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


Memorandum submitted by the Department for Education and Skills


  1.  The Government's aim is that the 14-19 phase of education and training should:

    —  increase participation in learning post-16, raise standards of attainment at 19, and increase to 50 per cent the proportion of young people entering higher education;

    —  result in well-motivated young people playing their full part in the economy and in society;

    —  meet young people's individual needs and aspirations and enable schools, colleges and training providers to be more flexible in meeting the needs of every young person;

  2.  The main proposals in the Green Paper, 14-19: Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards include:

    —  the creation of new pathways of learning by:

    —  reforming the 14-16 curriculum in order to increase its flexibility and allow students to pursue subjects which best meet their needs and aspirations—while maintaining a strong focus on the basics;

    —  making high quality vocational options available to all students which are widely recognised and offer the opportunity of entry to HE;

    —  building parity of esteem between vocational and academic GCSEs/A Levels;

    —  the creation of an overarching award to enable recognition of achievement in both academic and vocational subjects—the Matriculation Diploma;

    —  allowing pupils to learn at a pace that is right for them, including accelerated and slower paced learning.

  3.  Where we are now:

    —  the proportion of 16-18 year olds involved in education and training has been rising over a number of years but remains well below European and OECD averages;

    —  the numbers of young people in the UK who are not in education, employment or training are high in comparison with other countries;

    —  the UK currently has 26 per cent of 15-24 year olds leaving education with, at best, a Level 2 qualification compared to 9 per cent in Germany. The gap between the UK and the best of the rest of the world is still significant in terms of the achievement of Level 2 qualifications, although it is narrowing;

    —  the UK lags behind in the attainment of Level 3 qualifications with 61 per cent of 15-24 year olds attaining this level compared to 85 per cent in Germany;

    —  the Skills Task Force has expressed concern that those with general rather than vocational qualifications may not have had sufficient opportunity to develop the skills needed in the workplace;

    —  in other OECD countries all types of route are held in high esteem, and the students can progress to higher education from any of them;

    —  a recent OECD report showed the UK performance to be significantly above the OECD average in equipping young people with the skills for adult life. But the study also showed that there was too big a gap between the high and the lower attainers, and that socio-economic background remained a barrier to educational success.

  4.  The aims of our proposals are to achieve:

    —  higher standards of attainment at age 19;

    —  better rounded and motivated citizens and workers, able to contribute to a productive economy;

    —  a commitment to lifelong learning by all young people;

    —  increased employability for all young people, whether before or after higher education;

    —  a reduction in the numbers of those truanting and those dropping out of education and training post-16 because students are better motivated; this will be a net gain both to society and to the economy.

  We are currently consulting on these proposals, following publication of the Green Paper on 12 February.


  5.  The purpose of the National Curriculum is to ensure that all young people during the period of compulsory education follow a broad and balanced programme. It allows schools to meet the individual learning needs of pupils and to develop a distinctive character and ethos rooted in their local communities. And it provides a framework within which all partners in education can support young people on the road to further learning. The focus of the National Curriculum, together with the wider school curriculum, is therefore to ensure pupils develop from an early age the essential literacy and numeracy skills they need to learn, provide them with a guaranteed access to a full and rounded programme of learning, to foster their creativity; and to give teachers discretion in how they teach their pupils.

  6.  The introduction to the National Curriculum for science sets out ways in which science can contribute to pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development; how science promotes the acquisition of key skills and other aspects of the curriculum including work experience, creativity, enterprise and education for sustainable development.

  7.  The introduction to the Programme of Study summarises the importance of science to young peoples' learning. "Science stimulates and excites pupils' curiosity about phenomena and events in the world around them. It also satisfies this curiosity with knowledge. Because science links direct practical experience with ideas, it can engage learners at many levels. Scientific method is about developing and evaluating explanations through experimental evidence and modelling. This is a spur to critical and creative thought. Through science pupils understand how major scientific ideas contribute to technological change—impacting on industry, business, medicine and improving quality of life. Pupils recognise the cultural significance of science and trace its worldwide development. They learn to question and discuss science-based issues that may affect their lives, the direction of society and the future of the world".

