Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 91

Submission from the Spacelink Learning Foundation


  The UK is facing ever-increasing competition in the global economy and the Government recognises the need for UK companies to be staffed with innovative and technologically aware people.

  There is an urgent need to ensure a flow of well-motivated high quality young people going from schools and university into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths careers and to prepare young people for the technological world in which they live.


  There has been a drastic decline in the output of graduates from UK Universities in core STEM subjects. Declining student demand for STEM subjects at undergraduate level has played a pivotal role in the demise of a number of University STEM Departments, for example Chemistry at Exeter, King's and Queen Mary College, London.

  This shortage of STEM graduates is likely to lead to unwelcome consequences for the competitiveness of UK companies and the living standards of the UK population relative to that in competitor countries.


  The key educational objective of SLF is to make STEM subjects more attractive to students aged 13-18 years in schools.

  SLF is a not-for-profit British company limited by guarantee, not having a share capital and Registered in England and Wales as a Charity (No 1080879). It was established in 2000 because of its experience, based on earlier research and trials, that the use of space-related data and artefacts assists in the teaching of STEM subjects in schools in a number of ways:

    —  Through improving the motivation of students and their enjoyment of learning.

    —  Through providing a better understanding of the subject matter.

    —  Through involving students with modern operational systems.

  This is a new educational concept which we call "Learning through Space".

  Much of the problem arises from a perception amongst pupils that scientific subjects are not only difficult but also boring. Few have any ideas about what possible careers are open to scientists and how exciting science can be.

  SLF plans to tackle these problems by pursuing the following educational objectives:

    —  To use space and its associated technologies to motivate students aged between 13-18 years to study STEM and related subjects within the National Curriculum.

    —  To assist in the teaching and learning of these subjects by making the teaching materials more exciting and relevant to the modern world.

    —  To provide teachers with a comprehensive support service. Delivered via the internet, it will contain all the materials they need to meet their curricular and examination requirements and provide worthwhile after-school activities.

    —  To build flexibility into the service so that it can readily accommodate any future changes in the curriculum.


  SLF's plan is to develop a comprehensive Spacelink Service. This on-line web-based service will be available potentially to teachers and students in all schools, initially in the UK. The Service will comprise the following modules within a new range of stimulating and exciting resources and support services:

    —  Interactive curriculum-related Learning Resources to support the classroom teaching of STEM and related subjects, initially for the National Curriculum for England. The Learning Resources will use space-based materials and data from existing live satellites to make them more exciting and relevant to students. They will allow a coordinated approach to the teaching of STEM subjects, demonstrating the links between them.

    —  Support services that will enable teachers to make the most effective use of the Learning Resources, including on-line teacher development, in-service training and operational support.

    —  A web-based delivery system.

    —  Possible access to educational payloads on live satellites to bring teachers and students into direct contact with high-technology systems.

    —  Club programmes and activities for out of school hours to enhance and enrich classroom work.

    —  The Helen Sharman Programme named in honour of the former UK astronaut and a Spacelink Patron. This will provide the latest news about space and its developments to attract, widen and deepen the interest in Spacelink amongst teachers and students.


  SLF's Business Plan is to deliver the Service to up to 2,200 subscribing schools in the UK within eight years of beginning the Development Programme.

  The subscription charges for the Service have deliberately been set to be affordable to schools and will start at only £50 pa for 10 Learning Resources plus the supporting elements shown above. This will rise to £200 pa for 75 Learning Resources and £260 pa if data is provided from educational payloads in space. SLF plans that the Service will become self-financing through income from subscriptions, sales and advertising once the costs of development have been met.


  The Spacelink Service will be developed as a number of modules but commissioned in three major phases.

  Each module will be fully tested and validated before moving forward. Each major phase will comprise three components which will be implemented in parallel, viz:

    —  Developing/commissioning modules of the Service.

    —  A Market Development Programme.

    —  Provision of the Service to schools and other users.


    —  The Inauguration Phase will cover a period of 27 months.

  At this stage, SLF would have a "Basic Service" which would familiarise teachers and students with the use of space materials in the curriculum teaching of STEM subjects.

  The Total Estimated Cost of the Inauguration Phase is £1.7 million over the 27-month period.


  SLF plans to begin the First Enhancement Phase after one year of the Inauguration Phase to provide maximum continuity to the programme and to minimise the total elapsed time.

  At the conclusion of the First Enhancement Phase, SLF would have a fully-operational on-line service for UK schools and possibly some English-speaking schools overseas using the same curriculum.

  The total estimated cost of the First Enhancement Phase is £8.7 million over a 52-month period, which could be reduced to £5 million if no educational payloads were developed and launched.


  In the Second Enhancement Phase, SLF's priority would be to maintain the continuity of the Service developed during the Inauguration and First Enhancement Phases. At this time, the Service would be self-financing, providing that the target numbers of schools had become subscribers.


  The following important and lasting benefits would result from a successful fundraising initiative and the development and implementation of the Spacelink Service:

  STEM and related subjects should become at least as attractive as other subjects post GCSE. This will help to stem the downward spiral in the number of students taking science subjects at A-level. For similar reasons, the Service would also enrich the work of those Specialist Schools with STEM subjects in their specialisms.

  If Spacelink is successful in its objective of encouraging 2,200 schools to subscribe to the Service by the end of the First Enhancement Phase, we estimate that at least 100,000 students per year in the UK, of all ability levels, would have access to improved STEM education in curriculum subjects, plus all the extra-curricular features outlined above.

  Students' ability to relate their studies to the real world around them will be enhanced. This is a well-established route to improving student motivation and enjoyment of learning. There will be benefit both to the students themselves and to society in general if fewer students become disaffected and disillusioned with school and learning.

  The Service will also be available to other potential users, such as those engaged in life-long learning and hobby groups. These groups will benefit from a more fulfilling study/learning experience.

  Because of its specially-developed training and support services for teachers and the opportunities for Continuing Professional Development (CPD), the Service will reduce the burden on teachers and help in the recruitment and retention of teachers of STEM subjects. It is probable that the Spacelink Service will engender widespread international interest during the First Enhancement Phase and lead many countries to wish to participate in a collaborative initiative. This is likely to increase the number of options for the further development of the Spacelink Service and allow for lower fees for UK schools.


  Because of the urgent need to tackle the problems of the teaching of STEM subjects in schools, highlighted above, SLF obtained limited funding to allow a start to be made on the Inauguration Phase in February 2006. The Centre for Science Education at Sheffield Hallam University was engaged to develop typical space-based Learning Resources and then trial them in five schools in Sheffield, Derbyshire and Leicester. Feedback from the teachers and students involved was very positive: teachers liked the fact that they could "use the lessons right off the shelf"; students found the lessons fun to do and interesting. This demonstrates that the Spacelink vision can become a reality for typical students in the UK. Whilst these results are extremely encouraging, what has been created so far is insufficient in volume to form the basis of a service which could be offered to all schools in the UK. Thus it will not alleviate the problems identified, far less improve the competitiveness of the nation.

  SLF is planning a fundraising campaign to raise the funds required to sustain the project until it becomes self financing. A strategic plan for fundraising will be prepared based on a full understanding of the whole donor constituency and of the range of fundraising methodologies which are available. During the campaign a number of approaches will be made to Trusts, Companies and Individuals, who will be asked to support the campaign that will help us to launch and establish this important educational resource for the nation.

February 2007

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