Memorandum submitted by the Engineering
1. The Engineering Council welcomes the
opportunity to present this statement and congratulates the Committee
on undertaking this enquiry. Although science and engineering
are distinct entities, scientific knowledge and understanding
are among the principal attributes required by engineers. Engineers
will bring this knowledge and understanding, together with a range
of other intellectual qualities, to bear on the development of
solutions to a wide range of technical problems. The continued
supply of effective engineers, technologists, and technicians
therefore depends in part upon science flourishing as a subject
in the education of all young people, and being taught in a way
which will enthuse them. The wide range of educational opportunities
open to young people, and the success with which some other areas
of study have been promoted and delivered, make this even more
important. At present it is evident that science suffers from
certain image problems as a subject for young people, and these
need to be addressed.
2. The current prevalent approach of presenting
science simply as "facts" leaves people unprepared for
differing views or for formulating scientific-related ideas. There
needs to be a fresh approach to the syllabus to equip people better
to judge what they are seeing and reading (processes, history
of science, proof and hypothesis). All young people should be
equipped for scientific literacythe curriculum must pull
away from being geared to preparing 10 per cent of the population
to be potential scientists, and direct itself instead to ensuring
the scientific literacy of all, providing a basis for further
study by those who are inclined and suited to it.
3. We commend to the Committee the recommendations
in the Science 2000 report, most of which we strongly support.
The thinking behind this report has already generated some encouraging
developments. These include the development work now beginning
on a GCSE course in science which would include what have previously
been thought of as separate "academic" and "vocational"
elements, and the development by the Nuffield Foundation of an
AS level in Science for Public Understanding. Changes in the curriculum
should be directed towards more teaching about science and less
on content. This will require considerable professional development
by teaching staff. There should be more in the curriculum to celebrate
the success of science and illustrate its relevance to consumers.
4. The development of the science curriculum
needs also to be linked to the development of a wide range of
capabilities in students. These include the specified Key Skills,
not only communication, numeracy, and ICT capability, but also
what are sometimes misleadingly called the soft skills of improving
one's own learning, working with others, and problem solving.
Science teaching and learning also need to develop the following
resilience (to handle ever-increasing
adaptability (to respond confidently
discrimination (to select and evaluate
connective thinking (to make creative
decisions and devise new solutions to problems).
5. We should particularly like to draw the
Committee's attention to the benefits to be gained from interaction
between science, and design and technology. These are considered
fully in the report "Interaction", by David Barlex and
James Pitt, published by the Engineering Council in 2000. While
emphasising the differences between the subjects, and rejecting
the notion of integrating them fully within the curriculum, the
report drew attention to the potential for collaborative working
between teachers in the two areas. It observed that the structure
of the National Curriculum had been a major factor in inhibiting
this. The report recommended that collaborative partnerships should
be encouraged to pilot shared working. A pilot project supported
by the Engineering Council, Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering,
DfES and the Engineering Employers' Federation, linked to a study
by the York Science Group, is now in progress.
6. Any new approach to delivering the science
curriculum must be flexible, allow fast-tracking, promote continuity
and progression, and have science for all as a part of it. All
young people should be engaged in the equivalent of an improved
double award in science at GCSE, to include appropriate careers
counselling. There should be more flexibility in the entry age
for examinations and routes for progression to meet individual
needs and acknowledge prior attainment. Specialist schools may
offer good opportunities for developing these new approaches,
but the results must be well disseminated to all schools.
7. There are many equal opportunities issues
associated with the teaching of science, such as qualifications
choices; styles of teaching; and methods of assessment. More positive
inclusion/anti-racist and anti-sexist thinking/action needs to
be built in to science provisionfor growing problems generated
by failing to do so see EOC report December 2001. The exec summary
of "Science Policies in the European Union" [A
report from the ETAN Expert Working Group on Women and Science;
"Attracting more young people into science
poses challenges for education. The sex-stereotyping of science
and scientists needs to be tackled through the curriculum, through
pedagogy and through the media. Various strategies to encourage
women to enter and remain in science are commended."
8. There is no shortage of curriculum materials
to support science teaching. The focus now needs to be not on
these but upon professional development for teachers. Currently
this is insufficient and not focused on specific needs. As the
curriculum changes so teachers' professional development to match
these changes will be crucial. The role of a National Centre for
Excellence in Science Teaching will be crucial. However it is
important that all practitioners associated with the teaching
of science should be involved in developing and implementing change.
9. There should be a Professional Development
framework for technicians and an increase in their number:
"A move to establish a national career
structure for science technicians (supported by an investment
in CPD) would not only be universally welcomed, but would improve
pupil attitudes towards, and performance in, school science".
[The Royal Society 20 Dec 2001cover letter
to Royal Society/ASE working group report]
D&T AND ICT CURRICULA
10. Although the Committee's focus is upon
the science curriculum, it is appropriate to point out perceived
shortcomings in the current mathematical attainment of school-leavers
which militate against their ability to progress in science-related
education. The former Further Education Funding Council's final
survey of engineering in colleges (2000) noted problems for engineering
"The mathematical ability of many engineering
students continues to be a weakness. Students often lack confidence
in the manipulation of equations and formulae. The number and
range of examples provided for students are not always sufficient
to develop their mathematical competence. Mathematical principles
need to be linked more often to engineering applications to promote
the relevance and understanding of mathematics. Numeracy, literacy,
and information technology (IT) are key skills which all engineering
departments develop, but not always systematically. The further
application of computers to aid engineering processes is usually
well taught. Few engineering departments have extended the development
of key skills to cover problem-solving, working with others, and
improving own learning and performance, as requested by industry."