  8.  Within the National Curriculum, science is one of the "core subjects" alongside mathematics, English and ICT, taught to all pupils aged 5-16. The National Curriculum Programme of Study sets out the statutory framework for the teaching of science. The Green Paper, 14-19: Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards proposes that science be retained along with English, maths and ICT to form the core of compulsory subjects at Key Stage 4 of the National Curriculum.

  9.  Schools are able to disapply national curriculum subjects at key stage 4 in certain circumstances. Beyond provision for disapplication for students with statements of special educational need, or for temporary periods, schools are only able to disapply science for the purpose of facilitating an extended work-related learning programme. In 2000-01 QCA monitoring data suggested that some 2,000 pupils had been disapplied from science for this purpose, generally in conjunction with another subject. In a small number of cases—about 300—in 2000-01 science alone was disapplied for this purpose. The Green Paper, 14-19: Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards proposes that from 2004 it should no longer be possible to disapply science at Key Stage 4 for the purpose of facilitating work-related learning.

  10.  Full details of the science curriculum for 14-16 year olds can be accessed through the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) website: In summary, the curriculum covers the following broad areas: Scientific Enquiry; Life Processes and Living things; Materials and their Properties; and Physical Processes. It provides equal balance across the sciences — physics, chemistry, biology and includes study of earth sciences and astronomy. A revised curriculum was introduced in September 2000. The changes in science were designed to clarify and strengthen experimental and investigative science.

  11.  At Key Stage 4 schools can offer pupils aged 14-16 one of three options: single award science leading to one GCSE; double award science leading to the award of two GCSEs; or GCSEs of a single awarding body in the three separate sciences of biology, chemistry, and physics, leading to three GCSEs. The difference between the single and double award science GCSEs is the time allocated to science in the overall Key Stage 4 curriculum and therefore the depth of coverage. Typically the double award GCSE is delivered using 20 per cent of curriculum time and is the option offered by most schools. In 2001, 82 per cent of candidates entered the double award GCSE. This enables pupils to gain a balanced scientific education while also allowing the time to study a broader curriculum. The GCSE double award in science provides a secure grounding for pupils to progress to AS and A level. There is provision for pupils not to follow a science course at Key Stage 4, to follow work-related learning but only a very small number follow these options, 2,000 pupils in 2000-01.

  12.  In preparing for greater cohesion and opportunity 14-19, we are putting in place more varied qualifications, both academic and vocational, to meet better the needs of young people, and ultimately, of employers and the wider economy. The White Paper, Schools: Achieving Success pointed the way ahead to opportunities to follow a work-related programme including a significant element of work related learning from the age of 14. This might then be followed by a Modern Apprenticeship or full time vocational study at college and then a Foundation Degree for those who have the potential. The Green Paper, 14-19; Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards also put forward our thinking on an overarching award that might recognise achievement in both academic and vocational subjects as well as achievements outside formal learning, such as volunteering.

  13.  The GCSE in applied science, to be introduced in September 2002 aims to encourage progression post 16 to education and training in more vocational fields of science and technology. It includes modules on: laboratory procedures and scientific skills; scientific understanding in key areas of living organisms, materials, mechanisms and electrical devices; deploying scientific understanding and skills to solve work-related problems.

  14.  Following the introduction of the revised National Curriculum in 2000, we also asked QCA to consider whether the current science curriculum best meets the needs of pupils in the 21st century. QCA will report formally later this year, and has already begun the development of a new pilot science GCSE for 2003. The pilot currently includes:

    —  a single GCSE, aimed at all pupils, which would, as well as teaching underlying scientific principles, build the course of study around contemporary issues (including moral and social), giving a rounded basis for young people to become educated and informed users of science; plus

    —  a range of additional modules, leading to one or two additional science GCSEs. The modules are being designed to offer pupils either the basis for progression to A/AS, or to more vocationally oriented courses. Most pupils would be expected to pursue these additional combinations of modules.

Science for Citizenship

  15.  As part of Science Year the Association for Science Education (ASE) is working with the QCA, DfES, Nuffield and the Wellcome Trust to develop units on science and citizenship to link to the QCA's scheme of work for citizenship. These will be launched at the Science and Citizenship conference in February 2002.

