1 Introduction |
1. There have been persistent reports in the press
that that science practicals and field trips were in decline and
that the reason was health and safety concerns.
Despite ongoing work by the Health and Safety Executive
and a campaign by the Royal Society for Chemistry aimed at allaying
concerns, the persistent
nature of these stories convinced us that this was an issue that
2. Science practicals in the classroom and field
trips should be the activities that link students' theoretical
learning in schools with the practical application of science
to the world at large and, later, in the workplace. We also had
a concern that any decline in practicals and fieldwork could be
a symptom of, if not directly linked to, a wider decline in the
study of science in schools. Education is a devolved issue and,
following the line of much of the evidence sent in response to
the inquiry, this report is mainly focussed on England but comparisons
with Scotland are important.
3. The reasons why children study science raises
issues that go wider than this report. We note that, despite a
range of research on the subject, there is currently no widely
accepted research on the reasons why children choose to take up,
or not to take up, science at certificate levels. Professor Dillon
of King's College London provided us with research in this area
which is part of an ongoing research programme into this subject.
We hope that the Economic and Social Research Council-funded Targeted
Initiative on Science and Mathematics Education
will provide the Government with a solid foundation upon which
it can build greater participation in STEM
subjects. This is an issue we shall monitor and we may return
to it later in the Parliament.
4. Given the importance of science education to the
UK economy and the need to encourage children to participate in
science, we decided to hold an inquiry into practical experiments
in science lessons and science field trips. When we received evidence
it appeared that field trip can have a generic meaning
covering all work outside the classroom and a specific meaning.
To avoid confusion, within this report we will refer broadly to
learning outside the classroom when referring to both field
work and field trips but will deal separately with them at some
points. For the purpose of this report fieldwork is taken
to mean activity outside the classroom organised by the classroom
teacher independently of third parties, usually to undertake curriculum
related activity; field trip is taken to mean an activity
where the students are taken to an outside location where they
will either see something science related, such as touring the
Natural History Museum, participating in a learning activity run
by a third party, such as participating in an Earth Lab Workshop
at the Natural History Museum or attending an event such as the
Big Bang (the UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair).
5. We issued a call for evidence on 5 April 2011
on the following questions:
a) How important are practical experiments and
field trips in science education?
b) Are practical experiments in science lessons
and science field trips in decline? If they are, what are the
reasons for the decline?
c) What part do health and safety concerns play
in preventing school pupils from performing practical experiments
in science lessons and going on field trips? What rules and regulations
apply to science experiments and field trips and how are they
d) Do examination boards adequately recognise
practical experiments and trips?
e) If the quality or number of practical experiments
and field trips is declining, what are the consequences for science
education and career choices? For example, what effects are there
on the performance and achievement of pupils and students in Higher
f) What changes should be made?
g) Is the experience of schools in England in
line with schools in the devolved administrations and other countries?
6. The Committee received 47 written submissions.
7. We took oral evidence from five panels of witnesses
over three evidence sessions. On 15 June we took evidence
from practising teachers: Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary,
National Union of Teachers, Dr Stuart Hitch, Earth Science Teachers'
Association affiliated teacher, Greg Jones, National Union of
Teachers affiliated teacher, Professor Chris King, Earth Science
Teachers' Association, and Darren Northcott, National Official
(Education), National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women
8. On 29 June we took evidence from two panels of
witnesses in organisations providing support to teachers and schools
in the delivery of practicals and learning outside the classroom.
The first panel explored support to individual teachers: Paul
Cohen, Director Initial Teacher Training Recruitment, Training
and Development Agency, Annette Smith, Chief Executive, British
Science Association, Dr Phil Smith MBE, Co-ordinator, Teacher
Scientist Network, and Dr Steve Tilling, Field Studies Council.
The second panel considered wider school issues: Beth Gardner,
Chief Executive, Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, Professor
Graham Hutchings FRS, Chair, SCORE (Science Community Representing
Education), Sir Roland Jackson, Chief Executive, British Science
Association, and Steve Jones, Director, CLEAPSS.
9. Third, we took evidence on 4 July, first from
David Knighton, Reporting Inspector, Ofsted, Kevin Myers, Deputy
Chief Executive, Health and Safety Executive, Dennis Opposs, Director
of Standards, Ofqual, and Nigel Thomas, Director, Education and
Skills, Gatsby Foundation, followed by Nick Gibb MP, Minister
for Schools, Department for Education.
10. Finally, we wanted to have views from students
at school. In cooperation with The Student Room website, we opened
an e-consultation to hear views from students regarding their
school science practicals experiences and field trips. The e-consultation
ended on 8 July 2011 and a summary of the main points from the
exercise is set out in an annex to our report.
11. We would like to thank those who provided written
and oral evidence to this inquiry. In addition, we extend our
gratitude to Quintin Kynaston School in London for accommodating
us on a visit conducted as part of our inquiry on 23 June.
12. In this report we examine whether there is value
in practical science and field trips and if there has been a decline
in quantity or quality in either of these. In chapter 2 we examine
the value of practical science, any concerns about its provision,
in particular whether health and safety legislation hinders the
provision of practical science in schools and learning outside
the classroom. Chapter 3 examines a wide range of issues. We consider
other issues (than health and safety) raised as potential hindrances
to providing quality science experiences and what might be done
to address these within the current Government's education policy.
Finally, in chapter 4 we look at the role of the wider science
community in supporting teachers and providing routes to engage
and enthuse students to take up science at certificate levels.
1 For example, "School lab health and safety rules
'could stop future scientists'", Times Online, 5 October
and "Warning over red tape for science field trips"
BBC Online, 19 January 2011,
"Myth of the Month", December 2010, Health and Safety
"Surely that's banned", Royal Society of Chemistry,
"Science Aspirations and Career Choice: Age 10-14",
Professor Justin Dillon, ASPIRES interim summary, January 2011
The Targeted Initiative on Science and Mathematics Education (TISME)
is a programme of research funded by the ESRC in partnership with
the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, The Institute of Physics
and the Association of Science Education.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Back
CLEAPSS is an advisory service providing support in science and
technology for a consortium of local authorities and their schools
including establishments for pupils with special needs. Back