Practical experiments in school science lessons and science field trips - Science and Technology Committee Contents

3  The elements of successful school science

The Government's approach

38. When Nick Gibb MP, Minister for Schools, gave evidence to us, he recognised the value of practical science. We agree with him that: "Being able to measure accurately is an important skill that children need to acquire during their school career. Conducting experiments is an important way of ensuring that they have those skills".[62] Annette Smith of the Association for Science Education explained that the acquisition of those skills was key to persuading students to engage, "If we want young people to really engage with science, good-quality, thoughtful, well-planned and well-prepared practical work is the way to do it".[63]

39. In the White Paper, The Importance of Teaching, published in November 2010 the Government stated that it "is our ambition that Academy status should be the norm for all state schools, with schools enjoying direct funding and full independence from central and local bureaucracy".[64] In oral evidence, the Minister explained that he did not consider that:

it is the direction of travel of this Government to continue the approach of central prescription and initiatives. That really was the approach of the last Administration and we have tried to get away from that by putting more and more funding that was held centrally to provide those initiatives and get that money down to the school level so that the school can decide how it wants to spend that money on its priorities. Having said all that, my view is that field trips are essential, particularly in subjects like geography and geology. I also think that practical experiments in science are very important. We would want to encourage it but not to do so through a plethora of central initiatives and ring-fenced funding streams.[65]

40. Taking the Government's approach, we examined what incentives there were to increase the numbers of students choosing to study science subjects or to encourage schools to invest more in science as a result of the educational reforms. We received some evidence that senior management of schools might not have incentives to invest in science departments or to see them as an asset. Steve Jones of CLEAPSS was "not convinced that enough school senior leadership teams [were] sufficiently aspirational about what [they] could get out of [their] science department".[66] The need to engage the senior management of a school was highlighted by the evaluation of the Government sponsored Getting Practical Programme[67] which was published during the inquiry. That evaluation found that the benefits depended on who received the training (more effective if the trainee was the head of department rather than a newly qualified teacher) and whether there was support from the senior management team to implement the new ideas.[68]

41. We were also told that the devolution of power to schools might inadvertently increase the distance between school science teachers and the wider science community. When addressing the need to encourage better quality science practicals in schools Steve Jones of CLEAPSS suggested that: "It will be more challenging to do that, because your mechanisms for engaging with senior leaders as a group are possibly not as clear-cut in a system consisting of a lot of independent schools".[69]

42. We explored how these disincentives could be addressed within the Government's policy which the Minister summarised as: "Exhortation and facilitation, absolutely; we are very keen to do that. We are always talking to academics and universities, and encouraging a Reach Out Lab-type approach is the right one. Again, it is a bottom-up approach; it is about encouraging but not prescribing or organising from the centre".[70]


43. Commendable as this approach is, we had concerns that it may not ensure that the Government achieves its ambition to improve school science and increase participation in STEM[71] learning and employment. Accepting that the Government is not going to manage schools centrally, we considered what encouragement and facilitation it could carry out and also whether there needs to be an enhanced role for "regulators" within the system to achieve the Government's policy for science. The Government:

a)  sets standards for teacher qualifications and the training necessary for that status through the Training and Development Agency;

b)  inspects and reports on schools against a common standard through Ofsted; and

c)  defines the academic standards and skills necessary to gain a qualification at GCSE and A level through a common standard set by Ofqual.

44. We will explore how these various levers might be applied to address the issues raised.

Teachers' skills

45. One message that came back to us repeatedly was that many of the issues (for example, concerns over health and safety, confidence to innovate, knowledge of opportunities, ability to lead and integrate fieldwork) could be addressed by having good teachers. For example, Steve Tilling of the Field Studies Council said that: "If you have a very experienced science teacher who has done this before, health and safety will not be an issue".[72] The Minister told us that:

One thing in which I believe very strongly is that, if you have teachers who know their subject extremely well, they will be better equipped to provide good practical experiments and lessons in chemistry and physics than a teacher who is grappling with the subject content.[73]

46. In their written submission, the Teacher Scientist Network told us that "good teachers are those who are confident teachers, up-to-date in their subject knowledge and practically adept themselves".[74]

