Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report


Impact of space

343. We have heard from many sources throughout this inquiry that the study of space can be used within education to increase interest in science, encouraging young people to study STEM subjects and ultimately undertake scientific careers. For example, Space Connections stated that "We believe that space motivates young people and attracts them towards science and technology."[660] The Arts Catalyst told us that "It is clear, from our experience of organising space-related education projects in schools over the last seven years, that the theme of space, particularly human spaceflight, acts as a real incentive to children and young people to study science and technology."[661] The Science Museum wrote that space "captures young imaginations and steers them, subtly, towards scientific and technological careers."[662] Professor Alan Wells from the University of Leicester also told us that "space education inspires interest and contributes to scientific skills among the young where other branches of education fail to motivate."[663] Finally, the Royal Society stated that "Space science and astronomy education in schools and college has a direct role in motivating and preparing young people to join the skills base in space-related research."[664]

344. There has been some research undertaken that support this view. Space Connections, PPARC, EADS Astrium and the BNSC recently commissioned a study, The Education and Skills Case for Space, to gather evidence about the impact on students of studying space.[665] It found that space science and astronomy have a direct, positive effect on educational and career decisions and on participation and achievement in physical science at GCSE, A Level and in Higher Education. Professor Wells from the University of Leicester told us that the National Space Centre had tracked the children that passed through its Endeavour Learning Centre in 2004-05 and measured the change in their attainment from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3. 91% had shown an increase in attainment of at least one level.[666]

345. If space were able to encourage students to study science, particularly physics, this would be important. As mentioned in paragraph 178, there are concerns regarding a reduction in the number of students studying physics at A level, the number of undergraduates studying space-related courses and the number of students pursuing careers in the space sector. The Government has focused upon the importance of science education in documents such as the Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014 and the Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014: Next Steps.[667] It has set a target for increasing the take up of physics in particular: by 2014 it wants 35,000 entries to A Level Physics, up from 23,657 in 2006 and 24,094 in 2005.[668]

346. There are two main questions in this area. First, whether space has a unique ability to attract students to science subjects and second, whether space topics attract girls and boys equally. Two recent studies have considered the various drivers that encourage or discourage young people from science: the Science in my Future report by the Nestle Social Research Foundation, and the international Relevance of Science Education (ROSE) project.[669] These studies have drawn contrasting conclusions. The Science in my Future report found that girls were not as excited by space exploration as boys, 27% of all those questioned would prefer that less was spent on space exploration, and more of the sample said that television programmes on space were boring rather than exciting.[670] The report concluded that "the science curriculum must not be unduly laden with the 'space + hardware' appeal that draws boys."[671] The ROSE review also found that girls and boys tended to be interested in different aspects of science; girls were interested in topics related to self and boys in destructive technologies and events. The research found, however, that "boys and girls shared a common curiosity and excitement about the study of space (stars, planets, black holes, space travel, etc.), although boys showed a slightly higher level of interest in this than girls."[672]

347. Ms Bramman from the DfES said that the findings of the ROSE review had convinced the DfES that space "is a motivating area of the curriculum."[673] The ROSE review, however, also found space is not the only subject that is able to motivate children in relation to science. The ROSE summary report stated that "When asked to choose a field of research they would pursue as a scientist, most students chose the treatment and cure of disease or aspects of space science."[674] Whilst an interest in space might encourage young people to engage with science, other drivers come into play when students choose their A levels. Evidence supplied by the DfES showed that factors such as attainment at GCSE are crucial when students are choosing topics to study at a higher level.[675]

348. Several witnesses agreed that it is necessary for there to be more research in this area. Ms Bramman from the DfES said that "there obviously is a call for more evidence than we currently have about space or any other element of the curriculum."[676] She further acknowledged that responsibility for undertaking such research could well lie with the DfES and said that if prioritised, it would be put out to tender as part of the department's research programme.[677] Space Connections conceded that "There is substantial anecdotal and limited quantitative evidence" available on the motivational impact of space.[678] The British Rocket Oral History Programme told us that "there is a need for a rigorous statistical analysis to measure the impact of initiatives such as Spaceport, ISSET, NSSC, and the Scottish Space School on children's aspirations, attitudes and in particular of the up take of University places in STEM subjects."[679] Given the shift of responsibility for the curriculum to the newly-created Department for Children, Schools and Families, we believe that the previous responsibility of the DfES for undertaking research now lies with this new Department.

