Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
TUESDAY 30 JANUARY 2007
Q280 Chris Mole: Looking at the support
that teachers of science get, we asked for some views locally
and we got some comments that the teaching of science could be
quite dull unless the right resources were available. Could I
ask all of you who you think is responsible for providing space
educational materials for teachers, how are they advertised and
how might they be improved? Do not all rush!
Paul Spencer: My findings were
that the majority of resources used in this country emanate from
NASA because NASA has a very well developed, very easily accessible
website with a whole host of high-quality resource so it is quite
evident that most of the stuff that is around comes from there.
The European Space Agency are quite keen (because the UK is a
member of that organisation) that we should use more European
resources and hence their initiative to set up the ESERO offices,
the European Space Educational Resource Offices, to make their
material more accessible to teachers as well. In answer to the
last part of your question what should be done, I think the things
they have done in Scotland with the resources that are around
are an example of what should be done. In other words, the teacher
does not have to look through the NASA resource and the ESA resource
and all the others and think, "How could I use this and how
could I use this," but rather the other way round so they
mapped it against the aspects of the national curriculum and a
teacher will say, "I want to cover this bit of the national
curriculum," and they will then be pointed towards bits of
the NASA resource or ESA resource that will fulfil that. What
needs to be done is a more thorough mapping that way round rather
than expecting teachers to wade their way through a mass of material
and then say, "Oh yes, I could use that for this bit of the
national curriculum," so it is a kind of reverse mapping.
Professor Wells: I could give
you a local view on that. You heard this morning from Martin Barstow
that the Department of Physics and Astronomy has had an active
outreach programme and that has included preparing and developing
material that matches into the syllabus and connections with the
regional science learning centres as part of that process and
that, of course, is work that is linked first of all to the direct
research output from the universities but then distilling that
down to the age groups and support for teachers, so we certainly
have contributed in that way and then here at the National Space
Centre there is a somewhat similar activity. I would mention for
example all the material that is used to support the Challenger
Learning Centre missions here initially was NASA-related material
from Challenger which was then adapted and modified to match to
the UK syllabus by people in schools and universities and that
is a process that continues to occur here as we roll out education
programmes that are run from the National Space Centre. I agree
with Paul that there is a plethora of information that is available
on the NASA website. Not much of itand this is an American
experience as wellis actually very user friendly. It is
there and it is put out on the back of a space mission. NASA has
assigned something like 2% of its mission costs to outreach and
education programmes, but it is an open-ended activity of pushing
out material into schools and they have space ambassadors that
do that. The feedback from that is very minimal and if we are
going to do more of that (and we do some of it) then the feedback
from the use of those resources is an important metric which we
do not have at the moment.
Ms Bramman: I think I would agree
that the issue really is one of signposting of what is useful
and what is not for teachers in that aspect. One of the actions
in the STEM report is for the National Science Learning Centre
to become what is described in the report as the British Library
for STEMCSR permitting, I have to say that at this point
in the cyclebut I think that there is clearly a job to
be done in seeing how we can quality assure and pointing teachers
in the right direction. The science learning centres are already
doing some of this stuff. They do for instance run courses on
how to use the Faulkes telescope and how to introduce that into
your teaching and learning, just as one example, but there is
more that could be done.
Q281 Chris Mole: Before Dr Clegg
gives an answer he might also want to suggest how PPARC assesses
the effectiveness of its own educational materials.
Dr Clegg: On your first question,
a variety of providers produce educational resources. That does
seem reasonable to me because it allows for innovation and creativity
in the educational market place and, as Julie says, it would be
advantageous to help teachers find the best resources, and I hope
that the coming Space Education Office will be able to have a
good one-stop shop website to give teachers the clearest information
on what is available. PPARC has concentrated, given its remit,
on linking current space science activities with schools and the
curriculum. For example, we produce or commission schools resources
on Mars Express, Beagle, Cassini-Huygens and so on. To develop,
design and market those we work with educational partner organisations
such as the Institute of Physics, the National Science Teachers
Organisation, the Association for Science Education (ASE) and
we are very keen indeed on these national partnerships. When we
produce or invest in a resource we do insist on evaluation. That
does however tend to produce an immediate evaluationthe
effect of the event at the time or teacher satisfaction questionnaires,
methods like that. I would say that it is extremely difficult
to assess the ultimate long-term impact on students on their attainment
or their subject choice. Can I just note in that regard a new
initiative funded by one of our sister research councils, the
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) who have a £3
million scheme for key research questions in science and maths
at schools and it is hoped that that would be a sufficient amount
of money to fund some very deep and more sociological long-term
studies on what is effective in the STEM support area, including
hopefully some longitudinal tracking studies that may last five
years. That is a gap in the evidence base so I think the ESRC
proposal (of which PPARC is part although not a significant funder)
should be able to help us in a few years' time.
Q282 Chairman: Just before you move
off this question, Julie, were you saying there that you thought
the science learning centres should have this key role of co-ordinating
Ms Bramman: I said the National
Science Learning Centre.
Q283 Chairman: So the National Centre
at York should have that key responsibility?
Ms Bramman: That is one of the
recommendations in the STEM report that came out last autumn.
Paul Spencer: Could I add, Chairman,
in case you think that separate initiatives are developing around
science learning centres and the ESERO offices, that is not the
case at all.
Q284 Chairman: I was thinking that.
Paul Spencer: We are in very close
communication with the Science Learning Centre and at the moment
there is a six-month consultation phase taking place about the
best arrangement in this country for the ESERO office, as it were,
and it is looking almost likely that the Science Learning Centre
will be very much the solution to that. They are very keen to
be heavily involved in it. It is not two separate initiatives
going along; they are very much going along in partnership.
Q285 Chris Mole: Professor Wells,
how does the BNSC work with the National Space Centre in its outreach
work in schools and what are the challenges facing those doing
outreach work in schools?
Professor Wells: On our relationship
with BNSC I would mention first of all the Director General of
the BNSC is a trustee of the National Space Centre and so through
that connection we have communication on issues of policy. The
BNSC also has contributed substantially in the past in the proposal
from here to establish the Beagle 2 lander operation control centre
in this place and to put it in the public domain, so we are very
much a partner in that activity. I would say their involvement
in the day-to-day week-to-week delivery of education and outreach
from here is quite minimal actually. We do consult with the Space
Communication Group but we are not represented on that group so
we are essentially freewheeling on that.
Q286 Chris Mole: Miss Bramman touched
earlier on CPD. Do any of you have any views on what improvements
can be made to current arrangements for continuing professional
development for science teachers?
Ms Bramman: I think I explained
the department is already funding quite a lot of CPD for science
teachers and is aiming to introduce new diplomas in subject specialism
to ensure that people are not just getting sound bites of CPD
but are really engaging with deep subject knowledge which I think
is an area where if we are going to have the proportions of physics
and chemistry teachers alongside generalists and biologists in
our schools that we know we need in order to give all pupils a
rounded education, that is where we see the gap at the moment.
Between what is on offer in the science learning centres in the
cutting edge inspirational courses and also the tailored general
support the national strategy has given, I think generally the
department has a very good story to tell on CPD in science.
Dr Clegg: May I add that from
the point of view of BNSC partners and especially the research
councils, again not reinventing the wheel, we are very keen indeed
to help offer CPD through the science learning centres. We have
run some pilot courses in collaboration with them with strong
evaluation on the basis of that. There is a bid going to Government
as part of the CSR for a much larger national programme of science-related
CPD courses including space.
Professor Wells: Having consulted
my colleague for further detail, again the National Space Centre
is very much a hands-on organisation in that respect and Gareth
tells me that we are involved in something like 20 to 25 CPD courses
in a typical year.
Paul Spencer: In addition to the
specialist teachers of science in secondary education, there is
a big need around CPD for Key Stage 2 teachers. It is at Key Stage
2 when young people first encounter space opportunities in the
national curriculum and there is a lot of enthusiasm for it but
there is sometimes less confidence on the part of primary teachers
to deal with that topic, so that is one area where a lot of the
centres that are dealing with space education focus initially
at Key Stage 2 and the teachers of that age group.
Q287 Chris Mole: Miss Bramman, with
the introduction of the new science GCSEs is there going to be
an increased opportunity for space science to be introduced into
Ms Bramman: I think more interesting,
more relevant and more up-to-date space and I do not think there
is anything in these specifications that would lead to less about
space being taught.
Q288 Chris Mole: That is a qualified
yes, is it?
Ms Bramman: Yes.
Professor Wells: I would turn
the answer round the other way. I believe personally that there
are many examples of space-related topics that illuminate conventional
elements of the programme, so in for example the teaching of something
boring like heat, you might look at it from the point of view
of the satellite in orbit and how heat affects how you control
the temperature in space. I think there are many examples like
that where with imagination and with insight the existing syllabus
can be expanded in its interpretation where space has got something
different to say. We all know about rockets and you saw that this
afternoon, and they are the obvious things but there are others.
Paul Spencer: If we take our lesson
in that one from other parts of the United Kingdom that have different
curriculum arrangements, certainly in Northern Ireland space is
being very much more firmly embedded into their new syllabuses,
and that is not only into science, they use it around spiritual
awareness, they use it across geography, art, music, all aspects
of the curriculum. In Scotland as well, space is much more evident
in their curriculum experience than it has been in the past.
Q289 Dr Spink: We all know how inspirational
and exciting space is especially for kids with their imaginations,
it is fantastic. At Key Stage 3 is the science curriculum going
to have that flexibility to enable teachers to actually bring
space into the syllabus and actually use that excitement?
Ms Bramman: A lot is about the
way the curriculum is delivered but it is really important to
get the words right on the statutory page of the curriculum. The
QCA have been reviewing the Key Stage 3 curriculum for science
for the last 18 months or so and they will be going out to public
consultation on 5 February. My Secretary of State has signed off
those drafts and I think I can reassure the Committee in two things,
firstly there is a lot less prescription in the new Key Stage
3 science programme study, but on the other hand space/the universe
is still there in the range of content, so it is being captured
as a broad area of study without having to go through the detailed
points that are in the current programme of study.
Q290 Dr Spink: So do you think then
that we will see more teachers feeling that they have got that
flexibility to take the initiative and to use this exciting field
to bring kids on board?
Ms Bramman: That is one of the
key aims of review that we are actually signalling to teachers
to use the flexibilities that are there in the curriculum. We
all know that good teachers do that anyway but this is a real
opportunity to make a step change difference.
Dr Spink: Thank you, that is good news.
Q291 Chairman: Does intelligent design
have a place in this?
Ms Bramman: No, intelligent design
does not have a place in this.
Dr Turner: The only place for intelligent
design is Harrogate!
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
I take serious abuse from my colleagues. Des?
Q292 Dr Turner: Of course this Committee
conducted a report a few years ago into science education and
we found that the general criticism of science syllabuses, to
paraphrase it, was that they had been reduced to teaching by numbers,
were totally flair free, and turning kids off by the thousand,
and I can only hope that your new syllabuses will allow scope
for flair and variety because that is what has been missing for
so long. So if all the bright ideas that have come forward in
space education can be allowed just a little free rein then it
will make a big contribution. Paul, you have produced a report
The Education and Skills Case for Space. How has that been
received by your BNSC partners and which recommendations have
been accepted and what action has been taken?
Paul Spencer: I will need to look
at what the recommendations were. They are not billed as recommendations
particularly, they are billed as consultants' suggestions.
Q293 Dr Turner: That is just a nice
way of putting it.
Paul Spencer: There is no particular
onus on anybody having commissioned the report necessarily to
take specific points forward.
Q294 Chairman: So none of them was
Paul Spencer: I cannot even answer
which ones PPARC have decided to take up but I think some of them
have been taken up, yes. The first one is about government noting
that investment in space brings about significant educational
advantage. Someone mentioned earlier that in all NASA's programmes
a percentage of every programme is assigned specifically to the
educational mission around that programme, so no programme at
all is conceived of as just being a science programme or just
being a technology programme; it always has its educational components.
The difficulty with that, as Robin said, is the co-ordination
across. I think that one is what we are talking about right now
in the whole CSR thing. "The relationship more clearly with
emerging curriculum requirements"I think that is the
point you have raised in any case. At the moment there is lot
of space out there and there is a lot of curriculum requirement
here; it just needs putting together more. That is happening so
I see that one being taken up. "Evaluation of the benefits
of using space in education"that
is where this Committee started with its question should there
be a more thorough evaluation of the benefits of space in education
and whose responsibility should it be. So I think some of them
are being taken up.
Q295 Chairman: For clarity here because
we need to have clarity for our report because it is important;
in 2005 the BNSC launched the National Space Education Initiative.
The Martin Barstow report Bringing Space into School Science
made 10 recommendations. We are not aware that any of them have
been followed up. In 2006 in your own report for Yorkshire Forward
Education and Skills Case for Space, we do not know what
recommendations, if any, have been followed up in that. The NSEI
now seems to have died a death so we do not know what is happening
with that. These are all warm words that have been coming through
but we are not aware as a Committee of anything that gets followed
up other than reports are prepared, recommendations are made and
Paul Spencer: I am the wrong person
to answer that.
Q296 Chairman: I am just utterly
Dr Clegg: I did indicate very
clearly that the initiative around co-ordination and coherence
had arisen directly from Martin Barstow's report.
Q297 Chairman: Now over to Robin
Dr Clegg: I will try to help unfog
Q298 Chairman: Is it an unfair accusation?
Dr Clegg: I would like to reply
point-by-point, if I may. The BNSC partnership did try to get
a coherent National Space Education Initiative going in partnership
with the DfES. One of the first things was to commission the report
from Professor Barstow who made 10 recommendations. The initiative
as a whole was then overtaken by the arrival of the idea of the
Space Education Office and that was a happy coincidence of two
things, one the European Space Agency wanted to have a pilot Space
Education Office in the UK as a Member State and secondly the
implementing of almost all of the recommendations of the Barstow
report, and the overlap of those two things is remarkable and
we could achieve them both by supporting politically this development
which is being run by Space Connections and will provide this
co-ordinating centre. We believe that nearly all of the recommendations
that Barstow made will be delivered by the Space Education Office.
The thing called the National Space Education Initiative was overtaken
by this development so we see that as the way forward.
Q299 Chairman: Thank you very much.
Dr Clegg: One more point and that
is on the funding agencies that commissioned Paul Spencer's report.
The primary purpose of it was to list the evidence that linking
space activity with young people could affect attainment and subject
choice. That was the only purpose of the report. We did actually
let the consultants list some suggestions at the end, sorry, no
1 Note by the witness: This is a partial quote
from my report. The recommendation was that "the UK space
community should initiate the development of UK-based curriculum
material directly relating to curriculum requirements". Back