11. Similar problems have been noted by
many in higher education. The report "Mathematics Matters"
published by the Engineering Council in 2000, highlighted the
declining performance of many engineering graduates in mathematical
diagnostic tests carried out at the beginning of their degree
courses. To some extent this is a function both of the changes
which have taken place in the nature and purpose of the Maths
curriculum up to A level, and of the rapid expansion of higher
education. Most universities recognise that they need to adjust
their approaches, to deal with this. However, there are widespread
fears about the decline in the numbers of students undertaking
mathematical studies beyond the age of 16. The fiasco which occurred
with the new Maths AS level in 2001 will lead to a sharp reduction
in the number of A level Maths candidates in 2002 and 2003, and
we have no confidence that the matter is being properly addressed
by Government and its agencies.
12. The current problem could be summarised
as "if it doesn't appear in the test teachers don't teach
it". Assessment should be strengthened to improve its quality
and relevance. We understand that QCA is developing more open
questions, to focus on investigative process skills. We welcome
this development. Accrediting teachers as assessors would go some
way towards focusing assessment on relevant activities.
13. With the demise of the FEFC and its
inspectorate last March up to date information on science provision
in colleges of FE should be obtainable from the LSC, Ofsted and
ALI. Ofsted should shortly be able to provide an overview of the
comparison of science provision in schools and FE colleges. Most
Sixth Form Colleges in the FE sector offer GCE A levels in the
Sciences and D&T. In General FE colleges GNVQ Science and
GCSE in Science are widely offered. There has been continued growth
in both types of college in the number of modular GCE A level
courses. Enrolments on computer and information technology (IT)
courses remain high, although there is an increased demand for
alternative qualifications to GCE A level. Enrolments on computer
literacy and information technology (CLAIT) courses are high;
many hundreds in a substantial number of colleges. In the majority
of general further education colleges, the number of students
studying science subjects is static or falling. The situation
is healthier in sixth form colleges. Few students opt for general
national vocational qualification (GNVQ) science programmes. In
some colleges, recruitment to GCE A level mathematics courses
is falling. Although colleges offer alternative courses to GCSE
mathematics, too many students continue to take GCSE mathematics
without a realistic chance of success.
14. Recent inspection reports on Science
from the FE sector (to be found at http://www.fefc.ac.uk/documents/inspectionreports/pubs-insp/r980330.pdf)
have shown that:
a good balance between theoretical
work and practical activities needs to be maintained.
teachers do not encourage students
to work enough on their own.
A common weakness is that teachers
do not take enough account of the differing levels of student
ability when planning their lessons. More able students are not
challenged sufficiently, particularly on GNVQ and other vocational
courses. Despite examples of good practice, much mathematics teaching
fails to deal effectively with the difficulties which many students
experience in mathematics. Some teachers pay insufficient attention
to the development of key skills.
Teachers set imaginative assignments
which reflect the practical demands of vocational courses.
Science students develop good practical,
laboratory skills and follow health and safety requirements, though
some do not understand the theoretical principles on which their
work is based.
Teachers are usually well qualified.
Most are graduates with teaching qualifications and many have
relevant industrial experience. It is difficult for IT teachers
to keep their subject knowledge up to date, however, and, in some
colleges, mathematics teachers are required to teach the subject
at foundation level without appropriate training. There is a great
deal of valuable staff development activity, much of it focused
on curriculum 2000.
Specialist resources and accommodation
in colleges are generally good. Colleges continue to improve their
science facilities. The laboratories in many colleges are well
equipped. The quality of computing facilities continues to improve.
In some cases, students have access to excellent, state-of-the-art
equipment housed in spacious, well-designed accommodation.
15.c. The conclusions from the Mathematics
in FE survey undertaken in 1999-2000 (to be found at http://www.fefc.ac.uk/documents/inspectionreports/pubs-insp/MIFE.pdf)
reveal the following:
(i) The strengths of the provision of mathematics
in further education are:
the wide range of qualifications
in mathematics and numeracy;
challenging activities to stimulate
students' interest and encourage discussion, particularly in GCE
A/AS level lessons;
good use of practical tasks on vocational
courses to support the development of mathematical skills;
widespread assessment of numerical
skills on entry to further education;
readily accessible support for individual
students through well-organised and well-managed mathematics workshops.
(ii) In order to improve the quality of mathematics
provision the report advised that colleges should address the
widely differing levels of mathematical
attainment by students on courses of the same level;
the lack of basic arithmetical and
algebraic skills amongst students;
insufficient guidance on the choice
of courses for students seeking foundation and intermediate level
qualifications in mathematics;
poor GCSE examination results in
mathematics in further education colleges;
the narrow range of teaching and
learning activities which takes insufficient account of students'
unclear learning objectives for application
of number lessons within vocational courses;
lack of staff development to support
the teaching of mathematics.
16. Clearly there are strengths and weaknesses
in both sectors. While suggesting that the Committee may wish
to follow up some of the points made here about colleges, we should
like to comment briefly on possibilities which may be offered
by the forthcoming Green Paper on 14-19 education. As trailed,
this seems to offer the possibility of a more integrated approach
to education and development of young people in this age range.
We believe that the opportunities which this offers for science
should be seized. In particular it may help to break down the
destructive separation of so-called academic and vocational routes.
This will require schools and colleges to co-operate more closely
than is often the case at present on curriculum management. Full
advantage should be taken of the strengths which each can offer.
In particular, students in schools should be able to have access
to the often superior facilities available in colleges, and to
make the most of the links the latter generally have with industry.
The development in the FE sector of Centres of Vocational Excellence
may offer particular opportunities here.