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15 Jan 2008 : Column 203WH—continued

Mr. Lewis: I am open to that view, but that is not what I am saying and it is not the Government’s position. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are about to embark on a major, extensive public consultation that will lead to a Green Paper and scope out the scale of the challenge of the future funding of social care and the range of available options. I am not necessarily talking about the need to put all the investment into one organisational framework because, sometimes, tinkering with organisational structure is not the solution. I am saying that those resources should be considered, commissioned and spent in a holistic and integrated way in every community rather than being looked at separately. That is not quite the same as saying that they should all be brought within the same organisational framework. In our view there is not
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enough money in local communities to ensure that older people, disabled people, those with mental health problems and carers have a much better quality of life. I argue that it is not only about more money, although the demography means that over the next 10, 15 or 20 years we will need more resources just to keep up with demand, but that existing resources could be used in a far more integrated and sensible way.

That is why I ask the House to consider the “Putting People First” protocol. It will be followed in the next few days by a letter to every local authority. Local government has signed up with the Government to a radical shake-up of social care services, in partnership with the NHS, in every community over the next three years, beginning in April.

The hon. Member for North Norfolk made an important point in respect of acute hospitals, and the opportunity for older people who are admitted to them to have access specialist mental health services.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead—I welcome his unusually non-political contribution—rightly spoke about the inappropriate medication of older people. He will therefore welcome the significant expansion of psychological therapies over the next three years. At primary care level, people will have far greater access to psychological therapy than ever. That will be as relevant to older people as to those of all other ages.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I spent Christmas day visiting the two acute hospitals in the vicinity of my constituency. I felt a sense of awe on meeting the staff, who were giving up their whole of their Christmas time to care for NHS patients in a sensitive and professional way. It demonstrates the power and the uniqueness of our national health service and the staff who work on the front line. Of course, we cannot walk away from the growing number of patients in acute hospitals that have dementia, and Lord Darzi’s next stage review of the NHS will give serious consideration to that factor.

I could speak about all that the Government have done on these issues over the past 10 years, but much of what we have done is already on the record. In 1999, we introduced an annual carers grant to every local authority, the right for carers to request flexible working and enhanced pension credits for carers—and we will be doing more. That is why the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I spent several hours in Leeds last Friday talking directly to 70 or 80 carers about what they want from the new deal for carers that the Prime Minister will announce later this year. Rather than a new deal for carers being drawn up in offices in Westminster and Whitehall, it will be based on the real, everyday experiences of carers.

We will consider respite care, a subject raised by the hon. Member for North Norfolk. There should be greater recognition and valuing of the tremendous contribution made by carers. That contribution will grow with the ageing population. Indeed, people often miss the significant implication for families if ever more people are to stay in their own homes rather than going to institutions. Nor, as the Minister for Schools and Learners arrives for the next debate, should we forget the plight of young carers. Together we need to do a lot more as we face one of the new challenges to which society is waking up—that far too many children are spending too great a proportion of their lives caring, inappropriately in my view, for sick or dependent parents.
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As the hon. Gentleman said, we must address the needs of carers, and we will be doing so in our new deal for carers.

The year 2008 will be crucial in facing up in a radical way to the challenges of demographic change. We will produce a national dementia strategy, which will focus on raising awareness of the problem among professionals and citizens, so that we can identify the symptoms at an early stage; the earlier we intervene the better. Appropriate diagnosis and intervention are important. Too often, family members or the older people themselves approach a professional, describe symptoms and are told that they are not suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, and many are given an inappropriate diagnosis. That is bad, because the earlier we intervene in such circumstances, the better and more effective the treatment and support will be.

The final element of the national dementia strategy will be quality specialist care. I agree entirely with those who said that we need specialist expertise, staff training and, when appropriate, specialist services. Simply to say that all older people should receive the same service, as an expression of equality, is a mistake.

The national dementia strategy will be produced in the autumn and we will consult on it from June. It will be incredibly important, and I am delighted that the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society is playing a central role, with recognised leaders in social care and the NHS, in developing the strategy.

As I said, extensive consultation will take place this year on the future funding of the social care system, and we will produce a Green Paper later in the year. I want an all-party consensus for change on the funding of long-term care. I hope that politicians will resist the temptation to resort to petty politics. We all know that it is not easy to balance the respective responsibilities of the state and the citizen when considering the scale of demographic change and people’s rising expectations. Publication of the Green Paper will be incredibly important.

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I will be extending my campaign to put dignity for older people at the heart of all care services. We want the subject to be debated on every hospital ward, in every residential and nursing home, and within all domiciliary services, voluntary organisations and local authorities. The question is how to improve dignity for older people in every care setting.

We will review the protection regulation system for vulnerable adults. We know that elder abuse is a growing concern. Twenty or 30 years ago, we were beginning to talk openly about the scale of child abuse. With elder abuse, public debate is arguably at a similar stage so we will review the protection regulations later this year.

In the spring, the Prime Minister will announce a new deal for carers. With a 10-year plan, we will seek to address the growing number of people who spend a significant proportion of their lives caring for older or disabled relatives; and we as a society and as a Government must do more to recognise, value and support their contribution.

Alongside that is the Darzi review of the NHS. Having rebuilt the foundations of the NHS during the past 10 years, the challenge now is to move to a world-class health service, with personalisation at its heart—one in which people are treated as people and not patients, because individuals and families have distinct needs. As the Prime Minister said recently, we need to harness all our expertise and technology and the most recent medical advances to shift towards early intervention and prevention, moving from a sickness health service to a well-being national health service.

The year 2008 is the time for us to consider all approaches to the needs of older people and disabled people, and for the Government to demonstrate their willingness to step up to the plate and tackle the issues head on. I believe that many of them require an all-party consensus, and we will be striving to achieve that whenever possible as those debate become more acute.

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Science Teaching

11 am

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Olner. It is a pleasure to serve this morning under your chairmanship.

Unfortunately, this debate has clashed with a seminar on renewable energy that the members of the Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee are now attending at Imperial college. Otherwise there would have been a much greater attendance at this meeting. However, the quality is here and that is what matters.

First, I should declare an interest, in that I am a parliamentary adviser to the Royal Society of Chemistry. That is a non-pecuniary interest, which I have registered.

My contribution to this debate is not going to be about the supply or quality of science teachers, important as those subjects are, because they have been covered in two Select Committee reports. One was published by the House of Lords in the 2005-06 Session of Parliament and the other was published by the House of Commons in the 2001-02 Session of Parliament.

I intend to concentrate on issues that are used to embellish the teaching of science, some of which I have been closely involved in. Many of us, if not most of us, who became scientists in the past would probably agree that, foremost, it was the enthusiasm of the science teacher that attracted us to pursue such a career. Some science teachers can make the sciences, whether it be chemistry, physics, geology, biology or even zoology, sound extremely complicated, if not boring, probably because they do not enjoy teaching the subject or, in some cases, because they do not even understand the basic principles. Of course, the lack of specialist teachers is part of the problem and that situation has got worse in recent years.

The worst science teachers make no attempt at all to embellish the curriculum by taking their students out of the classroom, for example to listen to an outside lecture or to visit an outside facility that is trying to make science interesting to students and the general public. They are also reluctant to invite scientists or engineers into their classroom to talk about their experiences and they make minimum effort to run practical classes. Indeed, their sole aim appears to be to cover the curriculum so that their students will achieve the highest grades possible in examinations, even by abandoning many of the practical classes if that should prove necessary.

Recent surveys by the Science museum in Kensington and the awarding bodies have shown that hands-on practicals in laboratories and visits and excursions outside school are the most enjoyable aspects of studying the sciences. I am aware of The Times Education Supplement published in October last year that revealed that a third of teachers had cancelled school trips, with cost cited as the problem by 40 per cent. of the teachers surveyed and form-filling cited as the problem by 36 per cent. of the teachers surveyed. However, to be fair to the Government, they have responded to that criticism by publishing a manifesto entitled “Learning Outside the Classroom” and pledging £2.7 million towards encouraging school trips, for which I am extremely grateful, as I am sure are others.

I would like to pay a tribute to the 12,000 or more volunteers who take part in the science and engineering ambassadors in Schools, or SEAS, programme, which is
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organised in partnership with the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network, or STEMNET, as we should now call that organisation; previously, of course, it was called SETNET. Those volunteers are mainly young people who are encouraged by their employers to convey the excitement of their work to secondary school children who might be attracted as a result to pursue a career in science or engineering. Unfortunately, pressures from the research assessment exercise in recent years have reduced the number of younger university academics willing to visit schools.

My own interest in science began with an opportunity, at the age of 11, to purchase a rather complicated chemistry set from another boy in my village who had become rather bored with it. It was accompanied by a very old practical textbook. The front porch in our house, which was only used on significant occasions such as funerals, became my laboratory. The absence of a fume cupboard did not deter me from carrying out the experiments, much to the consternation of my parents, I might add.

In those days, chemicals and basic glassware, such as round-bottomed and flat-bottomed flasks, retort stands and clamps, beehive shelves and thistle funnels, could be purchased from a chemist’s shop, believe it or not. All my purchases were made from Caves the Chemist in Neville street, Southport, the town where I attended secondary school and, later, the technical college.

In those educational establishments, my enthusiasm for practical science was fired by two very fine teachers, Mr. Jones and Mr. Crossley. They made full use of the demonstration bench at the front of the class. If they were talking about chlorine, they made chlorine before the very eyes of the students who were watching in fascination. Indeed, whenever they talked about a chemical, the chemical was there on the demonstration bench and many reactions were carried out, with wonderful colour changes, lots of smells and a few flashes and bangs. I must say that watching a teacher perform the thermite reaction was one of the highlights of the chemistry year.