  16.  The introduction of Citizenship in September 2002 will provide a framework within which these aspects of science can be given greater emphasis and professional development materials have already been piloted for teachers of 11-14 year olds as part of the science strand of the Key Stage 3 strategy. The new AS course, "Science for Public Understanding" introduced in Summer 2001, uses everyday contexts and also addresses citizenship issues.

Provision for Gifted and Talented young people

  17.  The Department supports gifted and talented education through strands of Excellence in Cities, Excellence Clusters and the Excellence Challenge. Taken together, these initiatives now operate in over 1,000 secondary schools and over 100 post-16 institutions. Each institution identifies a gifted and talented population (up to 10 per cent in secondary schools) and provides a teaching and learning programme and a complementary study support programme.

  18.  As part of our response to the recent OFSTED report, "Providing for Gifted and Talented Pupils: An evaluation of Excellence in Cities and other grant-funded programmes" we plan to develop subject-specific professional development frameworks, and by improving and expanding our web-based working guidance which includes a separate section on science. Xcalibre, a web-based directory of teacher resources, also has a rapidly developing science section. Science related resources represent a substantial proportion of the support for teachers provided through these initiatives.

  19.  The Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth will have a significant role in supporting and improving the education of gifted and talented young people. The pilot year, running from July 2002, will develop provision for our most academically able 11-16 year-olds, but will begin catering for 16-19 year-olds after the pilot year is over. The pilot includes three-week residential summer schools, and a range of study support, distance learning and mentoring opportunities, with differentiated provision for the most able 1 per cent nationally and an overall focus on the most able 5 per cent nationally. We anticipate a significant science component to the summer schools programme in particular.

Provision for Pupils with Special Educational Needs

  20.  The inclusion statement in the national curriculum provides for a stronger emphasis on inclusion, highlighting the importance of providing learning opportunities for all pupils. This is particularly important for pupils with special educational needs who might not always be able to access the curriculum in the same way as their fellow pupils.

  21.  As a curriculum subject, science can be especially useful for pupils with SEN. It can help them develop an interest in themselves and their surroundings. It can also be used to help pupils join in practical activities. And it enables them to use their senses to explore and investigate and to develop an understanding of cause and effect. Guidance on science for pupils with SEN is provided in the series of curriculum booklets produced by the QCA "Planning, teaching and assessing the curriculum for pupils with learning difficulties", available from QCA publications on 01787 884 444 or

Specialist Science Schools

  22.  Our White Paper Schools Achieving Success introduced Science Colleges as a new category of specialist school. The first applications are due on 15 March with the first designations effective from September. As with all specialist school categories, applicants must present strong development plans for the chosen subject area including objectives and targets for higher participation and improved standards. In their community plans, applicants for Science College designation must include opportunities for other schools, such as working with feder primary schools on delivery of the science curriculum.


  23.  There is no statutory requirement for young people to continue their study of science beyond the age of 16. At this stage, young peoples' choice of study reflects their aspirations and prior attainment. Our proposals for 14-19 phase of education and training, set out in the introduction above, and expanded in the Green Paper, 14-19: Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards, aim to offer wider opportunities, create more flexibility at Key Stage 4 and to bring coherence into current provision.

  24.  The current routes for learning post 16 offer either progression to further academic study, or towards a vocational qualification. Our proposals are designed to end the outdated and unhelpful divide between academic and vocational learning routes, so that young people can pursue the combination of options most suited to them, whether along the AS/A level route, higher level vocational qualifications, or a hybrid—all designed to allow entry to higher education, if appropriate for the individual.

  25.  To achieve our target of 50 per cent of young people entering higher education, we need to raise the participation and achievement in study post 16, of underrepresented groups, including women and those from ethnic minorities. For this age group, and for these specific groups, our role is to influence and inform, and the Green Paper, 14-19: Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards outlines our proposals for the role of careers education and guidance 14-19.

