Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report


Putting a new curriculum into practice


102. Paragraphs 73-82 discuss changes that are needed in the way that the current GCSEs in science are assessed. These apply equally to any new curriculum. In addition, ways of developing skills associated with scientific literacy need to be developed. The previous version of the National Curriculum, introduced in 1995, covered much of the same ground as shown in figure 5, although less explicitly. The evidence that we have received suggests that this aspect of the National Curriculum has not been given a high priority. There appear to be two main reasons for this. First, it is not examined. The Wellcome Trust tells us that "unless this element of the curriculum is formally assessed, teachers and students will accord [it] lower status than the examined elements and may, indeed, not cover these issues at all".[184] For GCSE exams set from 2003 onwards, awarding bodies will be expected to base 5% of the marks at GCSE on the assessment of the statement in figure 5. This is progress but seems low. Incorporating scientific literacy in the National Curriculum will not, on its own, be enough. If this aspect of the curriculum is to receive the attention that it deserves it must be given a higher priority in assessment.

103. There is no consensus on how scientific literacy should be assessed at GCSE. Clare Matterson from the Wellcome Trust suggested that lessons should be learned from "the humanities and English that do have methods of assessing discursive ways of thinking...[we] do not have to completely re-invent the wheel".[185] Ralph Levinson from the Institute of Education suggested that "an emphasis on evidence and an emphasis on argument could be one way forward".[186] It is QCA's responsibility to ensure that the awarding bodies are assessing the full breadth of the National Curriculum. Research and development needs to be undertaken to develop ways of assessing the skills associated with scientific literacy. This should be seen as an urgent priority and funded by Government.


104. The second reason that the teaching of skills associated with scientific literacy has been neglected is that teachers have not been trained to do it. Teachers will need considerable support if the proposals in this report are to be put into practice. They will then be asked to teach in a different way, for which they will need training. And they will also need to plan how to teach new exam courses, which will include adjusting to new methods of assessment, developing new and interesting approaches to coursework and getting up-to-date with developments in science. This will need both time and resources.[187] DfES is establishing a National Centre for Excellence in Science Teaching, which will provide professional development for science teachers and technicians.[188] The then Schools Minister told us that the Centre would be "fully operational" within two years.[189] We welcome the establishment of this Centre and hope that it will have significant role in supporting the development of science teaching in schools. DfES assures us that "the timetable for introducing change will allow preparation and time for teachers to be trained".[190] If science teachers are to be asked to teach a different curriculum at key stage 4, they will need time, resources and training. The Government must ensure that all three of these are available to teachers before implementing any major changes in science at key stage 4.

Providing for different interests

105. The interests and motivations of students vary widely. If we are to expect students to engage in science then courses must be available that will meet these different needs. This should, as a minimum, mean offering a choice between vocational and traditional courses. The development of the GCSE in Applied Science, discussed in paragraph 33, and QCA's pilot of a new GCSE, described in paragraph 17, are the first steps in this direction. These are welcome developments but if the National Curriculum were to be revised as described in paragraphs 91-101, this would enable a much wider and more flexible range of science courses to be developed and offered at key stage 4. QCA should work together with the awarding bodies to develop a range of courses in science at key stage 4 that reflect the diverse interests and motivations of students.


106. A level choices show that girls and boys have not developed equal interest across the sciences pre-16, as described in paragraphs 50-52. Girls opt out of physics: boys opt out of biology. Colin Osborne of the Royal Society of Chemistry said that one of the factors was "the kind of context in which you present the curriculum. It is too go through a traditional kind of context...which would influence boys".[191] Michelle Ryan, a teacher at Ricards Lodge High School, Wimbledon, suggested that "girls are more interested in the application of science" giving medical physics as an example of a topic that might particularly appeal to girls.[192] Ann Marks, Chair of the Women in Physics Education Sub­Group at the Institute of Physics, found in her research that girls that had studied the Salters Horners Physics and Advancing Physics A level courses (available since 1998 and 2000 respectively) were positive about their experiences of A level physics.[193] These courses were specifically designed to introduce physics through "real life" topics and we hope that they will attract an increasing proportion of girls.[194] We commend the Institute of Physics and the Salters and Horners Companies for funding the development of these courses. Of other syllabi, Ann Marks said "[they] do not enable girls to gain an appreciation of the excitement and relevance of physics nor do they indicate the great range of career possibilities from a physics education". We assume that the same applies to GCSE physics.[195] The evidence from A level courses that focus on presenting science in contemporary and relevant contexts suggests that it is possible to attract girls to study physics and for them to enjoy the experience. This has lessons for the study of physics at 14 to 16. QCA should explore how the curriculum and assessment at key stage 4 could be adapted to reflect the positive features seen in the new physics A level courses.


107. Issues around the achievement of Black students in science are discussed in paragraphs 53-56. Some positive work is going on to address these issues. The African-Caribbean Network for Science and Technology, which was set up by Black professionals in 1995 to help Black youth achieve qualifications and jobs in science, technology, medicine and engineering, has been active in bringing students into contact with Black role models.[196] The National RESPECT Campaign was launched in February 2002, with OST funding, to highlight the contribution of the African-Caribbean community to science, engineering and technology in the UK, and to encourage more young people from ethnic minorities into these fields.[197] In some areas after-school science clubs, the Ishango Science Clubs, have been established, with DfEE/DfES development funding, to provide educational support for African-Caribbean pupils, and are reported to have had a major impact on pupil achievement and motivation.[198] It is disappointing to hear that the future of these clubs is threatened by lack of continuing local funding.[199] We recommend that the Government consider how best to ensure the future of the Ishango after-school Science Clubs, if necessary by continued central government funding.

