Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Engineering Professors' Council


  1.1.  The Engineering Professors' Council (EPC) is a national body whose members are Professors and Heads of Departments in engineering higher education. The Council's mission is "promoting excellence in engineering higher education". It has 1,200 members active in engineering teaching and research across all engineering disciplines.

  1.2.  The EPC's aim are:

    —  to make the excellence in engineering higher education more widely known;

    —  to enable engineering higher education to excel;

    —  to secure adequate resources for engineering higher education.

  1.3.  The Council welcomes the inquiry into Science Education from 14 to 19 which are related to EPC's current objectives. These include:

    —  to enthuse young people to study engineering;

    —  to work with others to promote engineering nationally and internationally;

    —  to enhance the flow of qualified research workers into engineering higher education.


  2.1  There is a tendency in both maths and science teaching in schools for the curriculum to be driven by subject specialists. One example is the decoupling of the A level syllabi in applied maths and physics. In our view this is unwise and is to the detriment of students' learning in both subjects.

  2.2.  The level of preparedness in science subjects of students entering engineering courses varies widely, and has in general declined in recent years. For engineering, physics (and for some disciplines chemistry) are the basis of understanding the behaviour of engineering artefacts and processes. Students must have a thorough grounding in the basic principles, the ability to apply theories and techniques without having to stop and think, and the ability to apply them to unfamiliar problems, Missing foundations at school level must be addressed at HE level if output quality is to be maintained and additional resources must be provided to maintain standards, without additional resources it will be necessary to increase courses' length. The cost of addressing missing foundations within HE is much greater than if they are suitably addressed beforehand.

  2.3.  Double science at GCSE, and in particular the lack of subject specialist teachers at this level, has a knock on effect. While this is difficult to quantify exactly, prior to the double GCSE students took three separate science O levels, in preparation for the separate science A levels. Now they generally take (effectively) two thirds of that for the same three A levels. This certainly leads to a weaker grasp of essential principles in individual science subjects. It is also frequently the case that double science GCSE is a mask for the individual sciences to be taught by non-specialists. This also leads to the poor grounding of students in the basics.

  2.4.  We recognise the tensions between the dual purpose of the school science curriculum to provide both for specialist education at higher levels, and to provide a basis for the well-rounded, scientifically informed citizen. It is also necessary to maintain career options for as long as possible for the brightest school students, whatever their eventual career path. We would not wish to see earlier specialisation.

  2.5.  We recommend that there is further revision of the maths curriculum to ensure validity, correct emphasis and viability for entry to a range of higher education subjects.

April 2002

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