  26.  We know that girls are less likely to opt for science subjects at A level, despite achieving better results in these subjects overall. For example, in 2000-01, 73 per cent more boys than girls took physics and girls outperformed them by 3.0 per cent at grades A-E. There has been a welcome increase in the number of girls taking A level chemistry however and in 2001, the numbers were almost equal to boys. We are working with the Equal Opportunities Commission "What's stopping you" schools campaign, aimed at promoting careers that challenge stereotypes and we have also developed a web-based Equal Opportunities resource for teachers.

  27.  The White Paper, Schools: Achieving Success emphasised the Government's commitment to promoting greater equality of opportunity and closing the attainment gap between some minority ethnic group pupils and their peers. There is encouraging evidence that minority ethnic pupils are beginning to reap the benefits from initiatives such as Excellence in Cities and the National Literacy and Numeracy strategies. Many individual pupils from all minority ethnic backgrounds are now achieving impressive results. However, children of Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin are half as likely to leave school with five good GCSEs as children of some other groups. Of those who do progress beyond GCSE, too few young people from minority ethnic backgrounds opt for science and mathematics. We are working with representatives of ethnic groups to look at science role models, who might have a motivating effect on young people.

  28.  At A level, young people follow whichever combination of subjects they judge most suited to their strengths and career aspirations. There has been little change in the number of young people entering for science "A" levels, since 1996-97. The most recent 17-18 year old entry in 2000-01, was 112,000 (provisional data), however, this cannot be directly compared to previous years' entries, owing to a change in data collection methods. Between 1996-97 and 1999-2000, 17 year old entries were between 104,000 and 107, 000. The provisional data for 2000-01 shows 90 per cent of passes at grades A-E (17 and 18 year olds), between 1996-97 and 1999-2000, the percentage (of 17 year olds) gaining grades A-E rose from 88.2 per cent to 90.7 per cent. There have been new A levels developed with Salters, Nuffield and the Institute of Physics, for example, introduced in recent years that have attracted encouraging levels of entry. A new Nuffield Biology A level is also under development.

  29.  In Further Education, the number of science course enrolments between 1994-95 and 1999-2000 more than doubled from six million to 1.2 million. The main reason for this is the increase in ICT-related courses. In 1999-2000, science was the second most popular option after humanities with 1.5 million enrolments.

  30.  In Higher Education, between 1994-95 and 2000-01, total enrolments in full time science based first degrees in UK institutions, increased by 12 per cent from 328,100 to 367,000. However, there were differences in trends between individual subjects, with enrolments on some science subjects decreasing (including physical sciences, engineering and technology, architecture) whilst others increased (including medicine and dentistry, biological sciences, computer science). Although there was an overall increase in enrolments in all science subjects between 1999 and 2000 of 1 per cent, the numbers enrolling in the physical sciences have decreased by 6 per cent. This is in contrast to the numbers who enrolled for Computer Sciences which has gone up by 10 per cent. In 2000-01 39 per cent of first degree graduates achieved their qualification in science. Of these, 45 per cent were women.

Key Skills in Post-16 Science Courses

  31.  Key skills are a range of essential generic skills that underpin success in education, employment, lifelong learning and personal development. We want to see key skill programmes offered to all post-16 students. Where students have not already achieved A*-C grades in GCSE English, Maths, or ICT their programmes should lead to the formal acquisition of relevant key skills qualifications at Level 2. Where students are starting on advanced levels with the aim of pursuing a professional or higher qualification post-19, then institutions should support them in gaining at least one relevant key skill qualification at Level 3. These expectations apply equally to trainees on work-based programmes as well as to students in school or college.

  32.  Opportunities for key skills learning and assessment are signposted in the specifications of AS/A level qualifications, including the new AVCEs. The Learning and Skills Development Agency has produced a series of guides for teachers including learning materials designed to help students understand how they are deploying the key skills including in Chemistry, Physics, Human Biology and Psychology.


  33.  The National Curriculum does not lay down how science or any other subject should be taught. The programmes of study set out what pupils should be taught, and the attainment targets set out the expected standards of pupils' performance. It is for schools to choose how they organise their school curriculum to include the programmes of study for science. QCA produces Schemes of Work, which are based on effective practice and designed to support teachers in planning their work and that of their pupils.

