Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 88

Submission from the Department for Education and Skills


  1.  The Government is committed to ensuring that the UK has a strong supply of scientists and engineers and that young people understand the importance and relevance of science to the world around them. That is why it has made improving the teaching and learning of science a high priority. Our ambition is to create an education and training environment that delivers the best in science teaching and learning at every stage. The Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-14: Next Steps, published in March 2006, outlines a strong programme for stimulating and improving teaching and learning, to improve pupils' enjoyment of and attainment in science and the number of young people continuing to study science at higher levels.

  2.  This memorandum looks at the action taking place to improve science teaching and learning, including: the Next Steps commitments; the school science curriculum, curriculum enrichment activities; further education; plans for ensuring that teachers are thoroughly equipped for, and can take a flexible approach to, delivering the curriculum to inspire students; the importance of space in the science curriculum; and support for university research.


  3.  The Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-14: Next Steps document published in March 2006 set new targets to:

    —  Increase the numbers of young people taking A Levels in physics and chemistry so that by 2014, entries to A Level physics are 35,000 (from 24,094 in 2005), and chemistry A level entries are 37,000 (from 33,164 in 2005).

    —  Improve the number of pupils getting at least level 6 at the end of key stage 3 (11-14 year olds).

    —  Improve the number of pupils achieving A*-B and A*-C grades in two science GCSEs.

    —  Step up recruitment, retraining and retention of physics, chemistry and mathematics specialist teachers so that by 2014, 25% of science teachers have a physics specialism (compared to 19% currently), 31% of science teachers have a chemistry specialism (compared to 25% currently).

  4.  There is a robust programme of activity underway to help meet these commitments including:

    —  Measures to boost the supply of qualified science teachers, including a teacher training bursary of £9,000 and a "golden hello" of £5,000.

    —  Improving the quality of teaching and learning through the National Strategies and the network of Science Learning Centres.

    —  Piloting 250 after school science and engineering clubs to offer an engaging and stretching programme of activities to key stage 3 pupils with an interest and potential in science.

    —  Giving more pupils the chance to take separate GCSEs in physics, chemistry and biology (triple science), for example through collaborative arrangements with other schools, further education colleges and universities.

    —  Engaging more effectively with employers and universities on how they can help support attainment and progression in science to higher education and science careers through a model of best practice.

    —  Expanding the Science and Engineering Ambassadors scheme to support teachers and engage and enthuse pupils to continue studying science. By 2007-08 the total number of ambassadors will be 18,000, an increase of 50% since 2005-06.

    —  Working with key stakeholders to develop ways to improve the awareness of young people and their parents and teachers of the benefits of studying science and the career opportunities available to those with science, engineering and mathematics degrees and other qualifications.

  5.  This programme of activity will help to improve the overall quality of learning and teaching within our schools, inspiring pupils to pursue science education post 16 and to go on to careers in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.


  6.  Worldwide, science knowledge is expanding at an unprecedented rate and it is often difficult to predict where the next advances will come. A good science education should ensure that pupils have the skills needed to make sense of new developments. All pupils need a sufficient understanding of science and how it will affect their lives for the future. Those who will go on to careers in, and related to, science also need a sound preparation for further study and work.

  7.  The Government recognises the impact that space can have on inspiring science learning in schools. That is why the science curriculum enables young people to learn and develop their knowledge and understanding about the sun, moon and the solar system and how the universe began. In the process, they learn to develop their practical enquiry and communication skills.

  8.  The Relevance of Science Education Project (ROSE) in England: A Summary of Findings (2006) explored students' attitudes to, interest in and experiences of science in the curriculum. It noted that overall, girls showed more enthusiasm for topics related to self, such as health issues (like eating disorders), mind and well being, and boys showed a stronger interest in destructive technologies and events (for example, how the atom bomb functions). The research also found 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.

  9.  The role of the DfES in the curriculum is to set the strategic framework and ensure that pupils have access to a broad, rich and relevant curriculum. The DfES provides some funding for the development of resources and works with partners to develop and deliver these. Currently, the DfES is working with the science education community to develop support for teachers on effective delivery of the new GCSE specifications, a model of good teaching practice and models of effective collaborative working between schools. These will be rolled out nationally on completion. There is a wide variety of resources available for use in schools and teachers are free to use their professional judgement to select appropriate materials for their science lessons.


  10.   The National Curriculum for science requires pupils to begin to learn about space from as early as key stage 1, where they learn about light and dark, and the role of the sun as a light source. At key stage 2, pupils learn that: the sun, earth and moon are approximately spherical; the position of the sun appears to change during the day and how shadows change as this happens. They also learn how day and night are related to the spin of the earth on its own axis and that the earth orbits the sun once each year and that the moon takes approximately 28 days to orbit the earth.


