Memorandum submitted by the Particle Physics
and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC)
Role and Work of PPARC
1. The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research
Council welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Committee
on this very important subject. PPARC is funded through the Science
Vote to pursue research, education & training, partnership
with industry, and public awareness and understanding in our science
areasastronomy, space science, cosmology and particle physics.
2. These subjects involve some of the "big
questions" that have fascinated and inspired young and old
for thousands of yearswhat is our place in the Universe,
where did it all come from, what is matter made of, and what are
the laws of the universe? This fascination has led to curiosity-driven
research that has important consequences for our technological
culture and for our economy (for example, it is only just over
100 years since British physicist JJ Thomson discovered the electron).
3. Our communications work includes engagement
with the public. Importantly, we work with the formal and informal
education sectors to engage young people so that an interest in
these big questions may be translated into an interest in studying
science subjects beyond age 16. Physics undergraduates report
that an interest in these questions was dominant in drawing them
We also wish to leave those who end science studies at 16 with
an appreciation of science and a positive view of it.
4. Our work through the curriculum system
the Pupil Researcher Initiative (joint
with the EPSRC) comprising: curriculum material with investigations
set in current UK research contexts; "Researchers in Residence"visits
by PhD research students to schools; Pupil Research Conferences
which develop communications skills; and materials supporting
the "Ideas and Evidence" curriculum strand in which
young people discuss scientific discoveries and current scientific
issues for society;
almost one million requests by teachers
and schools for our (low-cost) publications on the PPARC science
national Masterclasses in particle
physics, with around 2000 sixth formers per year attending;
partnership in the "Faulkes
Telescopes"two major schools' telescopes, located
in Hawaii and Australia so UK schools can observe in classroom
hours. This could make a major education impact, via curriculum
enrichment, in 2003 and beyond;
updating science teachers, so they
can have better depth and confidence with their subject
achieved partly through our magazine "Frontiers".
5. We have a resulting high profile and
good reputation amongst science teachers. Our main strategic partners
include the Institute of Physics and the Association for Science
Our perception of current problems
6. We see important national problems as
the continued need for the recruitment
of a highly-skilled workforce for the nation;
as part of that, the decline of interest
in physics studies beyond age 16. We view physics A-levels and
degrees as underpinning much of the physical science and engineering
R&D work in the country;
compulsory science (in the National
Curriculum) up to age 16 has not increased the number of young
people choosing to study physical sciences beyond 16;
curriculum content is not sufficiently
the under-representation of women
in science and engineering employment needs addressing at the
the inspirational value of the big
sciences is not being capitalised on enough to draw young people
in, nor to win hearts and minds for British science (see below);
the need to balance "science
education for citizens and users of science" versus "science
for those going on to further studies" is not sufficiently
the shortage of confident secondary
teachers of physics is severe; few physics graduates are enrolling
annually for teacher training, and the age profile of physics
teachers is weighted to the over-50s; and
the continuous professional development
(CPD) of science (and especially physics) teachers needs attention.
Science CurriculumWhat should be taught?
7. PPARC argues that the current coverage
of our place in the Universe, covered for example by the "Earth
and Beyond" strand of the English National Curriculum (NC)
at Key Stages 2, 3 and 4 (ages 7-11, 11-14, 14-16) should be fully
maintained. We should keep inspirational material.
8. The prescribed content of physical sciences
should be modernised; for example, all matter (including our bodies)
is composed of electrons and quarks. Quarks were discovered in
1968 but are still not part of the NC 33 years later.
9. The science curriculum lacks relevance
to people's everyday lives. This needs addressing, but this
relevance is not everything. In our experience, topics like
Space, the Big Bang and particle physics turn children on just
as much as "relevant" science.
10. Inspiring students with the achievements
of science is important; such progress is the mark of our advanced
technological society, and celebrating UK contributions affects
the "hearts and minds" of young people. We wish for
the UK to remain a major international force in science and science
and technology, and we need a population who are aware of our
successes and are positive about maintaining our position.
11. Let us take an example. A perception
that Britain has a space programme (a correct statement) makes
us feel differently about our national capabilities. Addressing
the 1985 General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union,
the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi said he was often asked why
India had a space programme, with so much poverty present. He
replied that it "showed that India was capable of technologically
advanced work: we can do it, we can solve these problems".
12. In an important large survey
of teachers, pupils and parents found that, while there were mixed
views on almost all aspects of secondary science education,
"the one topic that generated universal
enthusiasm was any study of astronomy and space".
13. This should be capitalised upon, not
just for the study of astronomy and space, but by using these
areas as stimulating contexts for teaching a range of science
and Information & Communication Technology (ICT). For example,
a new A-Level Physics syllabus has a major module centred on a
space mission, which covers gravity, orbits, power sources, materials,
thermal insulation, signalling, etc. Curriculum developers should
investigate whether such an approach can be appropriately extended
to Key Stages 3 and 4 (ages 11-16).