47. We have been informed, however, that having the right subject specialists is an ongoing problem. The Royal Society, in its State of the Nation report "Increasing the size of the Pool", focussed on a lack of specialists teaching science subjects in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Royal Society considered that this was demonstrated by the fact that in "2009, 18%, 12% and 43% of all relevant institutions across England, Wales and Northern Ireland failed to present a single physics A-level candidate".[75]

48. In its written evidence the Department explained how it was addressing the recruitment of science qualified teachers:

Latest evidence shows that only 14% of science teachers have a physics degree, 22% have a chemistry degree and 44% have a biology degree. The Importance of Teaching White Paper states the Government's intention to provide stronger incentives to attract the best graduates to come into teaching, including science.


[The Importance of Teaching] White Paper also reaffirms our commitment to more than double the number of participants in the Teach First scheme so that more schools are able to benefit from the talents of the country's best graduates. The majority of Teach First participants teach the most demanding shortage subjects. In addition, teacher training bursaries are continuing to be paid to graduates in the sciences.[76]

49. We pay tribute to the work that the Department has done in encouraging the recruitment of specialist teachers and the Department's continued support for good quality continuing professional development (CPD) available, for example, through the Science Learning Centres.[77] These need to continue and we hope that these will increase the number of suitably qualified entrants to the teaching profession.

50. We note the Minister's commitment to peer-to-peer training through the teaching schools. He told us that:

the best [continuing professional development] is provided from peer to peer and teacher to teacher so that teachers can observe high-quality teaching taking place. That is what the teaching schools, we hope, will deliver in due course.[78]

This may prove effective in the communication of best practice with regard to pedagogy.[79] There is, however, a difficulty. We received evidence that teachers are not keeping their scientific knowledge and skills up to date. Ofsted reported that teachers were not making good use of the Science Learning Centres[80] and other witnesses raised the problems of attending CPD due to cost,[81] the demands of the curriculum,[82] the consequences of the 2003 "rarely cover" agreement[83] and of the demands on teachers to use their CPD opportunities keep up with changes in pedagogy within the curriculum.[84]

51. A recently retired teacher also highlighted the declining use of the provisions of the Association of Science Education:

[its] annual conference [...] is an excellent place to network with other teachers and to hear about up to date research. [...] over the years I suspect fewer and fewer teachers go due to costs and refusal of schools to pay for supply cover when the conference happens to fall in term time. [...] Most attendees work in science education but not in the classroom. Attending locally run courses is good but real inspiration comes from attendance at the [conference].[85]

52. Ofsted's recent report on science education, Successful Science, also made the point that:

Where teachers had attended externally provided subject training, evaluation of the impact showed improved teaching and a sharing of good practice in their department. However, a lack of science-specific courses was limiting the capacity of some staff to bring about improvements.[86]

53. We are concerned that, if science teachers do not regularly have the opportunity to get the opportunity to attend CPD outside the peer to peer structure, their science knowledge will deteriorate with consequent impacts on the provision of quality practical experience for students.

54. We considered whether school inspections could provide senior management teams with incentives to value subject specialist CPD to ensure that staff took full advantage of the opportunities available. Currently Ofsted only reports on subject specific CPD on a specialist science visit to a school. However, the Evaluation schedule for judgements made by inspectors of schools states that:

Inspectors should evaluate[...] how well leaders and managers at all levels drive and secure improvement, ensuring high-quality teaching and learning, by using relevant information about the school's performance to devise, implement, monitor and adjust plans and policies.[87]

The need for a school to insure that its teachers are maintaining their skills would appear to be accommodated under this. We consider that this section should explicitly mention subject related CPD arrangements made by the school as part of their efforts to ensure high-quality teaching and learning.

55. We strongly recommend that Ofsted report on how effectively schools provide opportunities for their science teachers to stay up to date with their science specialism, specifically in attendance of externally provided subject training, as part of Schedule 5 inspections under the current heading of "The effectiveness of leadership and management in embedding ambition and driving improvement".


