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


Notes of a meeting held at Henry Cort School, Fareham, with Mark Hoban, MP for Fareham, on 22 February 2002

Present:    Mark Hoban—Member of Parliament for Fareham

Ian Wilks—Fareham College

Brenda Robinson—Wykeham House School

Tracey Jones—Portchester Community School

Chris Taylor—Henry Cort Community School


  The aim of the meeting was to draw together the views of science teachers on science teaching amongst 14-19 year olds and to discuss the reasons for the decline in students taking up science at A level and going on to study sciences at university.


It was thought that the curriculum strikes a reasonable balance between core science knowledge and topical issues; covering the three sciences at an appropriate level for secondary school teaching. In some areas, the curriculum gives a relatively shallow understanding, due partly to the breadth of the syllabus but also to the time available. It was difficult, however, to identify an area of the syllabus which could be discarded to enable a deeper understanding of other areas of the course.

Generally, it was thought that within the time allocated it was difficult to complete the syllabus. Although some schools, not those represented at the meeting, completed the syllabus by mid-February in year 11.

The topical subjects in the syllabus included:

    —  Genetic engineering.

    —  Pollution.

    —  Global warming.

    —  Alternative energy.

    It was felt that the topics covered did give students a broad appreciation of how science affects our lives.

    In some schools, science is taught by the same teacher—they do not use specialists to teach the relevant parts of the curriculum. As a consequence, it may be too difficult for pupils to distinguish the boundaries between subjects. Using specialists to teach their subject may lead to a greater understanding and depth of topics.


    Pupils are put forward for one of two papers—foundation and higher. Those sitting the foundation paper can attain C-G grades and higher A*-E grades.

    Some students are directed to these papers at the end of Year 10 ie students are taught to the same syllabus in Year 10 and then split between foundation and higher in Year 11.

    The results of a scientific investigation "SC1" currently account for 25 per cent of the overall marks for GCSE (to be 20 per cent in the future). This aspect of the curriculum is being taught to pass the exam rather than to develop the investigatory skills needed for more advanced studies. Time is so tight that students are not able to learn from their mistakes, so the investigations are structured to be successful.

    Borderline pupils tend to be submitted for the foundation paper to ensure that they get a grade rather than risk failing the higher paper.

    Public exams can take place either at the end of year 11 or at the end of both years. Multiple-choice questions are used in certain syllabi but there is a risk that they test comprehension not just students' scientific knowledge.

    It was felt that the draft question for the 2002 paper reflected a welcome shift towards ensuring that students had the intellectual tools to assess future science issues as well as checking their knowledge of topical issues.


    There was felt to be an issue around the transition between GCSEs and A levels. This can affect even those who achieved A grade GCSE where their result was a result of hard work rather than a natural aptitude.

    Students who had opted to do triple science had an advantage, particularly in chemistry which it was thought of the three sciences was the greatest jump from GCSE to A level and formed the highest drop out rate.

    The issues around the transition to A level are:

    —  the sciences become much more rigorous at A level with a greater mathematical content and equations and formulae to learn—particularly for chemistry and physics;

    —  chemistry is seen as more difficult than the other two sciences, possibly because it is harder to relate to its subject matter than, say, for physics and biology; and

    —  because of the approach to SC1 at GCSE, students are less suited to the investigatory work which forms part of the approach to A levels.


  It was thought that:

    —  GCSE exam papers have become more difficult; and

    —  a study at Durham University indicates that students achieving at least an E grade in A level maths, physics, chemistry and biology have higher average GCSE scores than those achieving an E grade in media or theatre studies; ie. the perception that science subjects are harder than arts subjects is borne out by reality.


    The teachers thought that they were providing a foundation for Key Stage 4 pupils, but for them to move through to A levels and degrees they had to be "pulled" through by broader cultural factors.

    The science community needs to:

    —  raise the profile of science—science is not generally seen as being ``sexy'';

    —  link local businesses to schools so that students can have hands on experience in the real world and can see where science leads to;

    —  consider the impact of TV which influences science career paths and academic choice ie. Vets in Practice and Cracker (Psychology); and

    —  identify role models to attract students—whether male or female—who need to be inspired to pursue science—they need to be attracted into science.

    The barriers to increasing the numbers studying A level or degree level science are:

    —  students have to put more into science subjects compared to other subjects to gain the knowledge required for good grades;

    —  students felt it was easier to get a non-science degree and, as a consequence, less able students were shying away from science and taking up other subjects, although it was believed that the number of able students pursuing science has not changed;

    —  gender stereotyping is still a factor in pursuing science—biology was more popular with woman than chemistry and, particularly, physics; and

    —  students can obtain more lucrative, high paid jobs in other areas.


    Students at Portchester School were asked "why they did science" and the results are attached.

    We do science because without it we wouldn't be able to explain anything! There would be no gravity and we would be made of "lots of gushy stuff" instead of cells. We wouldn't have TV or electricity so living would be rather dim!

    Science helps us understand everything that goes on in the world and fills in our brains with information.

    We do science because many things we learn help with our life and environment around us and also helps us understand things that are difficult to know without science eg about our body and space.