  11.  The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) has developed proposals for reforming the key stage 3 science curriculum (11-14 year olds). The new curriculum will have a focus on "how science works" whilst aiming to engage and inspire all pupils and providing a sound basis for further science study. QCA will be consulting on a draft from February 2007 and the new curriculum will be introduced into schools for first teaching from September 2008. It is envisaged that the key stage 3 curriculum should enable pupils to: research, experiment and discuss; pursue an independent enquiry into a scientific topic of interest to them; use case studies as a basis for finding out about the applications and implications of science and explore contemporary and historical scientific developments and how they have been communicated.

  12.  In the current programme of study for key stage 3, pupils learn how the movement of the earth causes the apparent daily and annual movement of the sun and other stars; the relative positions of the earth, sun and planets in the solar system; about the movements of planets around the sun and to relate these to gravitational forces; that the sun and other stars are light sources and that the planets and other bodies are seen by reflected light; and about the use of artificial satellites and probes to observe the earth and to explore the solar system.


  13.   A new curriculum for science at key stage 4 was introduced into schools in September 2006. It maintains the breadth, depth and challenge of the previous curriculum, but has a better balance between knowledge and understanding. It will lead to new GCSEs, which pupils will sit for the first time in Summer 2007. Among other things, pupils learn about the way science and scientists work within society and the applications and implications of science. They consider the relationships between data, evidence, theories and explanations, and develop their practical, problem-solving and enquiry skills, working individually and in groups. Pupils also develop their understanding and skills in ways that provide the basis for further studies in science and related areas. In particular, pupils learn that the surface and the atmosphere of the earth have changed since the earth's origin and are changing at present; and that the solar system is part of the universe, which has changed since its origin and continues to show long-term changes.


  14.  The A level subject criteria have been revised and updated to reflect recent developments at key stage 4 without reducing the overall amount of content or demand. These changes come into effect for first teaching from September 2008. The A Level subject criteria for physics do not specify that space must be taught in the curriculum, although it may be taught within the context of specified areas of study such as momentum and quantum theory.


  15.  The number of children achieving a Level 4 or above in the key stage 2 tests has increased from 69% in 1997 to 87% in 2006. The picture is very similar at key stage 3, where 72% of pupils achieved Level 5 or above in 2006, compared with 60% in 1997.

  16.  At GCSE, 50% of pupils got a good grade (A*-C) in science in 2006, compared with 51% in 2005. 69% of pupils at the end of Key Stage 4 took double science GCSE.

  17.   The GCSE achievement rate is very high for pupils taking the single sciences. In 2006, 8% took physics, of which 91% achieved a grade A*-C; 8% took chemistry of which 91% achieved a grade A*-C; and 8% took biology of which 90% achieved a grade A*-C. Of the 534 entries for astronomy, 73% of pupils obtained a grade A*-C.

  18.   The latest figures show that 23,657 young people took A Level physics last year. The figures also show a gender imbalance, with 18,687 boys and 4,970 girls taking the subject. There were 34,534 entries for chemistry and 46,624 entries for biology last year. In physics 95.7% of pupils achieved a grade A-C last year, compared to 97% in chemistry and 95.7% in biology. In 2006, 3,599 pupils took other sciences, a category which included astronomy, of which 96.6% obtained grade A-E.

  19.  The Government has a set new target for increasing the take up of physics overall—by 2014 entries to A Level physics to be around 35,000 (from 24,094 in 2005). The DfES is aiming to achieve this through a range of activity, including working with the Institute of Physics and Science Learning Centres on practical ways to encourage more girls to study physics after the age of 16. We are introducing a statutory entitlement to a course of study leading to two science GCSEs. The intention is that at least 80% of young people will take at least two science GCSEs. The Department is also exploring ways of improving the information available to young people, their parents and teachers about the advantages of continuing to study the physical sciences after 16.


  20.   It is important that all pupils understand the importance of science and how it relates to the world around them. The DfES actively encourages schools to give their pupils a broad range of experiences away from the classroom setting, so they can place science into its everyday context. This includes activity to encourage the study of science, and might include:

    —  visits to museums and other venues that have a science focus such as a planetarium;

    —  field studies and learning about the natural environment;

    —  observing the night sky;

    —  using online resources, including webcam pictures and satellite images of astronomical phenomena;

    —  using the internet to find out about current developments and issues in science, for example how human health is affected by environmental factors;

    —  using an interactive software package, the internet or CD Rom to explore the solar system or explore environmental effects, or model the supply of electrical power and energy loss in a house; and

    —  using simulations/spreadsheets to explore models of atomic and molecular arrangements when studying chemical and material behaviour.

