Examination of Witnesses(Questions 1-19)|
MILIBAND MP, MS
MONDAY 4 NOVEMBER 2002
1. Welcome, Minister, and your team. It is nice
to see you here. I think this is your first appearance in front
of this Committee. I do not know if it is your first time in front
of a Select Committee; no doubt you have had experience of that
in the past. This is a rough and tough Committee and we are looking
forward to a good session. I do not know if you want to say anything
to begin with.
(Mr Miliband) Would you mind if I did
say a few things just to kick us off?
(Mr Miliband) It may be worthwhile saying, first of
all, to inspire you to even greater rough and tumble activities,
that we have behind us the Speaker of the Cape Verde Parliament
who is here, not because of his outstanding interest in science,
but because of his particular interest in the Committee system.
I am told that, when he leaves after about quarter of an hour,
that is not because of something I have said but because he has
a busy schedule. Thank you very much for the invitation to be
here. I am here with Janet Dallas, whom you have met before, from
the Curriculum Division, and John Jones from the 14-19 Division.
With your permission I will spend four or five minutes setting
out some points. My own experience of science rather ill-qualifies
me for this task.
3. We were going to point that out to you.
(Mr Miliband) I will happily own up to my travails
in A-level science which were more to do with my own limitations
than those of the teachers or of the curriculum. On a serious
note, we have no view that we have a monopoly of wisdom in the
Department in this area. We are delighted that you are spending
time thinking about science and the science curriculum 14-19.
We hope by the end of this hour that you will be able to offer
us a re-grade from "unsatisfactory" to at least "promising"
although, as you know, the Government has to steer very well clear
of anything to do with assessments.
4. You are an expert in A-levels. We prefer
(Mr Miliband) We are hoping for a re-grade. I am sure
we agree that science is absolutely critical to the future of
the country, not just economically but as a community. I hope
you also agree that Investing in Innovation, the Government-wide
prospectus for reform in science, is a very positive document.
We are absolutely clear that the so-called genome generation is
going to need the moral and technical resources to make some very
difficult decisions in the next 20 or 30 years and science teaching
is obviously critical to that. Let me start in an unusual place,
which is that there are some good things happening. It is a rather
British trait always to talk about what is wrong, but you would
not believe from reading a lot of the press in this area that
the UK was ranked fourth out of 32 OECD countries in terms of
scientific literacy. I think that is a tribute to teachers and
to pupils and it is important in sessions like this that we recognise
the outstanding work that is done all round the country and I
am sure you would agree with that. It is important that we are
doing some things right and we must build on those as well as
correcting what is wrong. I just want to pick out three themes
from your report and touch on them briefly and then answer your
questions. They are to do with people, to do with the curriculum
and to do with resources; in other words, effective teaching,
how we get and develop an engaging curriculum, and how we make
sure that we have the right accommodation and equipment to achieve
high standards. In relation to effective teaching, we obviously
want to have the right number of properly-rewarded, properly-supported
teachers using the best possible teaching techniques. To that
end you will know that overall the pay of experienced teachers
has risen by about 15-20% in real terms over the last five years,
and that obviously benefits science teachers as well as teachers
of other subjects. In addition there are over £5,000 per
teacher recruitment and retention allowances available to heads
to use from their own increasingly-devolved budgets to ensure
that the difficulties in the recruiting and retaining of science
teachers are overcome. We are waiting for the STRB, the School
Teachers' Review Body, to give us their view on the need for specific
allowances in relation to science teachers. In relation to the
spreading of best practice, you will know about the £25 million
pledge from the Wellcome Trust to the National Centre for Excellence
in Science Teaching. We will soon be coming forward with the Government's
proposals in this area. I would also like to flag up the 24 specialist
science schools and the 58 applications we have had in the October
round for specialist status for science schools. Finally, in relation
to support staff in this section on people, you will know now,
which you could not know when you published your report, that
the Government has some very ambitious plans for bringing expertise
into the classroom to support the work of teachers. We anticipate
over this Parliament over 50,000 extra people. Some of them are
just secretarial but increasing numbers are at a higher level
to support teachers in the teaching enterprise. We are working
closely with the Royal Society and others to ensure that we have
the right framework for designating and qualifying those staff
but technicians fit very squarely in the middle of that agenda.
