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[Amendment No. 91B not moved.]

Lord Northbourne had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 92:

“(za) personal and social life skills,”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not intend to move this amendment but perhaps I may meet the Minister to see whether it is possible to craft an amendment that would help to bring more certainty about the teaching of relationships and communication skills.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I shall be delighted to meet the noble Lord.

[Amendment No. 92 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 93 and 94 not moved.]

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 95:

(a) biology, (b) chemistry, and (c) physics.”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 96 and 97. I am pleased that we begin our debate on the curriculum today with the two most important groups of amendments tabled for your Lordships’ consideration: the group before us now, which will give all children the right to study three separate science subjects until the age of 16; and the second group, which will give all maintained schools the right to offer the rigorous IGCSE as an alternative to the current option.

Taken together or separately, the first cluster of amendments would reform science teaching in our schools. Amendments Nos. 96 and 97 seek to confirm the policy pledges of the Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his science and investment framework initiative from this year’s Budget. Amendment No. 96 attaches an entitlement to study

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the three sciences as separate subjects to those who attain level 6 at key stage 3. Amendment No. 97 goes further and ensures that all specialist science schools would provide that entitlement. Her Majesty’s Government have already pledged to achieve those aims by 2008 in line with our amendments, so I hope that the Minister will not shy away from the opportunity to cement that pledge in the Bill. To me, Amendment No. 95 is of the utmost importance. It will allow all pupils to study the three sciences as separate subjects until the age of 16.

Noble Lords will be extremely familiar with this debate. I was hugely encouraged by the support for this topic from all Benches in Committee and I have followed the recent media interest in giving an entitlement to study the three sciences with great interest, not least because I am so pleased that it has been given a place in the national debate that it deserves. We are at the pinnacle of that debate today. We have an opportunity to make a difference to our children’s future opportunities and to our children’s future place in the world economy.

We face a threat to the future of science in this country. The problem is not a new one, but it is acute. We live in a world where our competitors will stride far ahead of us. The Economist recently ran a 15-page special report on the “The Search for Talent: Why it’s getting harder to find”. It tells us of the problems facing a world that is not educating its scientists adequately; and it tells of a world where our competitors in Shanghai have established a human talent market and where a Singaporean statesman, Lee Kuan Yew, recognises that,

Yet our teaching of the most important subjects outside numeracy and literacy has been demoted—it is the privilege of those who must prove their achievement at a young age.

It is not acceptable to segregate children from a proper science education should they seek one, purely because they do not get the grades when they are 14 years old. Whatever a child’s ability, the children whom we are educating for the future need to have the option to undertake a rigorous course of study—a course that teaches the learning of hard, empirical fact, that teaches how to analyse that fact, that teaches how to formulate an argument based on that analysis and, what is more, that teaches young adults how to assess rigorously the success or otherwise of that process of learning, application and analysis.

The relative merits—or lack thereof—of this new single science course are widely publicised. The narrowing of the curriculum is patronising at best, and incredibly damaging at worst. The rector of Imperial College London, Sir Richard Sykes, stated on BBC news that,

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Noble Lords will forgive me if I do not today analyse the virtues of studying a module entitled “You and your genes”. It sounds rather like a fashion module that has found its way on to the science curriculum. I was appalled to read the words of Andrew Hunt, who has personal overall responsibility for developing the new so-called Twenty First Century Science curriculum, including the single science course. He stated in a public e-mail:

I do not accept that the amendment will incur a spending commitment. The study of the three sciences will take up a maximum of 10 per cent extra curriculum time over and above the 20 per cent taken up by the dual award, or the new single-plus additional science syllabus. I do not see why an extra science could not be chosen in lieu of another subject. Furthermore, in answer to the Minister’s concern about teacher numbers, I accept that there is a dearth of science teachers today, and applaud the creation of new incentives. However, all schools offer the dual science awards now. There is much that can now be achieved on the available resources.

We know from an Answer in another place over a year ago that Her Majesty’s Government expect that at least 80 per cent of students should do at least two science GCSEs. That is to say that, at the very least, 20 per cent of pupils will study the single sciences course. This is a course whose own creator has acknowledged it to be is useless outside the classroom; it will do nothing to prepare our children for the realities or facts of a world that will demand far more scientific attention on the environment and energy provision than ever before.

Aldous Huxley got it right when he said:

Let us not ignore the facts today. I hope that the Minister can act in the spirit of consensus with noble Lords from all Benches, and allow this important entitlement into the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, we are minded to support this amendment. We accept that it does not make all three sciences compulsory, but it gives children a choice in how to study science.