  21.  The Government is also extending opportunities in science to enable more young people to fulfil their potential, including: encouraging collaboration between schools, between schools and universities, and employers; and encouraging schools to offer more enrichment activity, so that pupils can gain a practical experience and better understanding of science at work.

  22.  The Science and Engineering Ambassadors Programme, supported by the DTI and the DfES, sends around 12,000 role models to schools across the UK. The Programme includes a diverse range of individuals from over 1000 different employment backgrounds; including some several hundred Ambassadors from the space, aerospace and the military sector representing companies such as EADS Astrium, BAE, Smiths, and the global missile company, MBDA, as well as a number of academic astrophysicists. There are also a number of medical physicists and industrial chemists on the programme. These enthusiastic volunteers go out into all types of schools, inspiring the pupils and adding to the continuing professional development of teachers. They play a key role in the Government's overall strategy to increase the number of scientists and engineers in the UK workforce.

  23.  SETNET, together with a consortium of partners including Science Learning Centres, The British Association for the Advancement of Science, Ecsite-uk (the National network of science centres and museums) among others, are developing and delivering the after school science and engineering clubs pilot. The clubs will provide a range of enrichment activities for pupils. They will engage with a range of partners representing industry/business, Regional STEM Support Centres, and Science and Engineering Ambassadors. We envisage that the clubs will be an excellent vehicle for promoting and delivering enrichment activity, including learning about space. The intention is that the clubs will provide a sustainable and best practice model that can in future be adopted widely throughout the school system.

  24.  The DfES gave approximately £600,000 over three years from 2003 to 2006 to support the Dill Faulkes Telescope Project, a joint project with the Economic and Social Research Council. The project enabled schools to have online access to two giant telescopes in Australia and Hawaii, where they could observe live astronomical phenomena. Given the sheer size of the sky, students from different schools were able to observe different parts of the sky, making an important contribution to astronomical research.

  25.  In partnership with the DTI, the DfES has also funded the National Space Centre in Leicester with approximately £354,000 over three years (2003-06), as part of our Millennium Science Centre support funding. The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council received £8,500 in 2005-06 from the DfES to help the fund a project manager to take forward its space education initiatives.

  26.  In 2004, the DfES became a consulting partner of the British National Space Centre (BNSC), offering strategic advice to help move the BNSC educational work forward. Together with the BNSC we worked with the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council to produce classroom teaching resources for the Cassini-Huygens probe to Saturn and Titan in 2004. The DfES has also attended UK Space Advisory Council meetings and helped to bring about co-ordination and focus to the diverse range of space education activities with Government education policy. We recognise the need to continue to work in close partnership with the BNSC, and will be meeting with BNSC colleagues in the near future to explore how we can build on our existing relationship.


  27.  Both science and engineering have been included in the National Teaching and Learning Change Programme for the further education sector. This aims, through offering world class resources and subject specific regional networks, to encourage the exploration of new and innovative teaching methods and professionally trained and qualified subject learning coaches within institutions, to transform the learning experience of students.

  28.  The Quality Improvement Agency, which manages the programme, recently visited the National Space Centre to explore what opportunities it was able to support in relation to developing further resources for learners.  The meeting was successful and there is a possibility that space and the space centre will feature in future materials.


  29.  Research into the qualifications and deployment of secondary science and mathematics teachers (carried out by NFER for the DfES and published in January 2006) found that, 44% of secondary science teachers have got an initial specialism in biology, 25% have got an initial specialism in chemistry and 19% an initial specialism in physics. The study established that although there was no shortage of science teachers overall, there were shortages of those with physics and chemistry specialisms. The Government recognises the need for improvement between the balance of specialisms, and has set a target for increasing the number of teachers with a physics specialism to 25% by 2014 and with a chemistry specialism to 31% by 2014. A range of recruitment and retention measures have been put in place to achieve this.

  30.  The DfES has also funded the Training and Development Agency for Schools to develop and pilot a CPD programme, leading to an accredited qualification to give existing science teachers without a physics or chemistry specialism the deep subject knowledge and pedagogy they need to teach these subjects effectively.

  31.  The National Strategies are a major provider of science CPD. They have developed a variety of blended learning strategies to support science staff's professional development such as:

    —  Subject leader development meetings to develop teaching approaches and provide stimulus and support to subject leaders who can then disseminate to their staff.

    —  Resources which are self directed (eg science pedagogical pack) which are designed to build capacity for schools to provide their CPD.