56. Several pieces of evidence submitted to us drew attention to the skill deficit of newly qualified teachers with regard to fieldwork and field trips.[88] Paul Cohen, Director of Initial Teacher Training Recruitment at the Training and Development Agency, told us that there are already "requirements around understanding, planning and operating fieldwork [...] built into the various standards that exist at the moment for newly qualified teachers" and "that the standards as a suite are being reviewed".[89] We were told that there is no requirement for student teachers to demonstrate their ability to lead and carry out a field trip or fieldwork.[90] The Association for Science Education strongly supported explicit inclusion of actual experience of fieldwork and field trips within initial teacher training.[91]

57. We have not been convinced of the merits of an accredited course, which was advanced by Professor King of the Earth Science Teachers' Association[92] but we do recommend that all trainee science teachers should be expected to prepare successfully and lead at least one fieldwork session themselves, and to take part in a field trip before acquiring qualified teacher status.


58. After qualifying, teachers progress up a pay scale and should, on average, reach the top of this scale within six years.[93] It is possible to apply to go on to an upper pay scale and, at this point, there is an assessment of individual teacher skills to justify passing over the threshold to the new scale.[94] There are other routes for classroom teachers to progress their careers which require assessments by becoming an advanced skills teacher or attaining excellent teacher status.[95] Steve Tilling of the Field Studies Council questioned what practical skills should be required from teachers at these threshold points: "When you progress through threshold and through to an advanced skills teacher, there is no standard which underpins that development in terms of working outside the classroom".[96]

59. The Government should require that, in order to advance over pay thresholds, a science teacher should demonstrate he or she has maintained the practical classroom skills, fieldwork and associated risk assessment skills necessary to be a good science teacher.

Laboratories and technical support

60. As well as a lack of the teachers with suitable qualifications and skills, we were told that the design and standard of accommodation for science practicals was poor. CLEAPSS[97] said that: "Despite good advice [...] published by the Dept of Education [...] the design of science teaching spaces in new buildings is frequently poor".[98] The Royal Society for Chemistry has reported twice on the poor state of school laboratories.[99] Dr Kevin Smith of the Teacher-Scientist Network told us how his organisation attempted to address the shortage of science resource faced by affiliated teachers:

We provide a Free-to-loan Resources Kit Club where schools from Norfolk, Suffolk and into Cambridgeshire come to us to borrow kit boxes which are free. It works like a lending library. This works, but it needs to be expanded. Obviously it is not going to work asking a teacher to travel 200 miles to borrow one kit box. We need more of those around the country.[100]

One response from a student to the e-consultation also exemplified the state of science laboratories:

The one down side is that the college is shamefully underfunded in the physics dept. The hairdressing students get a nice new salon, the graphics students get shiny apple macs, the physics students get dusty old equipment held together with masking tape![101]

61. It was clear to us that well qualified, confident teachers need good laboratory space if they are to conduct high quality practical classes. We therefore wanted to assess what minimum requirements school laboratories had to meet and how resources were allocated to school science departments. We also wanted to explore how standards were reported. We were alerted to these issues when AQA, one of the examination boards that currently offer GCSE and A level science exams to schools, highlighted that they needed to be "pragmatic about the resources schools have for [practical activities]".[102] This suggested that there were no clear assumptions that could be made by examination boards as to the facilities that schools should be expected to have.

62. Some useful information may soon be available to the Government as the Science Community Representing Education[103] (SCORE) has

embarked on a research project which will determine a baseline for the resourcing requirements of practical work. [...] The baseline will be in terms of laboratory facilities, technician support, fieldwork facilities and equipment and consumables for primary and secondary school science.[104]

63. The Minister was clear that "Secondary schools should have good quality laboratories, fume cupboards, technicians and all the chemicals and equipment they need to enable them to conduct experiments and students to take part in them".[105] We welcome his statement and, while central government should not be involved in the detail of local decision making in schools, we are concerned that the Minister added that "how schools allocate their capital is a matter for the schools and local authorities".[106]

64. We accept that spending decisions are not going to be made centrally but there must be clear incentives within the system to ensure schools are encouraged to upgrade sub-standard laboratory space. A school providing science courses at GCSE and A level should be required to demonstrate, during Ofsted inspection, it has ready access to a basic suite of facilities such as fume cupboards to facilitate rigorous examination of science skills.[107] It would be incumbent on the Government to identify what a basic suite of facilities would be for the benefit of both senior management teams and examination boards.


