Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 87

Submission from Chas Bishop, Chief Executive, National Space Centre


1.1  Origins & Purpose

  The National Space Centre is the brainchild of the University of Leicester which, together with Leicester City Council and Leicester Chamber of Commerce, secured a lottery grant from the Millennium Commission to help build a world class visitor attraction, education and research facility on the site of a disused sewage works. The Centre opened to the public in 2001.

  The purpose of the National Space Centre is to inspire people, and particularly young people, to take an interest in science via the subject of space. It has received significant support from the East Midlands business and political community as a catalyst for the development of a science park on the adjacent brown field site and, recently, as a centre of excellence for workforce development in science and engineering.

1.2  Visitor numbers

  Since launch the National Space Centre has welcomed over one million people; 250,000 of which have been children visiting in school groups. An additional 150,000 children have received a workshop in their classroom delivered by either a visiting presenter or by videoconference.

  The remaining 75% of visitors are mostly in family groups led by parents keen to support their children's formal education. An average visit lasts for three to four hours and includes a tour of the exhibition, a show in the Space Theatre and a choice of workshops and trails. Visitors attending corporate events make up the remainder.

  A summary of visitor numbers for 2004-07 may be seen thus:

2007 (forecast)


1.3  Funding

  The National Space Centre was able to match the £30 million funds it received from the Millennium Commission with funds from other sources in order to complete its development and begin its operation debt-free.

  From 2001-05, the business covered 73-86% of its costs from trading income and the remainder, from other sources including sponsorships, grants and some borrowing. In 2006 it was able to cover 94% of its costs from trading income due to the implementation of a gift aid scheme and strong growth in its corporate hospitality business and creative service provision; the National Space Centre's creative services team now being the biggest producer of planetarium shows (by volume and license sales) in the world.

  A summary of cost coverage may be seen thus:

% costs covered
Profit(Loss) £k

2007 (f)

  The National Space Centre is a not-for-profit education charity but is run as a commercial operation for which no public sector support is assumed. That said, it received Government (DTI/DfES/OST) funding totalling £354,000 in the three years 2003-04 to 2005-06 to support its education programme delivery.

  The majority of the National Space Centre's education programmes were developed using capital funds from the building phase of the business. They are delivered on a commercial basis, but at a financial loss due to schools' inability to pay an entrance fee that reflects the cost of delivery. In addition, the business invests in the development of new programmes in order to extend its impact into new age groups and to keep pace with curriculum development.

  The total loss incurred by education programme development and delivery is circa £250,000 per annum. This is subsidised by the business on the basis (a) that it is what the business exists for and (b) that stakeholders whose objectives are also being met can be recruited to support this work.

1.4  Long term development

  The National Space Centre has a good track record in identifying development opportunities and delivering new exhibition content and programmes that meet clear charitable and commercial objectives. Two examples may be given:

1.4.1  Beagle 2 Lander Operations Control Centre

  In 2001, the National Space Centre secured the authority and the funds to locate the Beagle 2 Lander Operations Control Centre in its research facility at the heart of the exhibition. Visitors were able to watch live as the story of Beagle 2 unfolded during the six month journey to Mars in 2003, and through the subsequent search, whilst the successful Mars Express orbiter, and the American Spirit and Opportunity rovers, sent back their images of the Martian surface.

1.4.2  Human Spaceflight: Lunar Base 2025

  Using research feedback from visitors in 2001-02, the National Space Centre decided to present the most-popular subject (human spaceflight) via the development of a lunar base of the future. Tranquillity Base was launched to the public in July 2005.

  The impact of these two developments on visitor income can be seen thus (the first vertical line is the timing of Beagle 2's impact; the second, the launch of Tranquillity Base):

1.4.3  The National Space Centre's development plans for the next three years are:



  A celebration of the 50 years of discovery since Sputnik 1 became the first man-made object in space on 4 October 2007.


  A redevelopment of the existing Space Now exhibition gallery and web service to better tell "today's news from space" via the latest exhibition technology.


  An education programme targeting 14-19 year olds for the first time; inspiring them, via the subject of space, to consider the course and career options that will help them become the scientists and engineers of the future.