    Because we learn things about everyday life and it is important to know how and why things happen. Also it gives us knowledge of dangerous things that we should know.

    We do science because it is a means of everyday life. There is something scientific in everything. We need science to live.

    We learn science to understand how and why things happen or existed. Also to be able to have knowledge.

    Because without science life today wouldn't be so. People need the knowledge to invent and discover new things that help the world we live in.

    We do science so we can learn more about the environment we live in and ourselves. This will make everyone more understanding.

    To learn how we live and why things work and happen.

    Science can be linked into every piece of life around us whether it is why something moves if you push it or why humans act like they do. It determines our actions and reactions and helps us to understand why things happen. happen. We do science because it helps us understand how the world we live in behaves, works and reacts. Also to satisfy our inquisitive minds to gain knowledge and understand knowledge is power.

    We do science because it explains (or tries to explain) the way the world works.

    Because it gives us an explanation of events in everyday life.

    Because we want to understand the world we live in and why we are here.

    I think I do science because:

    1.  It is fun (sometimes).

    2.  So we understand more about how things are made.

    3.  In case we become rocket scientists (I wish).

    I think science is fun, creative, and you could learn a lot of things that interest you.

    I think we do science because you learn about your body and other things. It's interesting.

    So we can learn about chemicals and stuff. To get a job. So we understand the stuff around us, what it is and why it does what it does. So we don't have to do more French. So we know how to make bombs and explosives.

    Science is all about the world and all that is in it. The things that we learn in science can be applied to every aspect of our lives, giving us a clearer understanding of ourselves and the things around us. It is this understanding that enables us to get through life.

      Science is important to learn because we use science for everything. We have to understand the topics covered in science because they are important for understanding our planet and the universe it is in.

    Because . . . nearly everything relates to science:

    —  To help us.

    —  To prepare us.

    —  Learn how the world works.

    —  It's fun.

      I think we do science because it helps us to understand things like the Solar System, the Periodic Table and many more. It is not boring either because the teacher makes learning science fun and I pick up on more. We use science every day and we can learn very much from it. I think it is a good thing that it is in our education because we use it a lot.

    We do science to find out how things work and what they are made of. This can be to help everyone, for example new medicines; and they can also be bad, for example the atomic bomb.

    We do science so we learn why things happen and how to control them. Then we can improve our lives.

    So we can understand what's going on around us better.

    . . . A lot of life is unknown. A lot of unknown is science . . .

    . . . A lot of life is unknown. A lot of unknown is science. . .

      We do science because it teaches us things we need to know in life. And the practicals can be fun.

    We do science to learn new and interesting things. We learn it because there are many jobs available in the future that include all different sorts of science. Science can also help us understand things that we might come across in the future and it also helps us to understand things that other lessons include.

    We do science because we have to know the basic stuff to become nurses/doctors (biology), chemists (chemistry) and an engineer (physics). Without these things we'd be snookered or even worse dead! Also we need to know how to use chemicals and what the body parts are.

    So we understand our world. Everything that happens involves science.

    To learn about the world around us, and why things are the way they are.

    To learn about the world and our surroundings and ourselves.

    We need science to discover theories/new medicines, questions and answers.

    We do science to learn and think about what people from the past have contributed to the future. Without scientific discoveries we would not have many of the things we take for granted today. By doing science in school we can get to know about the importance of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and learn to be grateful for it, and also science may explain things to you that you were curious about.

    It has made civilization greater and (might) continue to grow. It helped to make cures for illness.

    We do science because we need to know basic facts which could be useful for a future career or maybe just to know simple things about the body eg digestive system.

    To gain knowledge on the world and the human body and how they all work. It teaches some basic things ie wiring a plus, boiling a kettle.

    It teaches us about how things work, which is useful for everyday life.

    I think that we are doing science because it teaches us how the world works and the things we learn we will need for the future.

    Because it is important to know about the world around us.

      We do science because we learn about our environment around us, and how different things work.

      Everything is there for a reason and we do science to learn about these, proven or estimated. Without scientists like Albert Einstein our world would be living in wonder.

      Science surrounds our lives; wherever we may be. It will be in our houses, towns, planet and beyond. Science is there to test and prove the laws and things that really confuse me. However that is the way it will be.

      Science is all about answering questions. About understanding everything that goes on around us, what we're made of, how things work and what makes us different from everything else on earth. To answer the question "Why?"

      To constantly expand our horizons, to discover new things and develop new technology. Science is the way forward. Science is the study of everything in the world and how it works. Science is interesting and helps us to understand.

    Science is experimenting, to learn about our world.

    We do science because it helps to explain useful theories that otherwise would go untaught.

      These theories are very important in our everyday lives.

      Life is Science. Science is life.

    To learn about the past, present and future of the earth and everything on it.

    Expand our knowledge and experience what life is like beyond the doors.

    Everything in the world has some link to science. We do science to learn and expand our knowledge of this. Science includes theories that have been proved, and not proved. We will never know everything there is to know about the world and the solar system, but new ideas are always being produced. Science includes the main topics: biology, chemistry and physics.

    June 2002

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