65. The availability of technical staff was also raised as a key element in the provision of quality practical experiences. Annette Smith of the Association for Science Education said that technicians "are absolutely key to practical science and outdoor science and in the classroom".[108] She was also concerned that when "schools are cutting budgets, they cut technicians before they cut teachers. As they form the bedrock of science education, they are incredibly important and we ought to concentrate on them considerably".[109]

66. CLEAPSS provided us with a copy of CLEAPSS Guide G228 Technicians and their jobs, which drew on the findings of a national survey of science technicians conducted in 2001 by the Royal Society and the Association for Science Education. The survey recommended:

a)  a national framework for technicians' pay and job descriptions;

b)  a common formula to determine the technician hours that schools need;

c)  proper funding for technician training;

d)  a nationally-recognised induction programme;

e)  a recognised career structure; and

f)  better overview of technicians jobs by heads of science and school governors.[110]

67. In his oral evidence, Steve Jones of CLEAPSS outlined the constraints when working with school technicians:

They often work term time only. They do not have any opportunity to do any work inside the holidays to get on top of situations. Without that technician support, it really undermines the teacher's ability and willingness to do different, varied practical work. I would not say it is unique but it is a distinctive feature of science education in this country that there is proper technical support.[111]

68. The difficulties faced by science technicians are not new and have been raised by our predecessor committee,[112] the predecessor of the Lords Science and Technology Committee[113] and the Royal Society[114] in the past ten years. We consider that teachers supported by motivated and informed technical staff will spend less time on risk assessment and other bureaucracy and more on ensuring high quality teaching outcomes.

69. The Government sets the standard for qualified teachers and ensures there is an appropriate measure of expected pay and conditions of service for a qualified teacher.[115] We consider a similar standard should be set for school technicians. We reiterate the recommendation of our predecessor committee for action to be taken to "address the appalling pay and conditions of science technicians and to create a career structure that will attract skilled and dedicated people to work as technicians".[116]


70. Ofsted told us that it does not specifically inspect the management of science laboratories and the relationship between science teachers and technicians unless "there was a reason to do so".[117] David Knighton, HMI Principal Officer in Ofsted, said that the "roles of technicians are absolutely key in science as they are in technology and other areas in schools" but we note that the Ofsted report, Successful Science,[118] when discussing poorly performing departments, makes no mention of technical support or whether that was a contributory factor.

71. We recommend that, when carrying out a Schedule 5 inspection, Ofsted should explicitly report on the management of science laboratories and, during a specialist science visit, the relationship between teachers and technical staff in the planning and delivery of practical lessons should be a key part of that inspection.


72. Kevin Courtney of the NUT outlined to us how fieldwork was an essential part of understanding how laboratory skills and experimental theory can be applied to investigate natural phenomena:

There are the [Training and Development Agency] adverts on becoming a teacher, which have inspirational features such as a teacher demonstrating the solar system in the playground. That might look a bit airy-fairy. However, if you want to talk to some kids about the speed of sound, you can do it on a white board, but, if you have enough space, you can take them out so that some children can knock two stones together and the others are far enough away to see the stones going together before the sound reaches them. It is so much more effective as a demonstration of the point if they can try and engage with that in trying to estimate the speed of sound. Being outside the classroom is often really important in getting the point over.

73. Steve Tilling of the Field Studies Council told us about the decline in residential fieldwork:

we take well over 20,000 scientists a year and have been for the last 70 years or so. I can tell you categorically that, over the last 20 years, there has been a decline in numbers of scientists going on not just our residential courses but also day courses. In terms of upper secondary groups, there has been a shortening of the experience. It is about half of what it was 15 years ago.[119]

The pattern of decline affects science students more than others. We were told that places in courses run by the Field Studies Council that were once taken up by science students were being replaced by geography groups[120] and that history students were three times more likely to go on a field trip than a science student.[121]

74. It of concern to us therefore that fieldwork, which links the academic side of science to the classroom theory, is where we have heard strongest evidence of a decline in quantity. Dr Tilling of the Field Studies Council, detailing the lack of quality demanded in fieldwork in science GCSE compared with geography, which has a statutory requirement to carry out fieldwork, explained that:

GCSE for science in terms of fieldwork, for example, is a black hole. It is a neuro-inhibitor. All the practicals tend to be there to deaden the nerve senses, in comparison to geography. For example, in controlled assessment in geography, the students will be asked to make a comparison of the upper and lower regions of a river. It is that broad. They will go away and study the river. The comparison that is made in science, for example, might be a choice chamber experiment over 30 or 40 minutes with woodlice or earthworms. There is a different level of intellectual investment and the type of hands-on work that is going on.[122]

75. There was also concern that fieldwork was something that science students from poorer areas may miss out on. The Field Studies Council [FSC] in its written evidence said:

In some FSC projects, for example working with [Key Stage]3 and GCSE groups from disadvantaged urban City Challenge schools (2009-2010) up to 80% of the 14-16 year olds had never been on a residential in their school careers (and neither had their parents).[123]

The Council's evidence indicated that greater curricular compulsion could increase numbers, pointing out that "75% of geography groups come from State funded schools, compared to 68% of Science groups".[124] It also indicated that the pupil premium could be used for these kinds of purposes to provide "equitable access by all students to the full range of effective science teaching and learning approaches".[125]

76. We recommend that Ofqual direct examination boards to require a fieldwork component to science courses in which students must collect data as part of fieldwork outside the classroom and prove a level of competence in its analysis and that the Government give clear guidance to schools on how the pupil premium might be used to meet this requirement.

Field trips

77. As we explained at paragraph 4, we make a distinction between fieldwork and field trips: we define field trips as occasions where students would be taken to visit sites, or events, of interest. Field trips, in this report, focus more on generating enthusiasm and excitement about the subject rather than on directed learning.

78. A contributor to the e-consultation demonstrated the value of such events to students and to the engagement of students with science:

We haven't been on many science trips, but I found the GCSE Science Live! event[126] utterly inspiring—there were lectures from Steve Jones, Maggie Aderin-Pocock and the like. The lecturers were all incredibly passionate about their subject and everybody who saw that lecture went on to do science at A-Level.[127]

79. The wider science community offers a wide range of schemes and events, often of high quality, to aid science teachers and schools. The CREST awards[128] provide an incentive for students to take part in extra-curricular science activities and recognise that activity by awarding certificates. The National Science and Engineering Competition[129] provides a forum for STEM based projects to compete for a variety of prizes in a national context. Launched in 2009, The Big Bang: UK Young Scientists' and Engineers' Fair[130] is an annual festival of science aimed at young people that culminates in a national event which hosts the finals of the National Science and Engineering Competition.

80. The British Science Association indicated that its CREST award scheme had been evaluated in 2006 by Liverpool University and shown that: "Students had gained knowledge and transferable skills [...] Teachers felt that CREST raised the profile of STEM in the school".[131] Evaluation of the Crest Awards showed that 32% of students who had taken part in the scheme indicated a greater interest in a career in science or in continuing studying science at a higher education level. Evaluation of the Big Bang event showed that 61% of boys and 58% of girls who attended were a little or much more interested in engineering as a career. Engineering UK said that "STEM employers, the net beneficiaries of skilled technicians and graduate engineers, can play a part in assisting schools and colleges to deliver better awareness of STEM career pathways and opportunities".[132]

81. We consider that there is a real need for students to be enthused by science if they are to take it up in greater numbers for GCSE, A level and beyond. The programmes and events we have identified and many not listed here, show how this can be done. The Minister told us that he was keen, as we have already noted, to engage in "exhortation and facilitation".[133] Promoting these programmes and events offers a golden opportunity for the Government to show what exhortation and facilitation can achieve. In our view, the Government has set out a clear policy that it will lead by example, what it calls exhortation and facilitation, not diktat from the centre. The Government must demonstrate how this policy will work and that it will deliver an increased number of students receiving a quality science education. We recommend that, in its response to this report, the Government set out in detail how its "exhortation and facilitation" policy will work and what ministers will do that is distinct from their predecessors.


82. The current curriculum requires students to take science to the level of GCSE. We are concerned that so few students are provided with the opportunity to take triple science and that these are likely to be the cleverest students. This may contribute to a perception that science is for clever students and may ensure that a range of students are, possibly unintentionally, steered away from considering science as a career path at an early age.