They are highlighted twice as priorities for the support staff
reforms that were published two weeks ago. In relation to the
curriculum, I personally see absolutely no contradiction between
the emphasis we put on high standards in what are called the basics
and the enrichment and the creativity that comes not just from
science but also from other subjects that sometimes are seen as
supportive rather than centre stage. I would say in relation to
the science curriculum 14-19 that we will never get anything right
if we start at 14. The Key Stage 3 science curriculum is absolutely
critical and that is why I think you will applaud the reforms
that we are bringing in at Key Stage 3 so that we can get to encourage
much more active learning, more engaging pedagogy at 11-14 to
inspire young people. In relation to the 14-19 curriculum itself,
you will know that just this year students started some new style
GCSE courses and next year we are starting a pilot of a hybrid
GCSE that has a common core and then some options beyond that
core. We are at the early stages in trying to re-energise and
re-engage pupils in the science curriculum at GCSE. No-one has
completed their courses yet. Personally, at constituency level,
I am getting very positive feedback from teachers about that.
You will know that the 14-19 Green Paper flagged up the potential
for longer-term reform in this area and we will be coming forward
with our response to the consultation in due course. Obviously,
other matters in relation to A-levels and AS-levels have taken
precedence in the last couple of months but we certainly have
not forgotten about the issues raised in that Green Paper and
we will be coming forward with them at the appropriate moment.
Finally, in relation to buildings and accommodation, you will
know that when we came into office in 1997 the total school building
budget for 24,000 schools around the country was £683 million,
which does not add up to very much per school. It is now £3
billion and it is growing in the spending review estimates up
to £5 billion a year by 2005-06. The DfES guidance to the
local education authorities puts real stress on the importance
of some of that money going towards science laboratories and their
importance in that and we trust the good sense of local headteachers
and LEAs to put that money to good use. The Asset Management Plan
is prepared by every LEA to give due significance to the importance
of science in that investment. That is our agenda. We are clear
that the next stage of educational reform is not about central
diktat but about us setting the right framework of accountability
for teachers and for LEAs to respond and to empower them with
the resources to make change at local level and that is why delegation
in our education system is rising and why the DfES spend is falling
and why there are fewer pots of money to bid for and less bureaucracy
attached to that, but with the right accountability we believe
we can get, not just science right, but the rest of the curriculum
right too. Thank you very much.
5. Thank you very much for that, but I guess
that what we say is that we have very much a different view about
what is happening in science teaching in schools and that comes
from us going round the schools, both as a Committee and as individuals
in our constituencies, talking to science teachers and talking
to technicians. In some respect we may be looking down the microscope
at the finer detail of what is going on in the schools, whereas
you are looking at the broader picture and relating it to education
in general. We only called you back because we found your Department's
report turgid, complacent and showing lack of any sensitivity
about the real problems that face our young people in science
in this country, and that is not us taking a very dogmatic line.
That comes from the people we have talked to, both in Scotland
and in England and, as I say, in many of the constituencies. We
feel that science does not get its fair whack in terms of interest
from your Department and perhaps that may be because some of you
have not done much science and so on and seen the importance of
it to the British economy at a time when the Chancellor and the
Prime Minister have highlighted science as predominant almost
in developing the economy in this country; it is so important
that we build on that and ensure that the science we teach is
world-class. This Committee thinks that we are some way from that
yet and we will now try and illustrate that with some of the questions
in terms of areas that you have already broadly referred to, but
I think in probing you will hear a bit more detail of what is
going on out there at the coal face. I guess you are saying that
you do not feel from your report that you have to act on anything
we have said whatsoever. Is that the case?
(Mr Miliband) It is quite the opposite. I take quite
the opposite view that because we agree with you and confirm that
we are taking action in areas where we agree with you, it seems
to me strange therefore to seek areas of disagreement. Throughout
our response to your report we agree that you have identified
important issues and we set out the ways in which we are trying
to address them, so I would take quite the opposite view from
you. We have deliberately not written a sensationalist report
in reply to you that tries to find areas of disagreement where
there is none. Instead we have given an honest appraisal of where
we think you have hit the mark, which is a large number of areas.
They are areas that we have identified as well and I think that
we can have a very productive discussion about how we do better
in a number of those areas but I would really urge you not to
feel that, because we agree with you that areas need to be addressed,
somehow we are complacent; quite the opposite. I feel that we
have a shared agenda in terms of pushing science forward. I hear
what you say about the evidence base but, with all due respect,
the OECD study which I cited, showing the UK's performance in
science, has not been challenged by anyone and whatever the anecdotal
comments that might come forward from the front line the overall
situation is as I described it. We agree that there are real pinch
points, real problems, real areas where we need to do better as
a country and we have tried to highlight where we are addressing
those issues. It is precisely because we share some of your concerns
that we have taken a lot of action to change those things.
6. So what is your strategy to reverse the trend
of many young women, for example, not going into the sciences,
many of whom we have talked to, some real high fliers? You said
quite clearly that they are not going into science for all sorts
of different reasons career-wise and so on, and also a lot of
teachers who now are talking about not having the proper equipment,
not being able to allow individuals to carry out their own experiments,
having to watch demonstrations and so on. What is the Department's
strategy for developing science teaching in this country to world
class level other than just scraping the surface? How do we get
to those young people who are running away, indeed, from maths
and physics and indeed some of the other sciences as well, where
this country really does need them?
(Mr Miliband) With respect, those are two very different
questions so let me address them separately. Although you say
we are scraping the bottom of the barrel as a country there are
28 countries who are performing worse than we are in a national
survey of 32 countries, so let us not do ourselves down. In relation
to young women, which I agree is a serious issue, the overall
position in our schools actually is that the young girls are doing
much better than the boys, including in science. If you look at
Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 the gender gap is against boys. Girls
are doing better. Where you have highlighted an important issue
is how we then translate that into study at post-16 and study
at university, and obviously there is a whole range of issues
associated with that. One is the curriculum and the extent to
which it motivates all young people. I would be nervous of making
changes to the current curriculum before we see the effect of
the new GCSEs that have just been brought in this year. The second
issue I would raise with you is the pedagogy, if you like, the
teaching and learning strategy and the extent to which it gets
the right balance between course work and examination and the
extent to which the learning is genuinely active learning as opposed
to passive learning. I do not want to become too jargon-laden,
and there I see an important role for the specialist science colleges
being genuine beacons of good practice that spread the best methods
of science teaching around the local schooling system. We are
going to see the same in relation to sports colleges, in relation
to technology colleges where there is a greater critical mass
and where we have seen progress, so that is the second thing I
would mention. The third aspect of this is that we want to give
young peoplewhen they make their choices about 14-19 sciencethe
sense that they are moving into a growing field where there are
future possibilities for them at university and beyond and that
is why it is so important to locate our discussion today in the
context of the Investing in Innovation overall strategy.
We can only succeed as part of a growing science base. We cannot
do it in the absence of that.
7. This is a personal question in a way. What
turned you off science? You must have had the opportunity to develop
your career along scientific lines. Were you stimulated by science
or were you an economist from the day you were born?
(Mr Miliband) I was not very good at it and there
is nothing like a "D" to make you think twice about
whether or not you want to carry on pursuing a subject. Frankly,
I would not have got into any university to do university degree
physics. Such is life. As I say, it was more my problem than the
system's problem. The system is probably quite lucky that I did
not pursue science any further.