  Exhibition gallery development to explain the human and natural disasters that threaten the earth, and how satellite technology can be used to help predict the threats and support efforts on the ground to offset their impact.


  Exploitation of the science park development to provide green space, artefact and public art display in an impressively landscaped setting.



  A new corporate hospitality facility to exploit demand for events bigger than those than can currently be accommodated.


  The development of an adventure playground on "covenanted land" (for agreed, shared use) between the National Space Centre and adjacent Abbey Pumping Station museum.


  The National Space Centre provides on-site and off-site education programmes for children in school groups, and a "space news" provision to help inform all visitors.

  To date its education provision has concentrated on the 8-14 age range, inspiring children to take a general interest in science. In 2007, it is developing a programme called Career Pathways & Workforce Development to encourage 14-19 year olds to consider course and career options that will help them become the scientists and engineers of the future. Programme development and a pilot delivery phase is supported by the Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council, East Midlands Development Agency, the University of Leicester and a number of Further Education Colleges. Support for long term delivery is being sought.

2.1  Education Programmes on-site

  50,000 school children visit the National Space Centre each year to spend time in the exhibition and take part in a choice of programmes, workshops and trails according to the age and needs of the group. Astronauts and other influential role models visit on a regular basis to tell their stories and inspire children.

  The flagship programme is a space mission in the Challenger Learning Centre. Curriculum-based preparation materials may be used in the classroom before the visit to the site. The two and a half hour simulated space mission is located at the Space Centre in a fully-themed space facility—half mission control; half space station.

  All students see a highly-informative Space Theatre Show as part of their visit. Shows cover subjects such as human spaceflight, the size of the Universe and the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. Curriculum-based educational shows include Planets, Tour of the Night Sky and Sunshine Story Time for under five's.

  Workshops and Exhibition trails are tailored to a range of science, maths and geography syllabi and include Fizzy Flyers and Fizzy Science rocket-building exercises, Earth Under Threat, Earth, Moon and Sun and the Space Station Challenge.

  A pilot project, being run during the academic year 2006-07, is the provision of GCSE Astronomy for two local schools. Children will visit the National Space Centre for six days over the course of the school year to receive presentations that use resources and expertise not available within their school.

  The Endeavour Learning Centre is a designated "City Learning Centre" in which Leicester City Council runs study support workshops for children that have either shown an interest in science and want to learn more, or children who struggle and need support. 60 children per term attend one workshop per week for 10 weeks.

2.2  Education Programmes off-site

  The National Space Centre provides education programmes directly into schools for 40,000 students annually.

  The Stardome is an inflatable planetarium that travels from school to school and can accommodate up to 30 children for a 50 minute show about the night sky. Up to six shows can be run over the course of a day.

  A simulated space e-mission, Operation Montserrat, is carried out in the classroom with directions coming from Mission Control at the National Space Centre via video conference. Other video conferencing programmes, including Living and Working in Space, The Solar System and Ask the Expert are also available to schools across the UK and abroad.

  Themed Loan Boxes, including Rocketry, Earth Moon and Sun and Toys in Space, are available for hire to schools on a weekly basis.

2.3  Teacher Training & Support

  Programmes are far more effective if the teacher is fully engaged in the subject, has a role to play in the workshop and is committed to the pre- and post-programme coursework that best exploits the achievements on the day of the visit or outreach programme. The education team supports agencies such as Local Education Authorities, SETPOINTS, City Learning Centres and Regional Science Learning Centres in delivering their teacher training programmes.

  Education Preview Events are run as whole day or evening sessions and allow teachers an on-site taster of all the educational programmes that the National Space Centre has to offer.

  Teacher INSET Sessions are run to direct and enhance the teaching of space-related areas of the curriculum.

  Curriculum-linked trails and background information are available on the National Space Centre's website in a format that allows teachers to print them off for use in the classroom and enhance the exhibition learning experience.

2.3  Space News

  An exhibition gallery called Space Now, with an associated website, tells "today's news from space". An upgrade of this facility in 2007 will help deliver the news via the latest exhibition technology and with a dedicated team to deliver live presentation every day.