83. The Minister said that the Government wanted to see an increase in students studying scientific subjects:

both at GCSE and A-level. It has been of concern to us that the numbers taking A-level chemistry and physics dropped from 1996 onwards. There has been a gradual reverse in that trend in recent years, which is welcome. One of the drivers behind the English baccalaureate is to encourage more young people to take the three sciences to GCSE, and that will lead them to being comfortable about taking their subjects to A-level. We also want to make sure that young people are selecting the right subjects at A-level if they want to go on to progress to scientific subjects at degree level.[134]

84. There will be an increasing need for people with a broad range of science skills to meet the needs of industry. These jobs will cover a range from the technician role to more specialised science and technical roles and so there must be a strategy to broaden access to science courses. To ensure people with suitable skills and qualifications are available to fill these jobs, more students need to take triple science and that those studying science develop good practical skills. We conclude that the Government has to ensure that students appreciate that the practical side of the sciences, as well as the theoretical, can lead to employment opportunities and that the qualifications which are offered facilitate students from among a wider ability range to study triple science at school.


85. When visiting Quintin Kynaston School we asked whether a higher profile science department might be used to promote the school and attract parents. The science teachers and senior managers we spoke to were clear that parents are not influenced by a school's science provision. It is English and maths success that sell a school to parents. If more students are going to study science and the facilities that schools offer to those studying science are to improve, the emphasis needs to change. We see here an opportunity to change perceptions about how schools should be measured and ranked by parents. We recommend that the Government seek to change this narrow perception of how schools should be measured against each other by promoting, for example in league tables, the various measures of science success such as the number of teachers in the school to achieve chartered status[135] and participation by pupils in, for instance, the Crest awards.[136]

The impact of examinations

86. Myscience, the organisation that runs the Science Learning Centres, told us that:

A high-stakes assessment culture often leads teachers to focus on only those limited skills that will form the basis of formal assessment. This has resulted in the implementation of practical work [...] designed not for its scientific credentials but [...] the scoring of maximum marks by as many pupils as possible".[137]

Ofsted highlighted, in its report Successful Science, that "inspectors note that schools in which practical work was too prescriptive were often influenced too much by the specific ways in which practical work and scientific enquiry skills were assessed for GCSE and, as a result, were less concerned with providing opportunities for wider-ranging investigations".[138]

87. The Department explained that it wanted to assess through formal examination "the ability to undertake effectively practical experiments in laboratory, field and other environments".[139] We welcome the Department's commitment to assessment of practical skills in and out of the laboratory within the formal examination system. We recommend that the Department implement this within a five year timescale.

88. Ofsted have told us that more practical lessons contribute to schools improving their provision of science subjects[140] and that poor schools tended to provide poor quality practical work.[141] Assessment of practical work should therefore be devised to encourage good rather than perpetuate bad practice. In our e-consultation, students' responses to the value of practical work tended to suggest that practicals were limited and focussed very much on meeting the narrow requirements of examination board assessment. For example:

The exams were all about jumping through hoops, and if I'd known how stupid and time-consuming the coursework was going to be, I might have chosen another subject altogether. Often you got no marks for knowing the topic, just marks for remembering certain phrases within the textbook.

From what I hear from my teachers, there was a lot less 'explain', 'describe', and 'list the advantages of' questions back in their days, and it was all 'proper science' instead of trying to relate it to ethics, geography, social implications etc.[142]

And examinations that do not require practical class work may lead to strange incentives for students:

I begged my teachers to stop doing practicals and teach on the syllabus. I wish they would stop trying to make it fun and just teach it because in the end all that matters is my grade. My grade depends upon my exams. My exams depend upon the syllabus. Anything else in my opinion is a complete waste of everyone's time.[143]

89. One examination board, AQA, told us that "in the AQA Certificates there is no controlled assessment; instead it is planned that practical skills will be tested in the written examination papers".[144] Another board, OCR, pointed out that "assessment of experimentation in the laboratory and field work is naturally limited by the need to allow tens of thousands of students across the country to undertake similar work and gain similar results"[145] and that "schemes of assessment in many cases assess the skills of the teacher in preparing candidates rather than the abilities of the candidates themselves".[146] In our visit to Quintin Kynaston School we were concerned to be told that, while Quintin Kynaston had explicitly chosen not to, it would be easy to choose a course that focussed on better results rather than better science.

90. Sir Roland Jackson of the British Science Association was concerned that there was a lack of imagination on how science practicals could be assessed:

science teachers and curriculum developers need to look a little more outside science. Some of the techniques that we are talking about here are perfectly well understood by geography teachers that we have seen and perfectly well understood by, for example, art teachers. It ought not to be beyond the wit of assessors to think about rather more open-ended techniques that allow people to demonstrate their scientific abilities creatively and not just the way that they can understand the theory.[147]

91. Ofqual told us that "[the examination boards] write their specifications to embody sufficient flexibility to enable each school and college to meet the requirements within the constraints of their resources, geographical location and expertise".[148] We are concerned that, if constraints of resources are taken into account, in particular the poor quality of some school laboratories (see paragraph 60), the result will be that examination boards will not expect the quality of practical work we think necessary in school science courses. To break what might be a cycle of decline, we recommended in paragraph 64 that there should be a minimum standard of laboratory facilities.

92. To ensure the best possible use of these facilities, we recommend that Ofqual direct examination boards, within five years, to require an examination that properly assesses both students' laboratory skills and their technique and understanding of the experimental process.


93. The Minister said that the science curriculum was to be slimmed down:

We want to slim it down and focus on the core knowledge and concepts that we believe all children at school should acquire during that period. The review will also recognise the importance of the practical application of scientific skills, particularly things like measuring, and seeing experiments happen in real life will also be included in the curriculum.[149]

94. Time to get through the curriculum is commonly cited by teachers as a barrier to provision of good quality practicals and field trips.[150] We welcome the Government's intention to slim down the science curriculum. The Government should seek to ensure that the time gained through the slimming down of the curriculum is used to broaden the teaching of science and its practical aspects rather than more time to revise courses for examinations.

62   Q 158  Back

63   Q 77  Back

64   "The Importance of Teaching", Department of Education, Cm 7980, November 2010 Back

65   Q 176 Back

66   Q 95  Back

67   The Getting Practical programme was aimed at training 2000 teachers to bring about:

1 Observable changes in the emphasis given to practical science in schools and colleges.

2 Observable improvements in young people's perception of, and positive attitudes towards, science.

3 Observable changes in the confidence and attitudes of science teachers and other staff in using practical science as part of the teaching and learning process. Back

68   "Independent Evaluation Report Getting Practical: Improving Practical Work in Science", Ian Abrahams and Rachel Sharpe, University of York; Michael Reiss, Institute of Education, University of London, July 2011 Back

69   Q 96 Back

70   Q 199 Back

71   Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Back

72   Q 52 Back

73   Q 160 Back

74   Ev 88, para 10 Back

75   "Increasing the size of the pool", Royal Society, January 2011 Back

76   Ev 45-46 Back

77   Science Learning Centres are a national network for professional development in science teaching. There are nine regional Centres in England and one National Centre, each with a number of satellite Centres to provide additional facilities. They are jointly funded by the Department for Education and the Wellcome Trust. Back

78   Q 181 Back

79   The art, or science, of teaching; instructional methods. Back

80  Secondary teachers in particular benefited from attending courses at the network of Science Learning Centres, but too few of the schools visited had taken advantage of this high-quality provision, "Successful Science", Ofsted, January 2011 p7 Back

81   Q 56 [Annette Smith] Back

82   Ev 106, para 18 [Greg Jones] Back

83   In 2003, a national agreement between the Government, employers and school workforce unions was designed to reduce the excessive workload that entailed teachers spending two-thirds of their time on administrative tasks. One element of this was that teachers should rarely cover for absent colleagues. While this was within the context of unexpectedly covering for absent colleagues the Committee believed that it also impacted on covering for planned absences such as trips and events. Back

84   Q 37 [Dr Phil Smith] Back

85   Ev w64, para 4 Back

86   "Successful Science", Ofsted, January 2011 p28 Back

87   "The evaluation schedule for schools", Ofsted, April 2011 Back

88   For example, Ev 55, para 15 [Field Studies Council] and Ev 63, Para 6.1.5 [Council for Learning Outside the Classroom] Back