349. The evidence that we have seen regarding the unique ability of space to increase interest in science is inconclusive. The Department for Children, Schools and Families should work with BNSC and interested organisations to assess what research is required to assess first the impact of space upon interest in science and secondly how an interest in space might be harnessed in order to encourage students to pursue scientific study to GCSE, A level and degree level.

Space in education


350. The promotion of space within education is undertaken by a number of bodies and organisations such as PPARC (now STFC), the National Space Centre in Leicester, the DfES and DTI. These organisations support a variety of activities ranging from workshops to virtual space missions to the provision of learning materials.

351. PPARC told us that it played two distinct roles in education: delivering excellent training in exciting scientific research through its postgraduate studentship schemes, and communicating the excitement and benefits of PPARC science to the general public especially the younger generation.[680] PPARC's educational work took place through its Science and Society programme, which ran several schemes for schools including a Moonrock loan scheme. PPARC aimed to include a science and society element in every major project that it funds, and we expect this focus on science and society to continue in the STFC. The scientists involved in the planned ExoMars mission, for example, will be encouraged to visit schools and the teachers will be given educational material related to the mission.

352. During this inquiry, we visited the National Space Centre (NSC) in Leicester. The NSC is the UK centre for space exploration, combining education, information and research on one site. The DfES and the DTI provided £345,000 to support the centre over a three year period from 2003 to 2006. The NSC has a number of on-site programmes such as the Challenger Learning Centre, the space theatre show, and exhibition trails. The NSC also runs outreach programmes such as Stardome (an inflatable planetarium), an e-mission, and loan activity boxes. The NSC has primarily concentrated on working with 8 to 14 years old but in 2006, in collaboration with PPARC and the East Midlands Development Agency, NSC began to develop a new space-themed education programme for KS 4 (age 14-16) and a more advanced programme called "Careers Pathways and Workforce Development". The NSC, PPARC and Science Learning Centre East Midlands have also designed a full-funded course for teachers to spend a day at the European Space Research and Technology centre in Noordwijk, Holland.

353. There are several other activities that have been supported by collaborations between BNSC partners. In 2004, the DfES and BNSC collaborated on the production of materials for schools relating to the Cassini-Huygens mission.[681] More recently, the DfES and the DTI supported the Science and Engineering Ambassadors Programme that sends 12,000 role models to schools across the UK. Several hundred Ambassadors come from space, aerospace and military sector from academia and companies such as EADS Astrium.


354. We have heard that, due to the number of organisations involved in space education and the variety of activities that they undertake, co-ordination in this area is weak. The Royal Astronomical Society stated that "the UK's programme of space education is uncoordinated".[682] Professor Alan Wells claimed that "Coordination is hampered by the fact that the various activities are funded from many different sources, with each funding agency having differing priorities."[683] The lack of co-ordination is acknowledged by the BNSC.[684] Ms Julie Bramman from the DfES also told us that "there is room for better co-ordination."[685] Dr Robin Clegg from PPARC said that there were a wealth of local and regional initiatives for schools and there was "a need to co-ordinate this better".[686]

355. As mentioned earlier, there was a lack of interaction between DfES and the BNSC partnership (paragraph 76). The DfES appeared unwilling to take responsibility for leading or co-ordinating action in the field of space education. Ms Julie Bramman from DfES told us that "the department always looks to work in partnership with others and not take everything on itself."[687] The lack of involvement from DfES in the field of space education, despite its role as a partner in BNSC, was disappointing. We hope that the Department for Children, Schools and Families will become involved in this field and will work closely with BNSC and the DIUS.

356. The void left by DfES had, luckily for the BNSC, been filled by the RDA for Yorkshire and the Humber, Yorkshire Forward. The structure of the RDAs means that each one has responsibility for a different field, and Yorkshire Forward is responsible for promoting science in schools. [688] Yorkshire Forward has set up an organisation, Space Connections, "to bring coherence across the educational uses of space activity and to maximise the impact that space can have on the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) curriculum and on the wider curriculum."[689] Paul Spencer, an Evaluator and Consultant for Space Connections, told us that "BNSC and Yorkshire Forward are exchanging letters of agreement by which Space Connections will initiate the development of more effective coordination of space education activities in the United Kingdom."[690]


