Memorandum submitted by The Wellcome Trust
1. The Wellcome Trust (the "Trust")
welcomes this opportunity to respond to the questions and issues
raised by the Science and Technology Committee, in Parliament's
first major inquiry into the science curriculum for 14 to 19 year
2. The focus of the Trust's response is
on two of the terms of reference set out in the call for evidence,
specifically (a) and (c):
(a) to examine the science curriculum: what
should be taught, how, why and to whom (encompassing subject content,
the role of practical work and "science for citizenship"
while considering the needs of pupils with different abilities,
aptitudes and aspirations in relation to science);
(c) to consider assessment: what should be
assessed and how (considering, for example, the emphasis on factual
recall, interpretation of data, the role of coursework and practical
3. The Trust is an independent, biomedical
research-funding charity, established under the will of Sir Henry
Wellcome and funded from a private endowment, which is managed
with long-term stability and growth in mind. Its mission is to
foster and promote research with the aim of improving human and
animal health. One way the Trust seeks to meet its mission is
by stimulating an informed dialogue to raise awareness and understanding
of biomedical science, its achievements, applications and implications.
4. It is the Trust's view that the future
of science in the UK depends on the continual supply of highly
trained and competent researchers, who can work in a climate in
which innovative research can flourish.
5. We also believe that science education
should offer the highest quality and relevant educational experience,
to all. An increase in science literacy for all is essential in
order to ensure that discussion of the issues is from an informed
perspective, that an ethical framework exists and that there is
critical appraisal of scientific sources of information.
6. The Trust has funded a range of activities
in this area, which have included educational research. Details
are included in the Annex
to this response.
7. We would wish to make three key points
in our response, which draw upon evidence from research that we
have funded, as well as other major reports. The points are:
(a) If science is to flourish in schools
it must be taught by teachers who are confident in the material
they are teaching.
(b) The science curriculum needs to be enhanced
to include more contemporary science and practical work to inspire
future generations of scientists.
(c) The science curriculum should foster
wider scientific literacy and the capacity to evaluate and consider
issues of scientific controversy for all pupils, regardless of
their intention to become future scientists.
8. We consider each of these points more
9. First, the Trust is concerned about the
quality of science teaching in the UK. The report from the Council
of Science and Technology
(CST) shows that many teachers are teaching science subjects in
which they have no qualification at A-level or first degree. For
One teacher in three teaches physics
and biology without an A-level in the subject.
Over half of teachers teach physics
and biology without a related degree.
10. This is then compounded by the limited
amount of continuing professional development (CPD) that is undertaken
by teachers. All teachers in state schools currently have five
In Service Education and Training (INSET) days per year. However,
the CST report identified that teachers:
(a) have little say in their individual CPD
or in the courses that they attend;
(b) have difficulty in identifying suitable
products and service;
(c) are constrained by time and moneythe
average amount of money available for INSET per teacher was £445
in primary schools and £304 in secondary schools; and
(d) spend most of their in-service training
on whole school issues, national issues and administration rather
11. Therefore, any change to the science
curriculum should go hand in hand with assistance to the teachers
to ensure that they are confident to teach stimulating and relevant
science to pupils.
12. Second, we believe that any changes
to the curriculum should enhance and not compromise the rigour
of existing science education. In a study funded by the Trust
(Osborne and Collins), pupils believed that there was a need for
more contemporary science examples. There was also a call from
pupils for more practical work and extended investigations. Meaningful
experimentation and practical work are key elements in getting
young people interested and excited about science. It is important
that this element of the curriculum is enhanced.
13. We are also aware of considerable concern
about the inflexibility and content-loaded science curriculum
for secondary pupils. The Osborne and Collins study revealed that
pupils considered too much of the latter years of science education
was a rushed experience; dominated by content, repeating too much
of material that they had previously encountered; provided no
opportunity for discussion and was fragmented leaving them without
an overview of the subject. Teachers, too, considered the science
curriculum to be content-dominated and overloaded. The lack of
flexibility in the curriculum was engendered by the heavy requirement
for assessmentboth of the pupils and the teacher.
14. Third, the Trust believes that the science
curriculum should develop scientific literacy notably, the capacity
to evaluate and consider issues of scientific controversy for
all pupils, regardless of their intention to become future scientists.
The Osborne and Collins study showed that pupils found it hard
to make connections between school, science and their everyday
lives but valued school science for the insights it provided and
contribution it made to their own self-esteem as educated individuals.
15. We followed up these concerns in research
conducted by the Institute of Education to understand the extent
to which discussion about the impact of science on society is
a part of young people's education. The resulting report, Valuable
revealed that the majority of teachers believed that there as
too little coverage of the social issues related to science, yet
that students should have an opportunity to explore such issues.
Teachers view this kind of exploration as vital in building self-confidence,
developing lines of critical thinking and enabling students to
deal with issues of socio-scientific issues in a balanced way.
16. The recommendations of the report were
discussed by key players at a follow up "stakeholders'"
workshop held in December 2001. As part of the discussion, eight
groups of stakeholders (80 people) with a close interest in science
education were asked to consider which part of the curriculum
lends itself to debating about science and society. What exactly
could be done to make it happen? From the discussion, the majority
of the participants called for greater flexibility of the curriculum
to allow consideration of the issues regarding the impact of science
on society. They considered that this could be done by:
(a) Teaching controversial scientific issues
as part of a science class, yet enhanced by supporting cross-curricular
(b) developing methods of formal assessment
and more teacher support through professional development and
educational support materials.
17. The cross-curriculum strategy was recommended
to help science teachers and non-science teachers to share their
skills in ensuring evidence based arguments are developed. In
general, science teachers feel they lack the confidence and the
time to initiate and manage classroom discussion. Much could be
learned from their colleagues in humanities who demonstrably promote
student discussions of ethical and social issues. Education for
Citizenship may offer an opportunity to introduce the study of
the impact of science on society into the school curriculum.
18. If an increased level of scientific
literacy is to be achieved, novel methods of assessment must be
developed. The Valuable Lessons Report revealed that many science
teachers are uncomfortable assessing discursive essays and other
mechanisms for communicating ideas. In order to facilitate true
scientific literacy, science teachers and examiners will need
to draw upon the assessment models and expertise of their colleagues
in the arts and humanities, since they have experience of evaluating
their students' ability to develop reasoned argument. Unless this
element of the curriculum is formally assessed, teachers and students
will accord this aspect of the curriculum lower status than the
examined elements and may, indeed, not cover these issues at all.
55 Not printed. Back
Council for Science and Technology, A report on supporting and
developing the profession of science teaching in primary and secondary
schools, OST, February 2000. Back
J Osborne & S. Collins, Pupils' & Parents' Views of the
School Science Curriculum, King's College London, January 2000. Back
Valuable Lessons, Engaging with the social context of science
in schools, 2001. Back