation 55 in the Report reflects this fact.

The Joint Council would not agree, however, that students are unaware of transferable skills; there is ample evidence of science graduates becoming accountants and lawyers.

Vocational pathways

It is hoped that the introduction of new 'Applied GCSE' courses and the current development of new VCE qualifications to meet agreed Qualification and Subject Criteria (produced by QCA) will begin to make vocational courses more attractive to centres and students. An applied approach to science is not just about making the specification content more applied, it is also about the method of delivery, assessment and demonstrating the application of science. A more vocational approach makes it more interesting, dynamic, and is more inclusive for the type of learner who has a kinesthetic and visual learning style. This method of learning also encourages learners to take more responsibility for their own learning. A positive response to the introduction of these courses from employers and HE would help greatly in raising the profile of these qualifications.


There is some surprise at the recommendations and conclusions in this section. The constraints imposed by the National Curriculum requirements are acknowledged in the Report but no account appears to have been taken of the impact and constraints arising from the Qualification and Subject Criteria, developed by QCA, which all specifications must meet in order to achieve accreditation. Indeed, in vocational qualifications the mandatory units are prescribed by QCA and handed down to the awarding bodies.

Coursework/practical work used to play a much more prominent role in specifications in science and many other subjects. Constraints on the assessment weightings permitted for internally assessed work places, in turn, restrictions on the time available for it and the emphasis it is given in any course of study. Likewise, the weightings assigned to individual assessment objectives can dictate the range and type of questions employed to achieve effective and reliable assessment. Given the constraints imposed by the need to meet the requirements of the National Curriculum Programme of Study and the relevant Qualification and Subject Criteria, the Joint Council view is that the current GCSE examination papers contain a commendable range of question types, addressing a balance and range of knowledge and skills set in a range of application and issues­based contexts.

Whilst it is acknowledged that specifications can promote different teaching and learning strategies they can only do so to the extent that the 'rules they must obey' permit. It is interesting to note that the new developments welcomed in the Report do not necessarily conform to the current requirements and rules.

The Joint Council Awarding Bodies would welcome the opportunity to be actively involved in the review of the relevant Criteria and National Curriculum requirements.


The comments under 'Responsibility' above refer. It is emphasised that, for any progress to be made, considerable changes to the National Curriculum Programme of Study and the QCA Criteria would be required. Indeed, the awarding bodies have, up to now, been praised by QCA for the way in which they work together to apply the Programme of Study.

Concern has been expressed that the QCA requirement for whole investigations in some subjects is the main factor holding back the development of more stimulating and engaging practical work. Many teachers and students find practical work, other than an investigation based on a 'plan', to be great fun and to have considerable educational value.

The Joint Council would like to see a wider debate on this issue.

Science for citizens and for scientists

The Joint Council would support the introduction of more modern scientific issues into the curriculum but would also draw attention to the need to ensure all students have a sound knowledge of the basics in order to fully appreciate, discuss and respond to issues in an informed manner.

Recommendation 34 is a key point which must not be lost in any reform.

A new curriculum

The Joint Council would support the suggestion that a greater range of science courses could be developed. The Awarding Bodies would welcome the opportunity to be involved in any review of the National Curriculum with a view to producing a core of study that promotes active learning that can be endorsed through the GCSE specifications developed.


The need to have a clear and consistent understanding of what is meant and expected by the term 'scientific literacy' is crucial to the teaching and assessment of the skill. There is a real danger that teaching and questions based on Figure 5 (page 41) of the Report would be very demanding and stimulating to the most able students only.

Support for Teachers

The Joint Council would strongly endorse recommendation 42.


As previously stated, the Joint Council would support the recommendation that a greater range of GCSE Science courses should be developed (comments under 'A New Curriculum' refer). However, it must also be recognised that there will be the need to ensure that comparability of demand is accurately monitored across the range of specifications in order that students, teachers and users of the qualifications can be confident of their 'worth'.

Specialist Schools

As a core subject it is hoped that all schools can be supported to develop sound, motivating and worthwhile courses in science.

A levels

The Joint Council would support the view that A level courses should be considered to be an end in themselves, educationally, as opposed to being designed primarily to meet the needs of universities

Vocational Alternatives

The principle that students must be provided with pathways that enable them to progress is one the Joint Council would support fully. This was the driving force behind the development of modular schemes of study and assessment (pre­Curriculum 2000) and why these courses became so popular. It is agreed that 're­sit courses' are rarely successful in motivating students and consideration should be given to how more stimulating options could be made available.

Science for all

The suggestion that a compulsory post­16 curriculum, that includes science as one of its core subjects, is something that could be counter productive and make science even more unpopular with students.



The Joint Council believes that most science teachers would support these recommendations.

Practical Work

The Joint Council Awarding Bodies would agree with the conclusion in point 65 and would ask whether teacher training courses address this issue with NQTs and whether they have considered running refresher or INSET courses which could offer opportunities for teachers to be kept up to date with techniques, equipment and developments. The Joint Council believes that teachers would welcome practical science classes of no more than 20 students for GCSE courses of study. A smaller maximum number is desirable for AS, A level and Advanced Vocational courses.

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