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


Memorandum submitted by the Federation of the Electronics Industry (FEI)

  1.  The Federation of the Electronics Industry (FEI) represents the UK's information technology, telecommunications, electronic components and manufacturing, consumer electronics and office technology sectors. It is working increasingly closely with the Computer Services and Software Association (CSSA) on issues that affect the ITEC sector as a whole.

  2.  A snapshot of the industry. Over 1.1 million employees with a high proportion of graduates and technically qualified staff. £24 billion in salaries. Labour demand grew by around 4 per cent annually over the past decade. Capital investment £12 billion in 1997. R&D over £2.2 billion, around 20 per cent of total UK business sector-funded R&D. ICT output contributed a fifth of overall GDP growth over the period 1989-1998. UK exports of ICT goods and services exceeded £34 billion in 1998. Very rapid rate of change in products and the underlying technology.

  3.  The need for basic skills. Recent research undertaken by the Engineering Skills Advisory Group has identified a number of needs and shortages throughout the engineering industry as a whole. Of all these needs, the key imperative in the 14-19 year age group is to ensure that young people develop a skill set and knowledge base that will allow them to choose from a range of university courses and initial careers and build on them through life long learning and retraining.

  This needs to be coupled to the oft-repeated complaint from our members that many technically qualified university science/engineering graduates have poor management and communication skills. Science education must be based on a broad curriculum as well as the development of sector specific skills and knowledge.

  These two issues both reflect on education up to GCSE level ie the 14-16 age group. During this period every student, despite their ultimate career aspiration, needs to be well-grounded in core skills and knowledge and it must be accepted that these are primarily academic, not vocational requirements.

  4.  The need for quality. As with our Universities where quality standards are variable, and the variability seems to be increasing, so with secondary education. The programme to raise standards introduced in primary schools must be driven through Secondary schools. By the time young people have passed the GCSE barrier their studies become very sector specific. Academic teaching to A-level in Maths and science needs to be to the highest possible standard. Those responsible for the development of the A Level examination curricula must have a clear understanding of the knowledge expected of first year students by the Universities. It is reported that some Universities are now spending the first term and sometimes longer teaching students basic maths and science concepts before they can launch into their degree course. If these reports are accurate action needs to be taken.

  5.  The impact of targets. The National Curriculum introduced the concept of "entitlement" which has led to an assumption that all young people will achieve a minimum of three to four level E to G at GCSE as a minimum. Whilst all people should be given equality of opportunity, it is accepted that teaching will need to be differentiated to meet the needs of different pupils and there is therefore no reason why achievement measures should not also be differentiated.

  The constant attention to GCSE results diverts attention from the real issues of how well education fits people to contribute to and be rewarded by society throughout their working lives. Of more concern to us is the danger that too concentrated a focus on achieving overall numerical targets can impede progress of those pupils more suited to vocational style continuous assessment as well as academic pupils suited to examination style assessment.

  6.  The "vocational" style of GCSE is a welcome concept but further developments need to be properly funded and researched to ensure their success. Care must be taken not to damage the well-established BTEC, and City & Guilds type of education and qualification that suit some students better than other approaches. Furthermore introduction of any new form of assessment needs to be fully supported by employers to ensure that the qualification is well regarded outside of academic circles.

  7.  The vocational route for education in the 17-19 age group needs consolidation between employers and providers. The Learning and Skills Councils have an important role to play here in ensuring that vocational training is properly funded and that employers both support the training programmes and recognise the qualifications when achieved.

  8.  ICT literacy must be one of the basic skills achieved by all students but ICT must not be seen as the panacea for educational shortcomings. ICT as a means of widely distributing information and manipulating data is clearly a powerful tool but it is only a tool. A key element of education in this age group must be the building of intellectual capacity to grasp and challenge concepts and ideas and to communicate effectively with others. This is best done in discussion with peers under the guidance of teachers and will be thwarted by excessive reliance on individual study in front of a monitor. ICT must not be used to re-introduce the discredited concept of child-centred learning by the back door.

  9.  Mathematics concepts and skills should be taught as a separate subject and not be included in the Science curriculum. Science should apply the skills and knowledge developed in mathematics classes. The importance of developing a strong mathematical foundation cannot be underestimated and we welcome the introduction of the "foundation" and "higher" option in Key Stage 4 although consideration needs to given to introducing the split at an earlier age and on a more rigorous selection basis. At the point at which pupils take the GCSE they should have covered the fundamentals in all branches of mathematics they will need in the next stage in their academic career or in the work place. This does, of course, lead to a very broad curriculum, which may result in topics not being covered in sufficient depth. This could contribute to the problems reputed to be experienced with the 2000-01 AS examinations of the possibility of passing examinations but still requiring remedial maths study during the first year of degree courses.

  10.  With regard to Science, there is the option of pupils taking either "single" or "double" science at Key Stage 4. Unlike Maths, however, pupils are selected for the "single" option on the basis of needing to spend more time on other subjects — ie not on their ability to pursue a higher level of science education. The total syllabus covers Physics, Chemistry and Biology that may be studied as separate subjects provided the whole curriculum is covered. The inclusion of some Social Science in the subject matter is highly questionable, particularly as it eats into the time available for the study of the hard sciences. The Science curriculum should be modified to allow for more capable pupils to study at a higher level — ie apply the same concept as has been used in mathematics rather than using the present "opt out" concept being applied to the "single" science curriculum option at Key Stage 4. Differentiation should be introduced as soon as possible preferably from age 12 and should be based on both course assessment and examination.

  All pupils should be taught the fundamentals of the three main branches of science. The Social Sciences should become part of the Citizenship curriculum.

  It essential that pupils pursuing higher levels of science education are encouraged to develop analysis and evaluation skills. The ability to pursue enquiry and develop proofs of theories is an essential skill that must be well established prior to university education commencing. These skills need to be tested in an examination environment.

  11.  Design Technology is the ideal course in which to demonstrate the application of science and thus should be related to the science curriculum in this way.

  12.  Efforts to make science more attractive and hence widen the number of potential candidates pursuing science education and careers should not be at the expense of reduced academic standards. Consideration needs to be given to whether or not examinations and rigorous academic testing are the real reason why pupils do not pursue the sciences — frankly it seems unlikely that people with suitable academic skills are put off the sciences for this reason alone. Rather than pursue the disincentives, positive motivators need to be developed including links with industry, more and better qualified career teachers and an increase in the number of science and maths teachers even if it means more salary differentiation with other teachers.

  13.  Making young people aware of the fundamental role of Science in Industry and of the opportunities and benefits of engineering is very important to our sector in particular. This will mean schools developing closer relations with industry, and companies being encouraged to participate in support programmes. It must not be forgotten, however, that it is a function of the Education system to provide education and, whilst industry can provide support, it cannot accept a primary role in its provision.

January 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 11 July 2002