I am afraid that we do not agree with comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, about the Twenty First Century Science curriculum. It is a perfectly appropriate option for some young people. We are, however, concerned about the drop in the number of young people choosing science at A-level. For certain young people, studying separate sciences would be preferable. While the new science curriculum is so young and new, it would be dangerous to get rid of the three sciences—not allowing young people to make that choice—as it is evaluated.

There may be some practical difficulties. Not every school currently has people suitably qualified to teach the three separate sciences. However, if the Government are serious about encouraging schools to work together in federations, in groups within a trust and with colleges in the local environment, I see no reason why the

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separate sciences should not be offered by that group of schools to a young person who wants to take them. He may not be able to study each under a qualified teacher in his own school, but I am sure that, by working together in the sorts of ways that the Government have already envisaged, schools would be able to do it. They do so already, with their sixth-form provision; schools often offer subjects in the sixth form by working together so that some subjects are delivered in one school and some by the school down the road. That could also be done at key stage 4.

What we really should do is train more properly qualified science teachers, but will we achieve that by taking away the option to study the three separate sciences? I am not convinced about that. In the early stages of the Twenty First Century Science curriculum, until we are sure that it will increase the number of young people taking separate sciences at A-level, which they will need if they are going to go on to science careers, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. That is why we are minded to support this amendment.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I apologise to the House because this is the first time I have addressed it on the Education and Inspections Bill. Noble Lords who were in the Chamber earlier will realise that I do so with a particular interest in the new science syllabus, Twenty First Century Science.

I have taken the Times for all my adult life, although I try to read other papers as well. I think some of its front-page headlines have become pretty silly, but when I read its headline on Wednesday, 11 October—“Science elite rejects new GCSE as ‘fit for the pub’”—I exploded. I thought of cancelling my subscription, but my wife said she enjoys other parts of the newspaper.

Twenty First Century Science has been a long time in gestation. It fits admirably with the chapter about science education in the report of the Science and Technology Select Committee, Science and Society. I chaired the sub-committee, and we did not initially intend to have a chapter about education. However, we received so much evidence from all sides that much of the problem of the alienation of the public from science starts in the schools that we decided that we needed to address the subject as part of our wider study. I am very glad we did, because the people who devised this new syllabus—they were working independently from us—told me very early on that they applauded us for addressing the subject. We agreed that, as the new syllabus emerged, it would closely reflect the philosophy of the Select Committee.

My noble friend Lady Buscombe—who let me know five minutes before Questions that she does not agree with me on this—praised Sir Richard Sykes for his view. I have enormous respect for Sir Richard, and I had two long meetings with him in the past week. In the end, he agreed that we are fundamentally trying to achieve the same objective. However, not for the first time, Sir Richard is a bit out on a limb. When the Times reported that the science elite opposes this syllabus, it seemed to ignore that the Royal Society—its former president, the noble Lord, Lord May of Oxford,

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took part in Questions—the Institute of Physics, the Royal Institute of Chemistry, the Institute of Biology and the British Association for the Advancement of Science have all roundly supported the new syllabus as a valuable step in the right direction.

My noble friend suggested to me that the new syllabus fails because it does not meet the need for pupils to study the three sciences separately. I must say to my noble friend, with the greatest of respect—as they sometimes say in the courts—she has misdirected herself. I have a note from the Nuffield Foundation, which with the University of York has been the main intellectual powerhouse behind the new syllabus. It states clearly:


It goes on:

Those promoting the syllabus have engaged the scientific community right from the start—names that are nationally known and others who are specialists in their special subject and may not be so well known. They have been a source—

4.30 pm

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I want to intervene briefly, as my noble friend has suggested that I am wrong. I hope that I made it clear in Starred Questions earlier this afternoon that, in relation to the Twenty First Century Science syllabus, the separate sciences will be offered only to high achievers from 2008. I am asking this afternoon that we give all children, whatever their academic ability, the entitlement to learn the three separate sciences up to GCSE. I do not think that I can make myself clearer.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I do not think that there is much difference between my noble friend and me on that. What I say from my study of this subject is that for many pupils the academic study of three separate sciences would be difficult.

