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My main pointthe Minister will correct me if I am wrong; indeed, I am watching the officials eyes and mouths to see whether I am getting it all wrongis that there are opportunities to pursue the individual sciences. I cannot contest with the noble Lord or comment on the value of 21st-century science, but I take his word for it. I wanted to clarify what I believe to be the reality of the options.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, there are clearly educational needs for at least two kinds of course in this area. One is to provide an understanding of science for those who will not become specialist scientists. There is a desperate need for that in our culture. Many of the issues on which voters will vote in the next election and in subsequent elections have a scientific content that requires a basic understanding, for example, of where we go on GM crops or nuclear powerI could list the issues. There is a great need for such education. Equally, there is a need for education in specialist science areas. The question is how we reconcile the two. As ever, my noble friend Lord Dearing is rightwe are not divided over the objectives; the question is how we get there.
My worry is that the amendment would in effect compel the school to provide, in so far as it entitles the child. The alternative, of course, is to compel the child by loading up the core curriculum, which is what we used to do. What this amendment proposes would create the same problem that affects modern languages. We want to persuade people to opt for these courses, and the way to do that is not to compel the school to provide them but to ensure that teaching is improved and is of the highest quality. I have to say that the statistics given earlier about the recruitment of science teachers are very important. My feeling is that we tackle the issue in the wrong way by compelling schools to provide. We should look at ways to improve the quality of science education so that it becomes attractive.
Lord Lewis of Newnham: My Lords, I should like to add one or two points. I agree with quite a lot of the discussion that has been put forward today. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, that we need the type of course being suggested. Having looked into thisnot in detail, I must admitand having spent the past 40 years involved in syllabus corrections and curricula dealings in chemistry, I can look at it with a degree of objectivity.
One problem is quite simple: we have two different sections of the community, as we have heard. We need to recognise that there is a need within the public to understand science. However, my experience has been that the correlation between that course and the
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We cannot consider the curricula in bits, as we do. There is a continuum that must go from GCSE to AS-level to A-level and, perhaps I may dare say, to universities. In many ways, universities are the culprits in this because they set the standards of entry. Very often, they set the standards by saying, We want the old A-level type of result and do not recognisethe problems which have now become inherent in the whole concept of modern day society; namely, that we must educate people in a general way and then allow for specialisation to come forward. I have great sympathy with the suggestion being made. I believe that the only way we will deal with the present AS/A-level is by having specialisation at earlier stages. In my mind, the correct answer is to look now at the AS and the A-level.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I should like to put a question to the Minister. I was a schoolboy science enthusiast and had my first chemistry set at the age of eight or nine. I have been stimulated by this tremendously important debate. Conducive to the ends of this debate, what is being done to enable pupils to have access to science laboratories during the school day and after school so that we can motivate and engage them to go into further and higher levels of study? It was valuable for me to be able to go to my science lab to conduct experiments at break time all through my schooldays. I hope that that question is helpful.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, this has been an immensely useful debate. I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, whose speech I greatly appreciated, that if every time I saw a tendentious front page of a newspaper I cancelled my subscription to it, I would be reduced now to reading House of Lords Hansard. Important as that publication is, one probably needs a slightly larger diet in order to survive from day to day. But the point that he made about the misreporting of the new science syllabus was correct: it was very poorly reported in the publication to which the noble Lord referred.
I was delighted to hear the support that has come from all sides of the House for the science syllabus. We believe, as do Nuffield, Wellcome and others, that it could play a very substantial role in boosting interest in science among young people and in making it more interesting and exciting to teach. Motivation
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I am able to offer a correction to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. It is the first time in my life it has ever happened and I simply cannot resist doing so. I have received advice from the Box that although it is true that schools are obliged to ensure that students follow the programme of study, there is also a statutory duty on schools to put pupils in for public examinations for which they have been prepared. Therefore there is a duty on schools to put pupils in for at least the first of the science GCSEs. