Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 279)

TUESDAY 30 JANUARY 2007

MS JULIE BRAMMAN, DR ROBIN CLEGG, PAUL SPENCER AND PROFESSOR ALAN WELLS

  Q260  Adam Afriyie: Can I press you on just that point. Why would it be the responsibility of a regional development agency in the area of education in basic subjects which feed into space research? Why do you say that a specific regional development agency would have a function or would play a leading role in that respect?

  Dr Clegg: That RDA made the offer to do it. In the RDA network each RDA leads on a specific area piloting new ideas and then trying to roll them out across the other nine regions. Yorkshire Forward RDA was assigned to lead on the skills agenda and they are investing sums of the order of £9 million to £10 million in STEM enrichment for the nation's skills agenda.

  Q261  Adam Afriyie: Can I ask you, Julie, as the Department for Education and Skills are you comfortable with those sorts of cross-meshing financing initiatives that may conflict with your different objectives?

  Ms Bramman: Can I set out the background around science and STEM and the work we are doing there within which this initiative should nestle when we fully roll out the new infrastructure that we are looking at. There have been two really important reports in 2006, one being the Next Steps document that has already been referred to which set out the department's targets and a number of activities it would do to strengthen the teaching workforce in physical science and mathematics, and also the STEM mapping report by Sir Alan Wilson that came out in the autumn about the underpinning infrastructure and delivery model to do precisely that co-ordinating, leadership role that you are talking about in terms of this Committee for space but for the wider STEM agenda so that we do not have a space initiative and then a natural sciences initiative, but what we are looking for. And the department has appointed Professor John Holman as the national STEM director, is having a national STEM centre and then regional STEM centres based on the science learning centre model with a local delivery network as well, where you will be able to as a teacher, ie the end user of quite a lot of what we are talking about in terms of resource and education initiatives such as the centre we are in today, have things clearly signposted to you that are quality assured, you know where to go for your CPD and what support is available in your locality. So within that wider infrastructure structure that Professor Holman is considering and will be advising the department on over the next month or so I can see quite clearly how the model that both Yorkshire Forward and others are taking forward could nestle within that framework.

  Q262  Adam Afriyie: And you are comfortable relying on other organisations to drive the services required?

  Ms Bramman: I think the department always looks to work in partnership with others and not take everything on itself. The science learning centre network is funded jointly with the Wellcome Trust and the department. The department funds directly the regional centres and the Wellcome Trust funds the national centre and we are very comfortable with those sorts of arrangements and with the regional STEM hubs that Sir Gareth Roberts among others has helped to develop.

  Q263  Chairman: I just want to clarify the initiative that you were talking about, Dr Clegg, was that responding to this initiative by the DfES or are you talking about the ESA initiative which in fact you are taking part in together with the DfES?

  Dr Clegg: It was initially the ESA initiative; the European Space Agency wishes to run pilots for Space Education Offices in some of its Member States.

  Q264  Adam Afriyie: That is very helpful. My final question is really that without people choosing STEM subjects at GCSE level—I was about to say O level and betray my age!—or A level, clearly there will not be the supply of people for the space industry. What is the DfES doing in headline terms to encourage students to take up STEM subjects at school because what we have seen here today at the Space Centre is fantastic and very encouraging way of getting youngsters interested in studying science because they want to get off into space and pursue it as a career, but what else is the DfES doing?

  Ms Bramman: Can I just preface this with something I did not get to qualify my answer on earlier which is the department has done some analysis as to the influences that young people have which determine whether they choose STEM A levels or not. We have got a multi-variant model and we can share that with the Committee if you want. Interestingly, interest and inspiration around science does not necessarily mean that a young person is going to take that subject up at A level. There will be a number of other factors which also have a determination. The single most important measure is prior attainment. Young people who get an A star in double science or physics are much more likely to take physics at A level, all other factors being taken into account. I think that is quite important to have as our background. There are a number of steps that we are taking. We have just funded the SETNET network to pilot 250 after-school science and engineering clubs and I am sure there will be a lot of space exploration in that. We are continuing to fund CPD for existing science teachers through the science learning centres and national strategies and working with TDA to improve the number of physics and chemistry specialists there are in the teaching profession through initial teacher training as well as in-service diplomas and enhancement courses.

  Chairman: Julie, you have given us a flavour of that and we have got this in written evidence so I will stop you at that point. Des, you wanted to come in there.

  Q265  Dr Turner: Just a quickie to Dr Clegg, do you know if the directors of "Swindon Town Football Club" have given any thought to their future involvement in space education?

  Dr Clegg: Not yet because we are still planning the merger of the two organisations and rapidly designing a structure and so on. I think it is fair to say the directors fully expect to continue the work in using the inspirational value and I believe that there is an exciting opportunity to do more. In particular, PPARC the funding council will be in the same organisation as Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, which has a wide remit of space science.

  Adam Afriyie: They could kick the first football into space!

  Q266  Chairman: We are moving off the football analogy and for anyone who does not know, Swindon Town have nothing whatsoever to do with this, it is the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

  Dr Clegg: The transcript should be interesting!

  Q267  Dr Spink: I want to look at the co-ordination of the science and space education initiatives. Do you think it is well co-ordinated at the moment or do you think there could be improvements and more focus on co-ordination? This is just a general question perhaps, a very, very short one-sentence answer from each of you, and then I will get specific.

  Paul Spencer: Professor Barstow's report highlighted that there was a need for co-ordination or at least coherence across this welter of initiatives around space and that is the thing that Yorkshire Forward has picked up on and has developed. There is a need for coherence.

  Professor Wells: I agree with that. As I said earlier, putting together educational programmes with different sponsors and different funding sources and different long-term objectives makes it a very difficult activity. I think there is a big role for entrepreneurial activity and get-up-and-go to make this happen and I think that the involvement of scientists who are really doing space science in these education programmes is a vitally important lever.

  Ms Bramman: I would agree but within a wider STEM context as my earlier answer would have suggested.

  Q268  Dr Spink: You would agree with what?

  Ms Bramman: That there is room for better co-ordination.

  Dr Clegg: On behalf of the BNSC partnership I would say we have recognised the need for better co-ordination and that is why we are supporting the coming Space Office which I hope will both implement many of the recommendations of the Barstow report and provide a better link with the European Space Agency.

  Q269  Dr Spink: Paul, could I ask you which body do you perceive took the initiative in driving through the National Space Education Initiative?

  Paul Spencer: As I have repeatedly said, Yorkshire Forward picked up on an initiative recognising a need. You are quite right, it does not have responsibilities across the rest of the country but there is no point co-ordinating things just in Yorkshire, there is a need nationally to co-ordinate this. In my report—

  Q270  Dr Spink: There is nowt wrong with Yorkshire.

  Paul Spencer: There is nothing wrong with Yorkshire. We are developing a new planetarium not far from the Chairman's constituency, if not in it, at Harewood. In this report it is not just a matter of space education and it is not just a matter of replenishing the skills needed for the space education. It is more to do with space in education and space across education than about space education as such. NASA itself in its educational mission is quite overt about wanting to replenish its own stock. I do not think ESA or in the UK we take quite such a narrow focus as that. Space improves participation in science. I gathered what evidence we could last year on that. Across the board space improves participation in science; it improves attainment in science; it improves retention in science, people stay on and take science longer; it improves progression in sciences; it improves maybe even employment in the science industries, it is not just about within the space industry itself. There is one statistic that came out of the last year's work here that I think will throw some light on what you are saying even when people have got through a degree in aerospace engineering 60% of them do not go to work in the industry. There are many people who say that is a good thing because the more that politics and management and law and finance are staffed by people who have an understanding of science, the better, so it is a good thing, but that was quite a staggering statistic.

  Q271  Dr Spink: What do you think, Paul, the key factors are that stop them? Is it because the industry does not offer them an attractive enough deal in terms of the opportunity for career development and pay?

  Paul Spencer: I think it was quite simple; the City is the big poacher of people who are numerate, such as engineers.

  Q272  Dr Spink: Robin, as PPARC you are a very important part of the partnership with BNSC. Do you think that the DfES should also be part of that partnership with BNSC?

  Dr Clegg: The DfES is a member of the BNSC partnership that was signed by ministers.

  Q273  Dr Spink: Do you think that it should be more active?

  Dr Clegg: That is for the DfES to say but we would certainly welcome that from our side.

  Q274  Dr Spink: Julie, do you think that the DfES is ready to lock horns and become very proactive in that partnership now?

  Ms Bramman: I think the DfES has of late (and I think David Williams said this as well) not been as active as it has been in the past, say two or three years ago, but we have been an active member of the partnership and we value that partnership as much as the BNSC do. I met BNSC colleagues recently and we will be meeting again for a debrief after this session, so the links are definitely there.

  Q275  Dr Spink: So you are going to look at reforging those links and becoming more proactive in the future?

  Ms Bramman: I would certainly be happy to say that we need to strengthen our links over, say, the last year or so.

  Q276  Chairman: Can I put one question back to you, Paul. I am a little confused because in the report that you wrote which came out of Yorkshire Forward's initiative, where is the link between that and the 2005 BNSC National Space Education Initiative? What is the link between the two, if any?

  Paul Spencer: Which particular initiative are you referring to in 2005?

  Q277  Chairman: I am talking about in 2005 BNSC developed a National Space Education Initiative which was to inspire young people to achieve in the STEM subjects. Where did your report fit into that?

  Paul Spencer: That predated the report and also the establishment of the—

  Q278  Chairman: Sorry, your report pre-dated it?

  Paul Spencer: No, that initiative and that intention pre-dated this report.

  Q279  Chairman: And your work has come out of that?

  Paul Spencer: Yes.


 
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