8. I very much agree with what the Chair has
said. I do think that there is an extraordinary sense in which
there is no real sense of urgency and passionate commitment in
the kind of response that you have made to our report. We are
looking at a situation where we have students at school needing
to be taught by people who are qualified to teach them and yet
at the same time we are seeing chemistry departments and physics
departments close all over the country in universities. This is
partly because there is a market system that the Government seems
to be employing which says,"You can go to university but
once you are there you can do whatever you like", and people
increasingly are voting for moving away from the sciences which
you and we think are absolutely vital to this country's wealth
and economy, and are moving into many other sorts of courses.
That is partly because it is much cheaper for people to lay on
courses in the humanities than it is in engineering or physical
science. Do you really think that the Government has grasped the
nettle on this and understood that you cannot just delegate; you
have also to indicate a sense of direction and make sure that
the quantum of resource is sufficient to be able to deal with
these needs? I do not want an overall figure. I want a figure
(Mr Miliband) Anyone in the social sciences at university
would give their right arm for the degree of investment that has
gone on in the natural sciences.
Chairman: It is expensive.
9. That is totally irrelevant.
(Mr Miliband) No, with respect, it is not irrelevant.
I was asked by Mr McWalter whether the Government was willing
to give priority to science. In our spending decisions we have
given priority to science. It is absolutely in relation to infrastructure,
in relation to funding of personnel that the Government has responded
to the demand that we give greater priority to science, and we
have. Those are funding choices we are making to build up the
capacity of science departments. I am skiing off piste here; that
is outside my area, but we have put significant sums of money
into science and not into the social sciences. You can rightly
say, and I will agree with you, that it is long overdue, it is
long needed, the money is necessary, we need more, but the Government
has flagged up in the most obvious way it can its own commitment
there. I would ask back to you, what are you saying to me about
the choices that students are making? I do not see how we can
run a university system by us making the choices for them; I am
sure you would agree with that. They are making the choices about
what subjects they want to study. We are making it possible for
them to study to a high standard by expanding the science base
in universities. We want to do more of it. We are committed in
a whole number of ways. I do not need to rehearse how we hope
to do that, but I do not see what you are suggesting about an
alternative model of getting people to do science at university
other than the choices that they make.
10. University vice-chancellors are trying to
operate budgets and finding that if they operate a budget where
they have a significant amount of engineering and science in their
portfolio they run into deep financial difficulty. If, on the
other hand, they cut them,chemistry at Salford, civil engineering
and physics at my local university, all over the country there
are science courses shutting and the people who might have graduated
from those places as a result are not being made available to
teach in the schools, so we end up with the schools being the
only place where people do not have the qualifications they need.
We need some direction from the Government, not simply a laissez
faire system that says, "We want 50% of students going
to university", when most of those will inevitably not be
doing science with the current investment levels.
(Mr Miliband) We must not let this discussion close
without having on the record that there are 12% more people doing
science in university than there were six years ago. That is a
fact that I have not invented. Between 1994 and 1995 and 2000
and 2001 total enrolments in full-time science-based first degrees
in UK institutions increased by 12%.
11. We know that there is an increase in medicine.
There is not an increase, as has been said repeatedly, in the
physical and mathematical and engineering sciences. If we look
at our report, in paragraph 57 we say, "Students may be dissuaded
from studying science at A level if they think it will be harder
work than other subjects and more difficult to achieve a high
level grade." In paragraph 59 we say, "The mathematical
requirements, or students' perceptions of the mathematical requirements,
of A level sciences puts students off choosing to study these
subjects. This particularly applies to physics." What we
have is a system where, as it would appear, students vote with
their feet against things they find difficult and we end up with
science courses, particularly with a significant mathematical
content, being increasingly a rarity in our universities with
departmental closures an inevitable consequence.
(Mr Miliband) Let me come back on those two because
I think they are important points. My figures are that there are
40,000 more undergraduates studying science than there were six
or seven years ago.