The Nuffield Foundation writes:

I stress the words “intellectually challenging”—

and this is where perhaps my noble friend has not fully understood the nature of the new syllabus—

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Who can quarrel with that? It seems an immensely sensible approach. My noble friend shakes her head. You cannot teach the rigours of the separate sciences unless pupils are motivated to take them and understand how they will fit into their lives. That is the principal benefit of this new syllabus and it relates to why so many of us have shared concerns about the reduction in the number of pupils taking science A-levels and those going to university, and the decline in the number of university courses available. We have all been concerned about this and, as we pointed out in the Science and Society report, the disenchantment starts in the schools because the syllabus has not encouraged children to understand the nature of science.

The new syllabus does that and it should be roundly supported. I do not disagree with my noble friend’s second amendment, Amendment No. 96, which seems to express it perfectly. It states:

That sounds very sensible. We certainly need the rigour—the hard graft—necessary in physics, chemistry and biology if we are to create the next generation of scientists to take over from those who are currently carrying the load.

That syllabus has a great deal to commend it. I was grateful for the support of the Minister and from all parts of the House this afternoon at Question Time, because this is a notable advance. If I may say so, it is not presented in a way more suitable for the pub than the classroom. Unfortunately, that was a sound bite that the press found themselves totally unable to resist, so it was repeated in a great many newspapers and other media sources, but it is not true. The new syllabus simply would not have the support of so many eminent scientists and scientific bodies if that were all it was. It is much better than that and it deserves our support.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, I very much support the amendment. I find myself extremely confused. In the letter just read out from the people at Nuffield, the word “alongside” was used—alongside the new syllabus, as I understand it, there will be two further grades: one that is more applied and one that is more academic. As I understand the letter, all of those will be offered at GCSE alongside one another. What does “alongside” mean? Does it mean that people may choose whether to take the syllabus intended to make them scientifically literate but not scientists or take either a more practical application of science or the full, rigorous, three separate subject academic and experimental science to which we are accustomed? Or is it that, in some schools, it will be legitimate to offer only the scientific literacy syllabus, which seems to be more a matter of discussion than laboratory work?

I need that cleared up straight away before I can decide whether to vote with the noble Baroness.

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Lord Dearing: My Lords, I confess that I lack any expertise in this area and my mind is rather transfixed on modern foreign languages right now, but I was involved in this matter when I was chairman of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. I have great sympathy with the concern of the noble Baroness to develop our capability in sciences at the highest level. I should like to clear my mind on some points.

Reference has been made to A-levels. One can take the individual sciences at A-level. The three amendments concern key stage 4. They state that if a pupil has reached level 6 at key stage 4, he or she may have the option of pursuing not general science but the individual sciences. My understanding is that the only duty of the school in relation to key stage 4 science is that the pupil should have followed the programme of study in the 21st century science curriculum. There is no obligation to take the GCSE in it, but they must cover the programme of study. The expectation is that they will do the single-science paper, but they can take any other single science they wish at GCSE. They can, for example, take a single science as an additional science, which can be in an individual science.

If the pupil chooses at the end of key stage 3 to study the individual sciences, as I understand it, there is nothing to stop that pupil taking the GCSE in all three sciences, provided that he or she has covered the syllabus of the 21st-century science. In doing those three sciences, apart from some geology and astronomy, he or she will have done so. It therefore seems that the opportunity is there for the pupil to do an individual science, and I am keen that there should be that opportunity.

When I was chairman of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, I used to knock respectfully at the door of the Royal Society and ask about the individual sciences. There is such a gap between general science at A-level and individual sciences that we are not getting the through put to A-level from the other sciences. The Royal Society used to tell me that it was so important for pupils to have a general understanding of science and that it was worried that, if individual sciences were offered, girls would choose biology and not do physics or chemistry. I used to leave abashed and defeated and say that I could not contest against the Royal Society. I understand that the situation has changed since then and that the only obligation now is to have covered the syllabus for the general science—the 21st-century science. Provided the pupil does that, they can do all three sciences or take the syllabus for the general science for one and do one or two of the others. There are many options.

There is nothing between my objectives and those of the noble Baroness, who says that the cut-off point should be whether the child has reached level 6 at the end of key stage 3. That is a bit above average, but nothing spectacular. When I was revising the national curriculum, there were 10 levels. I recommended reducing it to eight levels, because the high levels were covered by the GCSE. The noble Baroness proposes

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level 6. As I say, that is above average, but nothing spectacular. I think I agree with the noble Lord that a general understanding of science is the important part of education. I would regret it if level 6 was regarded as adequate.

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