  34.  Teachers are professionals able to exercise judgements about the pace, style and format of learning best suited to their pupils. Our vision of the teaching force of the future is set out in the pamphlet Professionalism and Trust—The Future of Teachers and Teaching, accompanying the Social Market Foundation speech on 12 November 2001. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is key to a confident and progressive teaching force, and particularly critical in fast moving subjects such as science. We published our Continuing Professional Development (CPD) strategy in March last year, and Schools: Achieving Success sets out a commitment to introduce a package of support, backed by £92 million. Information is available on the professional development website: development.

  35.  We are establishing a National Centre for Excellence in Science Teaching which will draw on the recommendations of the CST Science Teachers report, together with our own exploratory study, conducted last summer. We shall shortly be consulting key stakeholders on proposals for the aims, organisation and management and early priorities for the Centre.

  36.  The recently published OFSTED report on secondary science teaching shows that teaching is good overall in over six out of 10 schools. Organisation and management of science lessons is now good at all key stages and preparation for practical work is very thorough, particularly at Key Stage 4. At Key Stage 4, target setting for individual pupils is now commonplace. The report draws attention to the need for better planning for the systematic development of the skills of scientific enquiry and for a broader range of investigative work. The teaching of the basic skills in science is unsatisfactory in one out of eight schools.

  37.  Many organisations, some industry-sponsored, others HE-based, others commercially-based, some teacher member-based, produce a large range of materials and other resources intended to aid teachers in delivering the National Curriculum for science. Teachers choose those they judge of most benefit for their pupils. In its report, Science Teachers, the Council for Science and Technology (CST) estimated that of the materials produced each year, less than 5 per cent are actually used in schools. This is something we would like to see addressed, both from the point of view of more targeted support and that of providing teachers easier access to resources. We are intending to work closely with the new forum which the Astra Zeneca teaching Trust has established and which will be addressing this issue in partnership with the main sponsors of school science in the private and voluntary sectors.

  38.  Our drive to raise standards of achievement in the 11-14 age group is designed so pupils make better progress in the years between primary education and the beginning of the 14-19 phase, so that, by the age of 14 their level of knowledge and skills in all National Curriculum subjects, including science, provides a firm basis on which to progress.

The role of practical work

  39.  The National Curriculum revision in 2000, placed greater emphasis on the skills of scientific investigation and enquiry. Despite concerns expressed, for example, in responses to Sir Gareth Roberts' review of the Supply of Engineers and Scientists, there is no evidence that Health and Safety regulations are having a dampening effect on the amount of practical work done in schools. Our view is that practical work generally needs to be made more relevant to the modern world, more hands on and more accessible to young people, for example through greater use of ICT to explore the great range of interactive science resources now available.

  40.  Many of the resources being produced through Science Year are designed to help teachers refresh and update their practical work with pupils. The Kit Pot is a fund to supply cutting edge equipment for teachers and has already provided an Intel microscope for every maintained secondary school and will shortly be providing microscopes for every maintained primary school. A recent donation from the Royal Society, (in association with the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and Middlesex University) will enable us to supply schools with further hi-tech equipment. Every school with an Advanced Skills Teacher with a specialism in science who was in post in September 2001 will also receive an interactive whiteboard.

  41.  Other Science Year resources include a series of CD-Roms from ASE which include themes like health, space and genetics. Astra-Zeneca are supporting a "Little Book of Experiments" and the Science Year website has a different piece of free web-enabled downloadable software each month.

  42.  In international tests (TIMSS-R taken by 14 year olds in 1999; results published in December 2000) data from teachers on the "average percentage of class time spent on various activities" showed a higher percentage of science class time in England was spent on practical work. 19 per cent of class time was spent on "teacher-guided student practice" and 13 per cent on "student independent practice" compared with international averages of 14 per cent and 10 per cent. 10 per cent of class time was spent on "teacher demonstrations of experiments" and 24 per cent on "students conducting experiments" compared with international averages of 10 per cent and 15 per cent.

  43.  The PISA international study, published its results in December 2001. Fifteen year olds were tested in "scientific literacy", defined as "the capacity to acquire and use scientific knowledge and to draw evidence-based conclusions", the UK was fourth out of 32 countries. Only one country, Korea, scored significantly higher than the UK. 24 countries scored significantly lower than the UK.