I suppose it was those experiments that attracted me to become the first senior demonstrator in organic chemistry at Durham university, at the age of 24. That brought me into contact with the great demonstration lecturers of the day, for example, “Flash Porter”, otherwise known as Professor George Porter of the Royal Institution, and the famous B.D. Shaw of Nottingham university, who gave his famous lecture on explosives until he was well into his 90s; he also gave it on television. As a result, for 29 years I presented a demonstration lecture, which was 90 minutes long and called “The Magic of Chemistry”. I presented it at least once a month and many more times during the Christmas period. Indeed, Christmas lectures have been a tradition in many of our towns and cities in this country, especially here in London at the Royal Institution in Albermarle street.

I was on the “demo circuit” and came to know some of the “greats” in the business, people such as the Rev. Ron Lancaster, with his “Fireworks” lecture, and Dr. John Salthouse of “Son et Lumiere” fame. Ron, whose son is now a Conservative MP and is today sitting not very far from me, was a chemistry teacher at Kimbolton school in Cambridgeshire and became the only private individual in his day to gain a licence to manufacture fireworks. Kimbolton Fireworks is one of the few remaining manufacturers of fireworks in Britain today, and is well
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known for its public displays. In “Son et Lumiere”, John Salthouse takes the line of “Look what happens when you mix this with that”; the result, of course, is a flash, a bang or a wallop, and plenty of noise or light, or both. Now, imagine how much more interesting the teaching of science is when you have people such as that around the classroom.

Sadly, the classroom and teachers have changed. Of course, the fear of litigation should something go wrong and the health and safety regulations, such as the introduction of the control of substances hazardous to health—COSHH—regulations, have helped to put a damper on some of the more exciting experiences that a student can have in the classroom.. However, teachers very often use those regulations as an excuse. It is still possible to present science in an extremely exciting way, but the teachers are not trained to do it and few take the opportunity to engage themselves in reading the relevant and excellent textbooks on presenting demonstration lectures in the classroom. If they are not confident or able enough to present such lectures themselves, there are many visitors who can do so and they should be invited into the classroom or laboratory to fascinate the students with such demonstrations.

It is, of course, important, even mandatory, that risk assessments are carried out on all activities that are undertaken with young people, especially those working in a school laboratory. Learning about the hazards presented by all chemicals and the risks involved in their use is considered now to be a part of chemical education. However, recent statistics available from both local authorities and the Health and Safety Executive show that school science laboratories are one of the safest places in the school in terms of the accidents that may arise from science experiments.

In an interesting publication, “Surely That’s Banned?”, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2005, the Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services, or CLEAPSS, and the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre, or SSERC, detail what is banned in school teaching. In fact, very little is banned, contrary to the perception of a significant number of science teachers. If teachers are unsure about what is banned, they can seek advice from those organisations and their publications, or from the Association of Science Education—the ASE—and the learned societies, or consult those societies’ publications.

Solvents such as benzene, which is a carcinogen, tetrachloromethane and 1,1,1-trichloroethane, which are ozone depleters, are banned, and there are restrictions on the quantity of thorium and uranium salts that can be kept in the laboratory. Not surprisingly, the amount of explosive materials that can either be made or stored in a school laboratory is also restricted.

I have been following closely the introduction of the new ways of teaching science in the classroom, and particularly the 21st century science syllabuses, of which there are a number. I recently visited two schools in Bolton—one in Turton and one in Westhoughton—that are teaching science using the new syllabuses and I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the two young teachers and the students I observed. I was also impressed by the way in which those teachers had prepared their lessons and I witnessed good use of modern whiteboards, plenty of interactive handouts, a laptop computer in front of every science student and excellent use of the large amount of material that is available on the internet.

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Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that part of the problem in schools is that specific sciences are often not taught by specifically science-qualified teachers, but by generalists or non-science-qualified teachers? That is part of the reason why teachers are afraid to go down the “flashes, bangs and smells” experimentation route, which is a great sadness.

Dr. Iddon: I agree with the hon. Gentleman and I referred to the shortage of specialist science teachers, although the best schools are trying to recruit them. What the hon. Gentleman says is, however, important.

Unfortunately, some teachers have used the teaching methods that I mentioned to replace practical classes. Watching an experiment being conducted by video link is not the same as the excitement of performing that experiment in the school laboratory. In one lesson that I attended, I was fascinated to see that pupils were learning about embryology, and I was able to explain the contributions that some of us in the Chamber have made during Science and Technology Committee meetings on the legislation that is currently before the House on that important issue. Such anecdotes, and the fact that people such as me and others can attend lessons to relay them to students and pupils, can bring subjects to life.

When I spoke to pupils after the classes in the two schools that I visited, however, one thing came over loud and clear: “Please can we do more practical work?” Nothing is more off-putting than walking into a school science laboratory that looks like the pictures of laboratories in Victorian science textbooks. If we are to attract young people to study the sciences, their places of study must look 21st century, not early-20th or even 19th century. In its “Science And Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014”, the Government committed themselves to providing

Their “Next Steps” document, which was published in 2006, makes the following commitment:

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