108. The African-Caribbean Network for Science and Technology recommends that the Government commission further research on race equality in science, maths and technology and explore ways of targeting resources on underachieving groups. It calls for science teaching materials to be developed to encourage multi-cultural and anti-racist teaching; and for teaching training and continuous professional development for science teachers to include these elements. We endorse these recommendations.

Specialist schools

109. Some schools have chosen to become "specialist schools", emphasising a particular curriculum area, although they must continue to teach the full National Curriculum. The initiative was launched in 1994 and, from September 2002, there will be 834 specialist schools. Of these, 409 will be Technology Colleges, 143 Arts Colleges, 141 Language Colleges and 141 Sports Colleges.[200] The first applications for the new specialist categories of Science, Engineering, Maths and Computing and Business and Enterprise were submitted in March 2002. 38 schools applied for science specialist status and seven for engineering status. Huish Episcopi Community School, Somerset and The King John School, Essex, which were visited by members of the Committee in the course of the inquiry, have recently been awarded science, and maths and computing, specialist status respectively. The Government's target is for 1,500 secondary schools in England (roughly 50%) to have specialist status by 2005. A similar approach has been taken in Japan, where 26 schools are to be designated "Super Science High Schools".[201] This is part of a wider "Science Literacy Enhancement Initiative", where £31million has been allocated over two years to science education.

110. Ruth Wright from the Engineering Council told us that, initially, they were not enthusiastic about the idea of engineering schools because they "thought it was probably some way of going for a two-tier or three-tier education [system]".[202] These fears had been allayed following discussions with DfES, although the Engineering Council saw similar concerns from schools as the likely explanation for the low number of applicants for the engineering specialism. They predicted that the numbers will grow "once exemplar high­flying Engineering Colleges are up and running".[203] Stephen Timms, the then DfES Schools Minister told us that "the first benefit I expect [from specialist schools] is an improvement in standards. Secondly... I will expect the establishment of science specialist schools to be able to strengthen the provision of science in some primary and secondary schools in the area where the school is located".[204] Richard Shearman of the Engineering Council told us that "if specialist schools can be used to create good practice in the teaching of science and technology...that could well provide useful material for the education system as a whole".[205] Science specialist schools could lead the way in piloting new approaches to the 14 to 16 curriculum.

111. There could, on the surface, appear to be some duplication between the new specialisms and the Technology Colleges, which have to focus on two curriculum areas chosen from science, maths, design and technology and ICT. In practice, it seems that many Technology Colleges have focused on the use of ICT within school, investing most of the additional funds associated with specialist status in purchasing hardware. We welcome the establishment of science and engineering specialist schools as a recognition that Technology Colleges, although numerous, are not representing the breadth of science and technology education. The Government should set a target for the number of science and engineering specialist schools within the overall target of 1,500 specialist schools by 2005.

112. All applicants for specialist status have to raise £50,000 in sponsorship, a significant barrier for some. Advice and support in raising sponsorship is available for schools through the Technology Colleges Trust, which manages the specialist schools programme on DfES's behalf.[206] Separately, a consortium of engineering bodies came together to provide the sponsorship needed for three schools to apply for engineering specialist status.[207] We welcome this move and would like to encourage scientific bodies to work together to support schools in a similar way. This could be by offering funds themselves, as in the case of the engineering bodies, or by working with potential sponsors from business and industry. We urge scientific bodies to consider how they can encourage and support schools to apply for science specialist status.

184   Ev 160, Appendix 29, para 18 Back

185   Q372 Back

186   Q373 Back

187   Ev 91, para 1.4; Ev 109, paras 12-13 Back

188   See also Ev 133, para 22 Back

189   Q543.  Back

190   Ev 205, Appendix 50 Back

191   Q39 Back

192   Q252 Back

193   Ev 141 Back

194   See also Ev 104, para 134; Ev 132, para 13 Back

195   See also Ev 146, para 25 Back

196   SED14. Unprinted evidence. See also Ev 147, appendix 27 Back

197   Ibid, paras 4.29-4.33 Unprinted evidence Back

198   Ibid, paras 4.2-4.18. Unprinted evidence See also Ev 154 Back

199   Ibid, para 4.18. Unprinted evidence Back

200   DfES Press notice 2002/0015, 5 February 2002. Available via Back

201   SED103. Unprinted evidence Back

202   Q63 Back

203   Register news no. 4 - formation - 3-19 education. Engineering Council. April 2002. Available via Back

204   Q530 Back

205   Q63 Back

206   See Back

207   The consortium comprised EEF (Engineering Employers' Federation), EMTA (the National Training Organisation for Engineering and Manufacture), MTTA (the Machine Tool Technologies Association), the Engineering Council, the Engineering Development Trust and the Royal Academy of Engineering. Back

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