Astronomy and Particle Physics

Written evidence submitted by the Association for Astronomy Education (AAE) (APP 07)

Views on outreach and inspiring the next generation

1. The Association for Astronomy Education has as its mission the promotion of good teaching of Astronomy at all levels in schools, and engagement of the general public. We are a national UK organisation with about 100 members (individual and corporate). The work we do heavily relies on the good will of volunteers, and at the same time a few individual members hold, or have held, awards from funding bodies, such as STFC (and formerly PPARC) and the Institute of Physics, to help fund specific astronomy related events and activities. The awards have helped to promote different aspects of space and astronomy not only to schools but also to a wider public audience. STFC has been the single most important source of funding because of the specific nature of their award schemes.

2. We note with disappointment that the Science Centre Award Scheme has been withdrawn and the upper limit of the Small Award Scheme has been reduced to £10,000. However a Schools Grant Scheme has been added for projects up to £500. This is plainly inadequate. There is very little that can be done with such a budget other than to provide a one-off activity or buy a modest piece of equipment. While the Large Award Scheme offers funding from £10,000 - £100,000, there is more emphasis on research, with strong links to the STFC scientific research community. This places non-university applicants for educational Large Awards funding in direct competition with research groups.

3. One of the AAE’s prime areas of practical help has been in providing teacher training workshops. Individual members participate in many aspects of public engagement through open evenings at observatories, lectures to outside groups, and special days for astronomy such as "Your Universe" held at University College London. With funding being cut in the area of public engagement, it will become increasingly difficult to afford to provide these. The recent BBC programme (Stargazing LIVE) has brought awareness of astronomy to the public and it would be a great pity to see such activities wither for want of additional support.

4. O utreach activities bring forefront science and astronomy into the classroom, offering exciting glimpses into research into astronomy and cosmology.  This can be inspirational in
recruiting teenagers into science in a way that the delivery of the National Curriculum and the exam syllabuses cannot always achieve. Equally important is engaging the general public’s untapped enthusiasm for science. Cuts in the funding of suc h outreach will have a serious impact on this, as it is not something that schools can somehow magically replace or provide for themselves.

5. It is especially disappointing that STFC has reduced its production of posters and leaflets on various activities and research topics in both astronomy and particle physics. It is a false economy if the goal is to get schools and the public engaged with its activities. At my university observatory, we relied very much on being able to offer a wide variety of informative and well-designed posters to our school visitors and to visitors on public evenings. Instead, visitors to STFC’s website are now encouraged to download a pdf file of the various leaflets. I doubt seriously if even one person in a hundred, who might eagerly take up a well-printed folded poster presented on a table, would take the time and trouble to locate, download and print out a poster offering.

14 February 2011