Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 207 - 219)




  Thank you for coming. Brian Iddon will ask the questions.

Dr Iddon

  207. In this last session we are going to try to pick up a few issues we might have missed. Perhaps you can tell me first of all what you think the key issues were that came out of the survey on GCSE science?
  (Sajad Al-Hairi) First of all, from the data we gathered the things which really stood out were that 80 per cent or more or all students studying the different subjects found they were exam-led and it was all you needed to know to pass the exam. Secondly, again 80 per cent found that practical experiments helped them significantly pass exams. Only a few per cent of people found that they did not want to know about ethical or moral issues which were to do with science, so in that sense the links with other areas were helpful. Also many triple students wanted to study the more controversial issues, because once you get on to triple science you will be learning a lot of facts, so if you could have a bit more room to manoeuvre and look at different issues that would help. A lot of the single students just wanted to get the facts, pass the exam and get it over with. From that we got a few conclusions. Firstly, you needed the GCSE to be something that helped and was accessible to any student who is coming from primary education or Key Stage 3 education, because when you get to university you are taught the same basic foundation course, but when it comes to GCSE you do have different level students but it does not make a difference when you get the foundations taught, so a lot of students start at a disadvantage and that does not help their course and they tend to go off it.

  208. Does that fit with your own personal experience? That is the survey but does that fit with your personal experience?
  (Sajad Al-Hairi) Very much so.

  209. Do you fit in with that?
  (Ashwin Reddy) I found my personal experience was that most of the topics we learned were exam-led. The teaching was not in general teaching, to the best of my knowledge, it was so we could get a good mark in the exams. I would prefer to see more topical issues being brought up so we could avoid the stupid hysteria about things like cloning and MMR, because really it is not a huge deal and people only see one side of it. There are two sides to any argument. People ignore the advantages of it because they simply cannot see how it could be used.

  210. Lucy, did that description apply to you or have you got some other ideas?
  (Lucy Ferguson) I agree totally there should be greater flexibility within the syllabus to include points of interest, which would make science more enjoyable. I personally was put off science. I did the triple award but did not study it at A-level, despite loving science all the way up to GCSE level. There was nothing which interested me so I was not motivated enough to study it later on.


  211. What would have kept you at science? Is there one thing or certain things that would have kept you in science?
  (Lucy Ferguson) Less maths and I would have liked greater flexibility so I could do stuff I enjoyed, stuff that actually interested me.

Dr Iddon

  212. Kayleigh?
  (Kayleigh Goddard) I really enjoyed studying science and that is why I am continuing it now. One thing that happened was that we always seemed to get sidetracked, and we used to discuss things like cloning in greater depth, and so it was more interesting and we got on to more controversial issues as well as having the syllabus, so I really enjoyed science and that is why it has made me do it now.

  213. When I am sat in the audience I might be thinking, "Is somebody going to mention that?" Is there anything that we really ought to know this afternoon that no-one has mentioned so far, including yourselves?
  (Sajad Al-Hairi) When talking about the dissection issue, what people really want to do is have a touch of the apparatus, a touch of the equipment and do it for themselves and have the feeling that there is an answer that they know. With a lot of experiments you know what is going to come out, you know the result and what the conclusions are going to be. If there were a range of experiments that gave you a different approach and helped you experiment and research more, that would help.
  (Lucy Ferguson) More hands-on experience, but it could also be less clinical—clinical is not a good word—but less structured. It could be better and more encouraging for pupils' self- discovery if they could explore science for themselves and go down different avenues. That has got to be within some sort of framework so you can test it at the end, but greater flexibility with learning could be better.

  214. There was a challenging statement that somebody said earlier, I forget who it was, that you only stick with science if you want to carry on with science. We study history, geography and RE, a whole range of topics, that we do not necessarily want to carry on with, so why should we not study science even if we do not want to carry on with it?
  (Kayleigh Goddard) Science is very important. With controversial issues such as cloning in the news if people do not have a basic understanding of science they will not be able to understand things, and they will not be able to make judgments for themselves about things if they do not have a basic understanding of science.

  215. You must have done my syllabus because that was the answer I was expecting!
  (Ashwin Reddy) Science is essential for our well-being. If you do not know history, unless you want to do something in that field, you are not going to miss much. A lot of people need to know about the dangers of things like smoking and alcohol and that is taught in the science syllabus.
  (Lucy Ferguson) I studied both of the subjects we are talking about and I do not necessarily want to do them, but what I learn there will relate to what I want to do, which is law, and that will relate to it, and science at the moment has nothing in it like current issues that I can link to what I want to do.

  Dr Iddon: Lawyers deal with a lot of scientific issues, as you will learn.

  Mr McWalter: I was struck when you asked your question about what it lacks and Sajad said that you wanted to see what I thought was more open-ended enquiry, and my colleague Brian said more hands-on experience. Those two things are very different. That was the bit that you wanted, open ended enquiry which Yasmin mentioned as a key desiratum as well. You then say you want to study law. Law is very factual and very dry and you have got to learn loads and loads of stuff before you get anywhere. Are you not jumping out of the frying pan into the fire?

  Chairman: You get money out of it!

Mr McWalter

  216. Is it the money?
  (Lucy Ferguson) Partly.

Dr Iddon

  217. That was a question I was going to raise. How important is the salary of a potential career to you when you are considering what you are studying? Is there a perception that scientists are not very well paid and lawyers, solicitors, vets and dentists are fairly well paid?
  (Lucy Ferguson) There is probably less scope for a career. I have not been taught much about careers as such in science, having never really had an interest in it, but there was never very much information given to us about careers in science, so we were more likely to opt for something which we knew had higher pay.

  218. Have you got a feel for how much people earn in their careers?
  (Lucy Ferguson) Not very much at all.

  219. Would you like to know that?
  (Lucy Ferguson) It could influence it. You may go through life saying, "I want to be an author", thinking they all get great pay but then realising you only get that if you write a successful book.

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