12. Mostly the biological sciences.
(Mr Miliband) They cannot all be doing medicine, with
all due respect.
13. Sports science.
(Mr Miliband) I take seriously what you say about
the content of science at A-level. However, I will never be party
to saying that we should make science A-level easier. That gets
the Government into very hot water, rightly, and I am not saying
that. I hear what you are saying about maths but I have seen no
research, either from the universities or from anywhere else,
showing that the maths content of science A-level is a determining
factor in putting people off. I am open to it and I will certainly
pass it on to the QCA who are responsible for this, but I cannot
direct a change in the maths content of the science A-level without
significant research evidence that is independently based showing
14. How do we stop people studying tap dancing
BSc and encourage them to go into productive subjects which we
are so short of in this country to make the engineering and manufacturing
and science base tick?
(Mr Miliband) How many undergraduates are there in
15. I chose that as a trivial example, but you
and I know that students want a degree and they will take the
easy route unless they are attracted into the difficult routes.
Everybody around this table knows that to do science, engineering
or technology at university is a tough option, and if you do not
get grants to go to university and you want to take the safe option
then you take a subject which is easier to study, frankly, and
we have got to reverse this.
(Mr Miliband) I know of no students doing tap dancing.
16. I withdraw that. You know what I mean.
(Mr Miliband) I do not want us to demean the choices
that people are making. People often say that media studies is
a load of nonsense but actually the employment rates of media
graduates and some of the emerging technologies in that area show
that there is a market for them. In relation to science and the
like, as a personal view I am not convinced that they are seen
as hard for people who have shown skill at science A-level. If
I tried to do undergraduate physics I would not find it possible
but for the young people who are doing well at A-level, as a personal
view I do not think it is the fact that they are seen to be hard.
I think that there is an issue about the extent to which the world
of science holds on to its graduates and the extent to which they
float out into other occupations, which is a different thing.
That relates to the place of science. Someone referred to engineering,
the economic base of the country; there are some very big issues
there. I am interested if you have got some evidence showing this
is because it is perceived to be hard. For kids who are talented
at science I am not convinced that that is the problem.
17. Imperial College itself is saying that its
engineering course will shut in seven years' time.
(Mr Miliband) Why?
18. We have a situation in which there is a
widespread view that there is an easier way to achieve becoming
a university graduate than to pursue this route and huge numbers
of students exercise that choice. We are asking you for a sense
of direction but apparently you think that there are lots of people
around who have got these talents and who find it natural and
easy. All we can say is that we have no evidence of that in our
(Mr Miliband) I do not want to end this session on
a false note. What I have said is that the Government is committing
significant resources to expand the capacity of science departments
of universities to offer more and better degrees to science students.
That has resulted in 40,000 more people doing science at undergraduate
level. You say the distribution is not as it should be. The Government's
commitment is to a bigger, better science base at university level.
It is up to students then to make those choices. Our job is to
get right the science teaching at Key Stage 3, GCSE and A-level
so that you have the right flow coming through.
19. These figures, I am afraid, are absolute
balderdash. Teesside University has got 31 courses in its engineering
faculty and they are all just different varieties of graphics
and computing and using the word "technology" in the
sense of information technology. The basic engineering, whether
it is civil engineering or the physics of structures, all those
classical areas of scientific investigation, are being completely
and increasingly completely ignored because the statistics you
are working from put all of these things in the same pot and you
do not have the expertise to understand, collectively, as a department,
that there are whole areas of science which are being completely
neglected in your new arrangements.
(Mr Miliband) I take very seriously what Mr McWalter
has said. I think we should commit in that case to go away and
do a breakdown, with you if that would be helpful, subject by
subject, course by course, cross-cuts, in whatever way we can.
I have no interest in saying to you that everything is fine and
then to find in seven years' time, you said, that everything has
gone to pot. I have got absolutely no interest in doing that at
all. I am more than happy to commit to detailed discussions, subject