Annex: summary of the main points from
the e-consultation |
We wanted to hear views from students at school.
Rather than through formal evidence sessions we gathered views
from an e-consultation exercise. This had the advantage that we
could hear from much wider ranges of students than could be heard
at an oral evidence session and it filled a gap in the written
material evidence as we received no written submission from students
at school. The Student Room
(TSR) was identified as an appropriate external partner.
The TSR site is open to people at any stage of education,
although the majority of its users fall within the 14 to 24 years
age range. TSR has in the past worked with a number of government
departments on student online engagement projects. TSR has also
recently undertaken some collaborative work with the House of
Commons Education Committee to gather contributions for its inquiry
into youth services.
The e-consultation started with three subjects or
"threads" launched on the website on 7 June.
Each thread focused on one aspect of practical science in schools
with the headline questions below used as starting points:
a) What motivated you to study science at
GCSE or A-level?
b) In your experience, how often do/did your
science lessons involve practical experiments or field trips?
c) What value do you think practicals bring
to your science education?
The exercise ended on 8 July, by which time 179 contributors
to the consultation had posted 277 entries across the three topics
or "conversation threads". By 18 July, contributions
to the discussion had been viewed 6,588 times, whichat
just under 24 views per postindicates a much larger audience
than the contributions would suggest.
There were 24 contributors that posted three times
or more. The thread that attracted most interest was the question
on motivation (125 of the 277 posts were on this topic).
MOTIVATION TO STUDY SCIENCE (QUESTION
Of 95 contributors discussing motivation to study
science just under half (44, that is 46%) indicated that it might
to some degree be related to the opportunity to carry out practicals
or go on field trips.
There were few contributors that indicated that the
motivation to study science came to a large measure from practicals
they had carried out or of those they hoped to do.
There was frequent reference to the need to study
the subjects that related to future jobs or university courses.
This was a by far the most common response in the thread. Indeed
some of the contributors suggested that the courses were made
worse by the practical elements and that the teachers should have
dropped them and focussed instead on matters that would improve
grades. One student wrote:
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
Where students discussed inspiration it was often
attributed to an inspiring teacher or a science event. One contributor
explained what she thought would motivate people to choose science:
there should be greater opportunities for interested
students to do taster sessions in more 'exciting' areas of science.
It's obviously very important for people to get a good grounding
in the basics, or they'll never be prepared for higher studies,
but the problem is that the things that sound really flash and
tell you a lot about the nature of the universeastrophysics,
for examplearen't really introduced in any depth until
GCSE/a-level, by which point you've lost a lot of students. As
well as skills like writing down chemical formulae or whatever,
I think you also need to show people what greater meaning scientific
ideas can have, and how they can describe big things that people
are often interested in.
There were also some comments about the courses arranged
by the wider science community but many commented on how inaccessible
they were rather than how good:
I think that schemes such as the Nuffield Bursary
should be more highly advertised in schools as well. I only found
out about it the other week, and by then it was too late for me
and one who commented on content as well as access:
I realise that schemes like this exist (I did a silver
CREST award at the end of Y8, and I really enjoyed it) but they
don't seem to be widely publicised or put into place, at least
in my experience.
FREQUENCY OF PRACTICALS (QUESTION
There was a range of experiences among contributors.
From regular science practical classes to hardly any experience
of practicals, with the bulk of experience tending towards latter
end of the spectrum. There were two patterns among responses.
One was that the number of practicals appeared to decrease as
students progressed through the school, for example:
At KS3 we were doing practicals at least 1 once a
week and we had 3 lessons per week. At GCSE we were promised at
least 1 practical per week out of our 5 lessons. We are lucky
to get 1 practical a month to be honest. It has made science for
me really boring.
Alternatively, it was recorded that the practicals
carried out were only those absolutely necessary "once this
yearfor the [Internal Assessment Activities] in all three
In addition, there appeared to be a variation across
the subjects. Biology was often quoted as the least likely science
subject to provide practicals, physics being better and chemistry
being the most likely to have practicals in class.
The second pattern was the almost complete absence
of science field trip experiences among respondents. There were
one or two respondents who cited a trip to an observatory and
one to CERN but the vast majority told us there was a complete
lack of field trips from within the science courses they experienced.
VALUE OF PRACTICALS (QUESTION 3)
When discussing the value of field trips and practicals
42 of the 59 (71%) contributors considered that practicals and
field trips were of value. On the question of value contributors
spoke of practicals as showing how theory worked in practice and
did not appear to value them as deliverers of practical skills.
Contributors were more inclined to explain the pedagogical use
of practicals, for example:
Practical experiments give meaning to theory. I'm
not saying that all theory should be demonstrated and worked at
hands on, but as someone mentioned before the use of videos is
a good way of showing the outcome and elaborating on the theory,
not old video tape cheesy science videos, but more modern real
world videos, such as those on youtube. Science isn't purely about
knowledge, it's about "what do I know, and How can I use
it", and practical work can play a big part of that.
None of the contributors said that practical classes
needed to deliver practical skills that would be of use in possible
future careers. The one response that did mention the use of practical
skills was more focussed on university than any future employment:
The only use [practical classes] have is [to] develop
practical skills for university science courses such as chemistry
where you get proper lab time.
The contributors focussed mainly about how the practicals
might improve their understanding of the theoretical knowledge
of the subject; most did not mention that they might develop laboratory
skills that would be of practical use in later life.
161 The Student Room, www.thestudentroom.co.uk. TSR
is a large online student community with more than 500,000 registered
members, 2.8 million unique users per month and more than 16 million
posts across 280+ forums. The site itself is a provider of peer
support services to students with young people visiting to get
homework help, inform education choices and get social and emotional
All the quotes in this annex are taken from the three conversation
threads associated with this page. Back