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


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Department for Education and Skills

I would like to thank the Committee for giving Stephen Timms the opportunity, with Janet Dallas, to give evidence, as part of your Inquiry into Science 14-19. They both found the session stimulating and thought provoking.

I am replying to your request for further clarification of some of the issues discussed.

First, on GCE A levels in the sciences, mathematics and computer sciences, I attach statistical data used by the Department, between 1991-92 and 1999-2000. The final figures for 2000-01 are being finalised and will be published on our statistical website shortly.

Table A shows the number of A level entries in each of the subjects listed by 16-18 year old candidates between 1991-92 and 1999-2000. The "total" referred to is the number of A level entries by 16-18 year olds in any subject.

Table B shows the same information, dating back to 1994-95, including the percentage change in entries between those dates. It is included to enable the Committee to see the source of the data Stephen Timms quoted at the hearing on 29 April.

I have also attached Table C prepared by the Department for the Committee, which shows A level science and mathematics entries between 1991-92 and 1999-2000 as a proportion of total A level entries. The Committee may find it helpful to see how science and mathematics have fared in terms of their "market share". The table shows that the percentage of 16-18 year old entries for chemistry, physics and mathematics as a proportion of the total number of A level entries, has decreased slightly between 1992 and 2000. Biology, other science and computer studies have all shown a small increase. Overall, the tables reflect a relatively stable position for each science subject and for mathematics compared to all other subjects and a decline of 3.5 percentage points for the subjects taken together. I am not suggesting there is room for complacency, but the data shows that students are not deserting science and mathematics in large numbers and, as Stephen said in his evidence to the Inquiry, actual numbers taking these A levels have gone up since 1994-95 in every subject except physics.

The Committee also asked about the Department's policies on collecting data. Data on public examinations is collected by the Awarding Bodies, and, following statistical quality assurance and adjustment, including being checked by schools, is used as the basis for publication of statistical tables in our Statistical First Release series, and for the School and College Performance Tables.

Second, the Committee asked about our plans for evaluating the impact of the £60 million investment in school science laboratories over the last two years.

Funding for school science laboratories came to an end in March 2002. Local Education Authorities have until the end of August 2002 to spend their allocations. The precise format of the evaluation is yet to be finalised, and we anticipate the report will be completed by next summer.

Finally, the Committee asked about our plans for introducing a new National Curriculum for science, as discussed in 14-19:Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards.

We are introducing a new applied science GCSE from this September that will offer young people a new route into science as a career. However, we are consulting on our Green Paper until 31 May and will carefully consider the responses before deciding on any changes to the curriculum, including the Programmes of Study for science, and before drawing up the timetable for introducing any changes.

The Green Paper also makes clear that, if there are changes to the curriculum, there will be further consultation on those, and the timetable for introducing change will allow preparation and time for teachers to be trained.

I hope the Committee will feel I have responded fully to their questions, but I am, of course, happy to provide further information if needed, 1 look forward to seeing their final report.

David Miliband MP

Minister of State for School Standards

20 June 2002

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