14. In a recent survey,
teenagers were shown a list of 30 science issues and topics and
asked which they would like to study and discuss in the science
classroom. Top of the list was "Is There Life in Space?",
ahead even of medical and environmental topics. It is hard to
"engage" teenagers, and again we see that an applied
exciting "context" could be used to teach various scientific
15. PPARC welcomes the addition of the two
new modern syllabuses
for A-level Physics, one of which we have supported. We believe
that these will encourage more take-up of physics and engineering
beyond 16, and there is some evidence already of this happening.
How should it be taught?
16. As a research organisation PPARC does
not have direct views on teaching methods. However we note that
a national strategy which takes pressure off science teachers
(which might include for example recruitment and retention of
good lab technicians, more classroom assistance, and less mandatory
content in the Curriculum) would allow more time for teachers'
Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and thus more confident
17. Third-party organisations such as PPARC
are able and willing to support this Professional Development,
for example with briefing on discoveries and developments. We
also support teaching through resources, links with research scientists
and with laboratories, and curriculum enrichment activities such
as visits. (These illustrate "live" science to young
people; and visits to sites such as Jodrell Bank and CERN are
inspiring). But an overcrowded mandatory curriculum leaves little
time for enrichment.
Why and to whom should it be taught?
18. There needs to be a fundamental look
at what science education is for and who it is for. The Lords
report "Science and Society"
showed why it is important for citizens to be able to participate
in decisions about future developments and policies for science
and its applications. The school education system is the most
important place to empower future adult citizens for this. Secondly
we need trained scientists and engineers for the nation.
19. PPARC welcomes the development of a
new science GCSE which is to be piloted
in 2003-05 under contract from the Qualifications and Curriculum
Authority. There is an emphasis on science for the citizen and
for the consumer of science, with extra modules of an academic
nature for those wishing to study science beyond 16 and "applied"
modules for those pursuing a vocational path. (Through the Pupil
Researcher Initiative, PPARC is supporting the teaching of the
"Ideas and Evidence" curriculum strand at Key Stage
4, which requires class discussion of current issues for citizens).
20. We welcome the "Science and Society"
agenda here, but it is important that inspirational modern science
is kept at the forefront of school science curricula. The GCSE
path for those not planning to study science beyond 16 should
focus on accessible exciting modern science.
By whom should it be taught?
21. There are serious problems with the
recruitment and retention of teachers of physics for the 14-19
age range. There is also a rapidly-worsening situation with the
age profile of teachers of physicsa very significant fraction
are over 50. Only a very small number (of order 200) of physics
graduates enrol for a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE)
each year, and while this has been slightly helped by the Government's
"Golden Hello" policy, the shortage of physics specialists
in school science departments remains critical. While the NC's
"balanced science" requirement means that non-specialists
can teach and inspire fairly well at Key Stage 3, this is harder
at Key Stage 4and A-level physics needs specialists.
22. PPARC welcomes the introduction of a
national "Centre for Excellence in Science Teaching"
by the Department for Education and Skills for teachers' professional
development. In our experience of supporting science teachers,
we find it relatively easy to engage the most enthusiastic and
confident 15 per cent or so of teachers and near impossible to
work with those who are less enthusiastic and confident. The new
Centre will have to work extremely hard to reach the lower half
in confidence and enthusiasm of science teachers, and we urge
the Government to find ways to make this a priority for the Centre.
23. We also draw attention to the role that
UK scientists can play in support of teachers and education. Researchers
are often glad to brief and help teachers. A successful "Teacher-Scientist
Network" has been run from the University of East Anglia
for several years now and is a good exemplar. The Research Councils
have several schemes encouraging such partnerships; PPARC sponsors
particle physics "Masterclasses" which attract up to
2,000 sixth formers and teachers every year, and we sponsor summer
schools which attract about 100 science teachers.
24. Pupils' contact with young scientists
(as suitable role models) is an important inspirational factor.
Use of good role models is proven as a successful strategy in
influencing young people. PPARC has pioneered the "Researchers
in Residence" scheme in which 200 young researchers each
year work with schools. Moreover there is the opportunity here
to encourage young women to consider science studies, as in some
schemes female scientists are particularly keen to work with schools.
33 Surveys of Physics Undergraduates-by the Institute
of Physics in 1984 and by PPARC in 1995; copies available. Back
The coming final Report to Treasury by Sir Gareth Roberts will
address this in detail; the interim version states that there
is a continuing problem with quantity and quality of supply. Back
Pupils and Parents' Views of the School Science Curriculum, by
Osborne & Collins, King's College London, 2000. This involved
45 Focus Groups of teachers, parents, and pupils aged 15-16. Back
Survey of 70 young people aged 14 to 16, Sheffield Hallam University
Centre for Science Education, 2000. Back
"Advancing Physics" developed by the Institute of Physics;
and Salters' Horners' A-level Physics, developed by a team lead
by York University. Back
Dr Elizabeth Swinbank, York University, notified us that the
young people involved in trialling the new Slaters' Horners' course,
30 per cent have applied to read engineering subjects at University. Back
House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology Third
Report: Science and Society (Session 1999-2000, HL Paper 38) Back
The Research Councils and OST are represented on the Steering
Group run by the QCA. Back
Volunteer female research students make up 40 per cent of the
PRI's "Researchers In Residence", but constitute only
20 per cent of the basic cohort. Back