Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 20

Submission from Space Connections

  1.  Space Connections is an initiative of Yorkshire Forward, the Regional Development Agency for Yorkshire and the Humber. Space Connections was set up 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. It was established as a response to the severe shortage of young people pursuing the STEM subjects, with the specific purpose of attracting more young people into further study and careers in these areas—an essential requirement for the future competitiveness of the UK.

  2.  ESA and Yorkshire Forward have exchanged letters of agreement by which Space Connections is leading on the establishment across the UK of a pattern of ESERO (European Space Education Resource Office) contact points. An ESERO office is already established in the Netherlands, and those in Belgium and Spain are imminent.

  3.  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.

  4.  We believe that space motivates young people and attracts them towards science and technology. There is substantial anecdotal and limited quantitative evidence for this assertion. Space Connections, jointly with the British National Space Centre (BNSC), the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) and EADS Astrium, recently funded a study[38] under the Case for Space activity to gather together evidence under a number of key questions, each now considered in turn:


  5.  Of 46 teachers and others surveyed, all were enthusiastic about the use of the space theme on young people's learning, including its effect on behaviour, motivation and achievement.

  6.  The most consistent example of the application of space is that of Careers Scotland who make extensive use of space activity through the Scottish Space School across the full 5-18 age range. A tracking system has produced specific evidence of the impact of space on young people's educational and career decisions. Of 53 young people on last year's Space School, 25 said the experience had directly influenced their choice of a science or engineering course and a further 12 had their earlier decision to do so confirmed. Additional benefits included increased confidence, enhanced teamworking and problem solving capabilities and new insight into potential careers.

  7.  As one example, Dyffryn High School in Wales has seen a dramatic increase in the number of pupils opting to do triple science at GCSE through the use of space activity.

  8.  Over a 10 year period Anu Ojha, an Advanced Skills Teacher of Physics at Perry Barr High School, Birmingham, has systematically recorded the impact of space-related ideas on pupils' educational outcomes. His data shows that the space context has had significant measurable impact on achievement, often on whole classes. Students have regularly achieved better than predicted grades at GCSE and A-level, and increased numbers have progressed on to physics and related courses at University.

  9.  In higher education, there is evidence that space themes increase the attractiveness of physics degree courses. Salford University report considerably larger numbers opting for the Physics with Space Technology programme than for traditional physics courses. The intake at the University of Leicester is bucking the trend towards decline in physics numbers; again attributed specifically to their involvement with space activity. UCAS figures show that of all acceptances on to engineering first degrees, only those for Aerospace Engineering have shown a consistent growth over the last ten years.

  10.  We surveyed 3,000 members of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) of whom 498 responded. When asked how significant space was as a factor in influencing their own education and career decisions:

    —    38% said that space was a significant factor in influencing their subject choices at school;

    —    35% said that space was a significant factor in influencing their further and higher education choices; and

    —    27% said that space was a significant factor in influencing their career choices.

  11.  When the engineers were asked whether they thought space influenced young people at school (moderate influence or higher):

    —    80% thought that space influenced the motivation of young people; and

    —    78% thought space influenced young people towards Science, Engineering and Technology subjects.

  12.  Professor Stephen Donnelly, Dean of the Faculty of Computing, Science and Engineering, Salford University, says: "My career choice was greatly influenced by following the coverage of the moon landings in the 1960s. I am absolutely convinced that by giving space activity in the school science curriculum a higher profile it is possible to influence young people today into making educational and career choices that will significantly boost the numbers taking up science and engineering related options."


  13.  Space scores over most other themes on several counts. It is a multi-faceted topic with sufficient aspects of inherent interest to offer appeal to different ages and abilities and to boys and girls; there is a band of very enthusiastic teachers; there are exciting large scale resources; it relates to many unanswered questions, it offers opportunities to push forward technological barriers.

  14.  In addition to its scientific basis, space has humanitarian, global, environmental and enterprise dimensions, it crosses one spectrum from aero-space to astro-space, and another from ethical across to technological issues. No other theme presents such a range of opportunities to interest, motivate, and influence young people.

  15.  When the approx. 500 mechanical engineers in our IMechE survey asked if they could think of another topic as effective as space in interesting young people in science, engineering and technology, 45 named "transportation" and 23 named "buildings and structures". No other topic had significant mention.

  16.  As well as the specific contribution made to science education, it should be borne in mind that space is extensively used in the contexts of environmental education and enterprise activity. It can fairly be claimed that no other topic makes such a wide-ranging contribution to the curriculum.


  17.  Our survey showed low awareness among young people of the nature and extent of the UK Space industry. Primary school children generally know of only one space-related career, namely being an astronaut. Secondary school children generally believe that to work in the space industry you have to go to America. Careers information, advice and guidance are inadequate.

  18.  Both our surveys (general and IMechE) demonstrated that those in the industry are concerned not only about the number of new recruits, but about their quality. Responses to the question on the skills issues facing young recruits included:

    —    declining GCSE and A-level standards;

    —    poor mathematical skills;

    —    little experience of team working;

    —    lack of commercial awareness;

    —    lack of fundamental work ethic; and

    —    low awareness of how things work.

  19.  Continued and increased investment in space, creating a dynamic and vibrant space industry, capitalises these benefits to all our young people and makes a significant contribution to recruitment into and general awareness of the STEM subjects.

  20.  Space is a unique theme within education. It contributes directly to science, enterprise and environmental education. Its appeal is across all ages and to both genders. Quantitative evidence linking involvement with space activity to achievement in science is limited but persuasive.


  Space Connections is responsible for establishing the pattern of European Space Education Resource Offices across the UK, and for establishing coherence across space education activities in the UK.

  We have amassed evidence, including quantitative evidence, that space motivates young people and attracts them towards the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). A survey of teachers and others, and a second survey of members of the IMechE (Institute of Mechanical Engineers) have confirmed this view.

  The UK Space industry is a highly skilled and highly productive industry, but awareness of it is low among young people. Space appeals to all ages and both genders, contributing significantly to science, enterprise and environmental education. Enhanced investment in UK space is vital to capitalise on the unique contribution that space makes to education.

October 2006

38   Spencer, P and Hulbert, G: The Education And Skills Case for Space (BNSC, EADS Astrium, PPARC and Space Connections; June 2006). Back

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