89   Q 39 Back

90   Q 83 [Beth Gardner] Back

91   Ev 93, para 24 Back

92   Ev 52, para 6 and Q 7 Back

93   "School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document 2010 and Guidance on School Teachers' Pay and Conditions", Department for Education, August 2010  Back

94   Qualified teachers who reach the top of the main pay scale can apply to be assessed against eight national standards and if they meet the standards, cross the 'threshold' to the upper pay scale. Teachers seeking to cross the threshold are assessed by their head teacher. The standards for Post Threshold Teachers, Excellent Teachers and Advanced Skills Teachers are pay standards and teachers who are assessed as meeting them also access the relevant pay scale. Back

95   "School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document 2010 and Guidance on School Teachers' Pay and Conditions", Department for Education, August 2010  Back

96   Q 37  Back

97   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

98   Ev 72, para 2j Back

99   "Laboratories, Resources and Budgets: Provision for science in secondary schools", Royal Society of Chemistry, April 2004 & "Improving school laboratories? A Report for the Royal Society of Chemistry on the number and quality of new and re-furbished laboratories in schools", Royal Society of Chemistry, October 2006 Back

100   Q 78 Back

101   Contributor to the e-consultation,  Back

102   Ev w36, para 10 Back

103   A consortium of science organisations: Association for Science Education, Institute of Physics, Royal Society, Royal Society of Chemistry and Society of Biology Back

104   Q 97, footnote 3 [Professor Hutchings] Back

105   Q 170 Back

106   As above Back

107   See paragraph 92. Back

108   Q 59  Back

109   As above Back

110   "Survey of science technicians in schools and colleges", Royal Society & Association of Science Education, 2001 Back

111   Q 83 Back

112   Science and Technology Committee, 3rd Report of Session 2001-2002, Science education from 14-19, HC 508-I, paras 132-6 Back

113   Lords Science and Technology Committee, 10th Report of Session 2005-06, Science and teaching in schools, HL 257, paras 6.3 -6.12 Back

114   "Supporting success: science technicians in schools and colleges", Royal Society, January 2002  Back

115   The Education Act 2002 gives the Secretary of State power to determine the remuneration of school teachers and other conditions of employment of school teachers which relate to their professional duties or working time. Back

116   HC (2001-02) 508-I, para 135 Back

117   Q 122 Back

118   "Successful science", Ofsted, January 2011 Back

119   Q 45  Back

120   Ev 53, para 5 Back

121   Ev 56, para 30 Back

122   Q 75  Back

123   Ev 56, para 36 Back

124   Ev 56, para 37 Back

125   Ev 57, para 44 Back

126   These are events organised specifically for GCSE students to experience talks by real scientists such as Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Steve Jones and Lord Winston - www.gcsesciencelive.netBack

127   Contributor to the e-consultation,  Back

128   CREST awards website, 12 July 2011,  Back

129   National Science and Engineering Competition, 12 July 2011,  Back

130   The Big Bang Fair website, 12 July 2011,  Back

131   Ev 48, para 6 Back

132   Ev w46, para 22 Back

133   Q 199 Back

134   Q 162 Back

135   CSciTeach is a chartered designation which recognises the unique combination of skills, knowledge, understanding and expertise that is required by individuals involved in the specific practice and advancement of science teaching and learning. The Association for Science Education (ASE), as a licensed body of the Science Council, is empowered under the terms of its Royal Charter to award CSciTeach to individuals who meet the requirements.  Back

136   See para 79. Back

137   Ev w114-115, para 2.4 Back

138   Ev 105, para 4 Back

139   Ev 45 Back

140   Ev 104 Back

141   Ev 104 Back

142   Quote from e-consultation,  Back

143   Quote from e-consultation,  Back

144   Ev w35, para 5 Back

145   Ev w29, para 3 Back

146   Ev w29, para 6 Back

147   Q 98 Back

148   Ev 65, para 9 Back

149   Q 159 Back

150   Ev 92, para 16 [The Association for Science Education] Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 14 September 2011