    —  Consultancy support in school in which consultants work over a period of time with staff to develop and improve teaching practice through coaching, mentoring, in-class support and departmental training as appropriate. This is particularly focused on underachieving schools.

  32.   Recently the Secondary National Strategy has focused its science strand on improving teaching practices in particular areas that pupils and teachers may find challenging. For example, specific knowledge areas like geology or improving particular scientific enquiry skills, such as written scientific explanation and graphical interpretation. It is also providing opportunities for teachers to improve their assessment skills and ability to deal with the demands of improving behaviour in science lessons. Other current areas of work include identifying and promoting effective practice in interactive teaching, including imaginative use of practical work and support to increase the number of young people achieving level 6+ at key stage 3.

  33.  The DfES is also supporting CPD for teachers on practical work through the national network of Science Learning Centres (a £51 million initiative, joint funded with the Wellcome Trust). Courses cover aspects such as making science relevant and exciting, subject specialism and inspiring practical work. Subject-specific CPD is also available to help keep teachers up to date with their pedagogical skills so that they can teach their subject effectively. The training focuses on encouraging innovative and exciting teaching practice that will enthuse and inspire young people. Science Learning Centres also offer specific courses aimed at helping teachers to deliver the space element of the science curriculum more effectively.

  34.   In conjunction with the National Space Centre and PPARC, the Science Learning Centre East Midlands designed a fully funded course where teachers spent a day during the Easter vacation at the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, Holland, with a follow-up day at the National Space Centre. The course, aimed at secondary science teachers wishing to update and enhance their knowledge, teaching of space and related topics such as citizenship, was a huge success.

  35.  In March this year, the Yorkshire and Humber Science Learning Centre is running a one-day course about the fundamentals of astrophysics, including the origins and expansion of the universe, gravitation, measurement and scale and will also outline some of the more recent advances in astrophysics. These topics fascinate pupils, particularly as they are regularly featured in the media and science fiction. The course will be relevant to teachers delivering key stage 4 science but will also be appropriate for post-16 physics teachers.

  36.  During its launch event, the Yorkshire and Humber Science Learning Centre hosted a live videoconference from space, with the International Space Station, enabling pupils to have live conversations with astronauts.

  37.  The London Science Learning Centre in collaboration with the International Space School Educational Trust, is running a course entitled "Space Camps". The course looks at how space camps can be run in after school or lunchtime clubs, at weekends or during the school holidays. The course is built around stimulating, hands-on, multi-media based student activities that utilise state of the art aspects of the human space programme. The course is based around five themes: planning a mission; understanding the solar system; rocketry and propulsion; living in space; and, landing and living on other planets.

  38.  The National Science Learning Centre is running a course entitled "Space and the Universe". The course will give secondary school teachers a chance to work alongside research and applied scientists and engineers. Participants will experience space activities to enrich the learning of their pupils and to explore pupils' misconceptions about gravity and how these can be overcome. The course will enable teachers to plan better how they can use space to make science more engaging and attractive in their own school.


  39.  With the Office of Science and Innovation (OSI) in the Department of Trade and Industry, DfES provides the main funding for the university research base in England, through the "dual support system". As the Committee will know, under this system OSI, through the Research Councils, provides funding for individual research projects, and DfES, through the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) provides funding to universities to help support their overall research base.

  40.  The DfES arm of "dual support" is delivered as a block grant and universities have—and highly value—flexibility to use it as they think best to further their individual research missions. It is therefore up to them to decide whether or not to use any of this funding in support of space research and associated subjects. Funding is informed by assessment of research quality and is consequently known as Quality Related (QR). Assessment of research quality is currently made via the peer review based Research Assessment Exercise, which the Committee has examined in previous inquiries.

  41.  Following consultation with the sector, the Government recently announced (in the pre-Budget report on 6 December) new arrangements for research assessment to replace the Research Assessment Exercise after the next exercise in 2008. The new process, of which HEFCE is now undertaking the detailed development, will use a combination of statistics relating to research income and student numbers and a bibliometric (statistic relating to research publications) to assess science, engineering, technology and medicine subjects, including those relevant to space research. The aim of the Research Assessment Exercise and of the new research assessment process is the same: to identify research excellence in all its forms and wherever it is found. DfES agrees with DTI that academic excellence is a key strength of the UK research base, and our policy continues to focus on allowing that excellence to thrive in all areas of research.

  42.  Today there are 130,000 more young people studying for science related degrees than in 1997-98. Overall, the Government is raising science spending by over £1 billion in 2007-08 compared with 2004-05. This is on top of an additional £1.25 billion investment in the previous Spending Review. The Government is now spending over £10 billion a year on higher education, 20% more than in 1997-98.

January 2007

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