357. The BNSC has taken action signalling its intention to improve the state of space education in the UK. In 2005, the BNSC developed a National Space Education Initiative (NSEI). The aims of the NSEI were: to inspire young people to study and achieve in STEM subject; to give teachers the skills, knowledge and resources to deliver exciting lessons and raise standards, especially in Key Stages 3 and 4; and to develop clear mechanisms for schools to benefit from local, national and European initiatives and resources. Professor Martin Barstow from Leicester University was appointed as a Project Manager/Consultant and a Steering Group was established with representatives from PPARC, DfES, CCLRC, BNSC and the Institute of Physics. Professor Barstow explained to us that "The National Space Education Initiative was a broad idea developed by the BNSC partners to try to raise the profile of Space as an important tool for stimulating schools student engagement with science."[691]

358. Between April and September 2005, Professor Barstow undertook a consultation on space education and in October 2005 he produced a report with a number of recommendations. The report, Bringing Space into School Science, suggested a series of measures such as creating a single advisory body to co-ordinate space, launching a "one-stop-shop" website for space education resources and establishing a UK space education office as a central point of contact.[692] Professor Barstow notes that following the report there was a lack of follow-up by DfES, which had provided £8,500 to PPARC to support the initiative. Professor Barstow wrote that "the re-arrangement of the department [DfES] created a significant discontinuity in the involvement of DfES in the project. Furthermore, expected financial support from DfES for carrying out the report's recommendations evaporated."[693]

359. The production of the Barstow report overlapped with a separate initiative by Yorkshire Forward to attract ESA to establish a European Space Education Office (ESERO) contact point in the UK, which we will consider in more detail below. The lack of co-ordination between these national and local initiatives is symptomatic of the space education sector. Dr Robin Clegg explained to us that the National Space Education Initiative was "overtaken by the arrival of the idea of the Space Education Office […] We believe that nearly all of the recommendations that Barstow made will be delivered by the Space Education Office."[694] Professor Barstow acknowledges that "It is possible that some of the recommendations of my report may be delivered by a new initiative to establish a European Space Resource Office (ESERO) in the UK" but he notes that "so far substantive progress seems to be slow."[695] We are disappointed that, despite their initial investment, DfES did not actively follow up the Bringing Space into School Science report. The fact that many of the recommendations made by this report could be met by Yorkshire Forward's plans for a European Space Education Office in the UK seems to have resulted more from luck than judgement.


360. ESA has been seeking to raise awareness of space within Member States through the establishment of European Space Education Resource Office (ESERO) contact points around Europe. These contact points, preferably located at an existing facility, would enable the ESA Education Department to support the specific educational needs of individual Member States and access existing national networks. ESA states that the ESERO project "is aiming at the development of close relations with national education stakeholders and the participation in education activities tailored to the specific situation in each Member State."[696]

361. Due to the diversity of education systems in Europe, ESA decided to take a Member State by Member State approach. Its intention was to support three trials in the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain. The contact point in the Netherlands is the National Centre for Science and Technology in Amsterdam, the contact point in Spain is La CosmoCaixa in Barcelona and the contact point in Belgium is the Planetarium in Brussels. Yorkshire Forward would like ESA to establish a similar contact point in the UK and negotiations have been underway since June 2005 as outlined in Box 11. It is unclear to us where the contact point would be located.

362. Two bodies have been created to oversee the further development of plans for the ESERO: a contract management group and an interim advisory group. The contract management group includes representatives from ESA, BNSC and Yorkshire Forward and has been established in order to ensure proper implementation, governance and quality of process. The interim advisory group has been created to advise on consultation among stakeholders about the infrastructure, to recommend in the light of the consultation of priorities for development of the UK space education/ESERO infrastructure and to inform BNSC, ESA and Yorkshire Forward on the strategy for space education.[697] The BNSC has said that "BNSC partners working together (including DfES) will ensure that this initiative is properly linked to the wider national science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiatives by DfES and DTI."[698]

Box 11: Timeline of activities relating to a UK ESERO contact point

Source: ESA, Ev 339-340

363. We welcome the plans for the establishment of an European Space Education Resource Office contact point in the UK and we congratulate Yorkshire Forward on its ambition in taking this project forward. The plans for this project should be outlined in the space strategy. It is crucial that the UK and ESA agree on the aims, remit and activities that are encompassed by the project. We are concerned that the UK has higher expectations of this project than ESA since BNSC is presenting it as an all-encompassing solution to its problems in space education. As a result, the initiative may not deliver all that is required. We seek reassurance that this will be the start of a truly national education project and urge the BNSC to clarify in the space strategy which body will be responsible for education in this area.