  The new gallery will include the development of a Mars Yard in the adjacent research facility. This is a simulated Martian surface on which space company Astrium plans to test its prototype rover for the 2013 ExoMars mission, and on which school, college and university groups will be able to carry out rover building and testing workshops.


  The National Space Centre delivers education programmes to many young people and has much anecdotal evidence from teachers and students that they are of high quality, fulfilling and enjoyable. This section does not repeat or add to the anecdotal evidence presented in other submissions, but seeks to summarise the National Space Centre's quantifiable impact and recommendations as to how this might be exploited.

3.1  Breadth of contribution (numbers rounded for simplicity)

  Of the 50,000 school children that visit the National Space Centre each year, 75% are from within a one hour drive time that covers the wider Midlands region, and 20% are from a one to two hours' drive time that reaches Leeds in the North to Gloucester and North/East London in the South. The remaining 5% are from further afield.

  90% of these children are aged 8-14. 5% are under 8. 5% are 14-19.

  10,000 teachers and support staff either accompany children or attend teacher training.

  The length of visit is determined by the distance of travel but tends to be three to four hours. The majority of groups will tour the galleries and take part in a trail or workshop. 8,000 children per annum take part in a Challenger Learning Centre space mission.

  In 2006 40,000 children took part in an outreach programme at their school. 35,000 received a planetarium show in the inflatable Stardome or completed a classroom workshop. 5,000 took part in a video conference workshop or an e-mission.

  60 children per term attend a two hour study support class each week for ten weeks. These are children who either show a specific interest in the physical sciences and are encouraged to learn more, or children whose formal education needs additional support in order to attain the required standard. The programme has been running for four years.

  The crew of Space Shuttle STS-121 presented the story of its mission to circa 4,000 young people during a 10 day tour of the UK organised by the National Space Centre in November/December 2006. This repeated a similar tour in 2003: the first time that a full astronaut crew had visited the UK.

3.2  Challenger Learning Centre: impact

  The National Space Centre has been the subject of several studies looking at the impact of different space-themed learning initiatives on the attitudes and cognition of students. 1. Nearly 20% of the pupils showed an increased desire to become scientists in the future... two months later they continued to be more positive about being future scientist. 2. Studies have shown that positive changes in attitudes towards science are retained by over half of the participants, for months after a well organised school education visit to the National Space Centre (Jarvis & Pell, 2004).

3.3  Study Support: impact

  Leicester City Council has, for the purpose of informing this submission, completed two pieces of research to evaluate the impact of study support.

  The first is an attitudinal study to assess the impact of the study support programme on the children's attitude to science and enjoyment of the course. The results are in raw data form at present but are very positive.

  The second is an attainment study to compare the performance of the children that have completed the study support programme with the performance of a control group of children that have not. The results will be available for the evidence session on 30 January 2007.

3.4  14-19 age group: future impact

  The National Space Centre's current range of workshops has been developed for the 8-14 age group. Some have been modified for presentation to older children and to adults.

  In 2007, and with funding from the Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council and East Midlands Development Agency, a programme for 14-19 year olds called Career Pathways & Workforce Development is being created. Its purpose is to inspire young people to take a greater interest in science and to consider course and career options that will help them become the scientists and engineers of the future. A pilot workshop will be tested October 2007 to March 2008 before the full programme is integrated into the regular programme schedule.

3.5  Recommendations

  The National Space Centre recommends that Government:

  (i)  reviews the contribution, and the potential contribution, of the National Space Centre to the support of formal science education, including teacher development, and in inspiring young people to consider the course and career options that will help them to become the scientists and engineers of the future;

  (ii)  considers the suggestion (ref Prof Alan Wells' submission) that Leicestershire becomes a formal test bed for developing a continuum of science learning from school to further/higher education using the National Space Centre as the bridging partner; and

  (iii)  provides a rolling funding programme for the National Space Centre to develop and deliver high quality education programmes on a fully-costed basis and without recourse to subsidy from the charity that runs it.

January 2007

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 17 July 2007