Astronomy and Particle Physics

Written evidence submitted by Research Councils UK (APP 40)

1. Research Councils UK (RCUK) is a strategic partnership set up to champion research supported by the seven UK Research Councils. RCUK was established in 2002 to enable the Councils to work together more effectively to enhance the overall impact and effectiveness of their research, training and innovation activities, contributing to the delivery of the Government’s objectives for science and innovation. Further details are available at

2. This evidence is submitted by RCUK and represents its independent views. It does not include, or necessarily reflect the views of the Knowledge and Innovation Group in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The submission is made on behalf of the following Councils:

· Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

· Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)

· Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

· Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

· Medical Research Council (MRC)

· Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

· Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

3. RCUK welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Committee’s inquiry into "opportunities for, and threats to, outreach and inspiring the next generation of astronomers and particle physicists".

4. The RCUK Public Engagement with Research Programme has a strategic commitment to ‘inspire young people to help secure and sustain a supply of future researchers to support the research base that is critical to the UK economy by encouraging engagement between young people and researchers’. A key aim of the RCUK strategy is to enhance the experience of contemporary research for young people and schools teachers, encouraging more young people from a diversity of backgrounds to pursue relevant studies beyond 16 and follow R&D careers and enabling more to act as informed citizens.

5. RCUK is able to add value in this area using its unique access to cutting-edge research and researchers to work with intermediary organisations involved in the co-ordination, funding and provisions of enrichment activities for students and to increase the role of contemporary research in the school curriculum. RCUK currently engages with the Department for Education and would value the opportunity to do more in this area. RCUK would welcome the opportunity to work more closely with partners who are delivering extra-curricular activities to encourage them to include contemporary research contexts.

6. RCUK funds a programme of Teacher Continuing Professional Development (CPD) entitled ‘Bringing Cutting-edge Science into the Classroom’, which is designed to help secondary school teachers deliver some of the more challenging aspects of the curriculum in a way that captures and retains the interest of learners. It is also designed to support teachers’ development of specialist knowledge and to facilitate links between teachers and contemporary research.

7. The Teacher CPD courses have been developed by the Science Learning Centre Network in conjunction with leading RCUK researchers and are clearly linked to the science curriculum. Astrophysics is one of the twelve course topics and there have been three courses held at CERN. The two learning visit based around the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in February and March 2010 found that 93% of the participants on the first visit and 100% of the participants on the second visit rated the courses as ‘very good’, with the remainder rating the visits as ‘good’. It was clear from teachers’ feedback that they found the visits enjoyable and inspirational. One teacher said that the course was "The best event I have ever attended" and another that it was "Quite possibly the most fantastic training course ever!". Due to the popularity of the previous CERN visits a further course was run in February 2011. However the Government’s ‘rarely cover’ policy issued to schools has been a challenge in recruiting teachers to take part in CPD outside of school, where schools have a number of conflicting priorities contemporary science courses are viewed as a luxury. RCUK will be reflecting on the government White Paper [1] and its implications for CPD going forward.

8. Researchers in Residence is one of RCUK’s flagship schemes. The scheme has been running for over 15 years and brings together early stage researchers, young people and teachers via exciting and innovative placements in secondary schools and colleges across the UK. Placements last for up to 24 hours contact time, with researchers becoming involved in activities including practical classroom demonstrations, discussions and debates, after school clubs, lunchtime and careers talks or special projects for gifted and talented students. The researchers act as positive role models for young people to expose students to exciting future study and career options and motivate students to improve grades. A recent report from the National Audit Office [2] shows that schools participating in programmes such as Researchers in Residence see a n increase in the number of students taking sciences at GCSE. The NAO report also shows that schools participating in the RCUK Researchers in Residence scheme see more of the year group achieving grades A to C grades in A Level maths than those schools not participating in a scheme. RCUK work s closely with STEM Ambassadors and is currently exploring a recommendation in the STEM Careers Review [3] to amalgamate the two schemes.

Research Councils UK

16 March 2011

[1] The Importance of Teaching: The Schools White Paper 2010 (Department for Education)

[2] Department for Education: Educating the next generation of scientists (NAO report, November 2010)

[3] STEM Careers Review – Report to the Gatsby Charitable Foundation (November 2010)