364. One of the key outcomes of the creation of the ESERO contact point could be the consolidation of space education materials and information. Resources are currently provided separately by the STFC, the National Space Centre, ESA and the BNSC. It is important that these resources are linked to the curriculum and are easy for teachers to use. The report, Bringing Space into School Science, stated that the take-up of resources was patchy and it recommended the creation of a website where all the material could be found in one place.[699] Dr Robin Clegg said that "I hope that the coming Space Education Office will be able to have a good one-stop shop website to give teachers the clearest information on what is available"[700] Several witnesses mentioned NASA's education programme and its provision of material for teachers. Professor Wells from Leicester University noted, however, that NASA's education programme is an "open-ended activity of pushing out material into schools […] the feedback from that is very minimal".[701] The ESERO contact point project should be used as a driver to create a one-stop website for space material. BNSC should work closely with STFC, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and ESA to ensure that material fits into the curriculum. It is crucial that feedback is sought from teachers on the usefulness of such a website and the appropriateness of the material provided.


365. Beyond space education in schools, the BNSC and STFC have a role in broader outreach activities. The BNSC notes that "It is a vital part of the BNSC's role to raise the profile and to promote the achievements of UK space science and industry."[702] BNSC has worked to promote missions, to produce press materials, to exhibit at exhibitions and events, to provide resources, to produce the magazine Space:UK and its website. The Royal Astronomical Society notes that "In recent times BNSC has taken a much more active role in publicising UK space activities which has been welcomed. More would be good for the country".[703] The STFC runs a science and society programme which varies from lectures to open afternoons to workshops.

366. It is difficult to know to what extent the public is aware of the role that space plays in their everyday lives in communication, broadcasting, navigation, security and defence. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers told us that "There is still a perception that the UK isn't involved in space to the degree that it actually is".[704] In August 2006, Demos's report Black Sky Thinking concluded that "space in the UK, which should be seen as one of the most creative industries in the UK, is largely invisible".[705] We acknowledge the work that the BNSC especially the STFC has undertaken in outreach. We suspect that unfortunately the public is still unaware of the variety, breadth and importance that space activities play in their everyday lives. We encourage the BNSC in partnership with academics and industrialists to seek ways to increase understanding and knowledge in this area.

660   Ev 170 Back

661   Ev 238 Back

662   Ev 314  Back

663   Ev 318 Back

664   Ev 222 Back

665   Graham Hulbert & Paul Spencer, The Education and Skills Case for Space, June 2006  Back

666   Q 231 Back

667   HM Treasury, Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014, July 2004, pp 81-93; HM Treasury, Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014: Next Steps, March 2006, pp 39-43. Back

668   Ev 324  Back

669   Helen Haste, Science in my Future, July 2004; E.W. Jenkins and R.G. Pell, The Relevance of Science Education Project (ROSE) in England: a summary of findings, 2006 Back

670   Helen Haste, Science in my Future, July 2004, p 6, p 12, p 26 Back

671   As above, p 3 Back

672   Ev 325 Back

673   Q 234 Back

674   E.W. Jenkins and R.G. Pell, The Relevance of Science Education Project (ROSE) in England: a summary of findings, 2006, p 7 Back

675   Q 264  Back

676   Q 235  Back

677   Qq 238-239  Back

678   Ev 170  Back

679   Ev 220  Back

680   Ev 197 Back

681   "Bringing space into the classroom: Department for Education and Skills joins the BNSC partnership", BNSC Press Release, 16 December 2004 Back

682   Ev 208 Back

683   Ev 318  Back

684   BNSC, A Consultation on the UK Civil Space Strategy 2007-2010, January 2007, p 20 Back

685   Q 269 Back

686   Q 257  Back

687   Q 262 Back

688   Q 697  Back

689   Ev 169 Back

690   As above. Back

691   Ev 352 Back

692   Martin Barstow, Bringing Space into School Science, October 2005, p 20 Back

693   Ev 352  Back

694   Q 298 Back

695   Ev 352  Back

696   Ev 343  Back

697   The interim advisory group includes representatives from the Armagh Planetarium, the Association for Science Education, BNSC, Careers Scotland, DfES, EADs Astrium, Ecsite-UK, ESA, the International Space School Educational Trust (ISSET), the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth, the National Science Learning Centre, STFC, SETNET, the Space Education Council, and Yorkshire Forward/Space Connections. Back

698   Ev 356 Back

699   Martin Barstow, Bringing Space into School Science, October 2005, p 20 Back

700   Q 218 Back

701   Q 280 Back

702   BNSC, Space Activities, p 47 Back

703   Ev 208  Back

704   Ev 215 Back

705   Demos, Black Sky Thinking, August 2006, p 13 Back

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