The role of science technicians

  44.  Our vision for the future of the teaching force highlights the need for those who support teachers to be more effectively deployed. Science technicians need both technical and classroom skills to be able to offer the most effective support. The recent report on science technicians, published by the Royal Society and the Association for Science Education contains a number of helpful recommendations which we will be discussing with them in the coming months



  45.  Science links to mathematics run throughout the curriculum. Mathematical competency underpins understanding in much of the sciences. Development and accreditation procedures are designed to ensure that there is comparability of demand across equivalent qualifications, and that the Key Stage 4 science requirements are in line with the expectations of National Curriculum in mathematics. Examples of mathematical requirements in science at Key Stage 4 include the use of formulae for relationships between physical quantities, such as speed, frequency and wavelength.


  46.  The investment we are making in ICT is transforming the way science, along with other subjects, is being taught. New equipment such as electronic microscopes and interactive whiteboards allow teachers to access data and images and share with the whole class, in a way not before possible. Transforming the Way We Learn, published earlier this year, sets out a vision of the potential for ICT to transform the teaching and learning process, new opportunities to modernise and remodel the teaching profession, and effective school management and administration. Science courses also specify ICT requirements, for example, datalogging in all GCSE qualifications. In addition, opportunities for ICT use are highlighted in the National Curriculum for science, and all qualification specifications.

Design and technology

  47.  Science courses are designed to be complementary to design and technology, in particular in the problem-solving approaches included in scientific enquiry, and in the technological applications of scientific principles. Both the new GCSE in applied science, and the pilot GCSE in the sciences will provide learning opportunities which will enhance the links to design and technology. Examples include contexts of food production, transportation and forensic science.


  48.  GCSE specifications or syllabuses are aligned to the National Curriculum programmes of study for science at Key Stage 4 and must meet the requirements of criteria produced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), in consultation with academics, practitioners, representatives of industry and relevant professions. Specifications must include aspects of every area of study. GCE A level and AVCE criteria are agreed with the same range of interest groups. NVQ qualifications at levels 1-3 are related to the occupational standards devised by the current National Training Organisations (NTOs).

  49.  GCSE and GCE examinations are governed by a Code of Practice—which is a public document—that has been designed to promote quality and consistency in the examining process across all awarding bodies offering these qualifications. It helps to ensure that grading standards are constant in each subject across different awarding bodies and different syllabuses from year on year.

  50.  The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) as regulator of the public examinations system is responsible for the maintenance of standards. They operate a range of mechanisms to check the examination process, and police and monitor the Code of Practice, which all awarding bodies must adhere to. As part of this work, they have established an extensive programme to monitor standards over time, including a rolling programme of subject specific reports.

  51.  The quality assurance framework ensures standards are maintained between awarding bodies and specifications year on year. QCA's monitoring reports which can be accessed on their website show no systematic reduction in grade boundaries across the different awarding bodies, subjects, or levels of examination. The examination system has been further opened up over the last two years, with provision of access to all marked examination scripts, together with details of the marks schemes, which show how marks are allocated within particular questions.

  52.  In 2000, QCA set up an independent panel of advisers to review the adequacy of quality assurance systems, designed to ensure the maintenance of GCE A level standards. The panel reported to QCA on 17 January 2002. It concluded that A level standards have been maintained, and that QCA should take steps to ensure this continues.

  53.  The assessment regimes for particular qualifications reflect the purpose of the qualification itself. Thus, the weightings for GCSE science, which provides a firm basis for further academic study and a balanced science education for all pupils, reflect a balance between knowledge and understanding (45-55 per cent) and the application of knowledge understanding, analysis and investigative skills (45-60 per cent). For the new GCSE in applied science, designed for progression into more vocationally orientated study, there is greater weighting for application/analysis/evaluation and investigation 55-75 per cent, compared to knowledge and understanding (25-35 per cent). For A level science subjects, the weightings are: Knowledge and understanding 30-40 per cent; application of knowledge, understanding, analysis and evaluation 22.5-32.5 per cent; experiment and investigation 12.5-20 per cent; synthesis of knowledge, understanding and skills 20 per cent.

February 2002

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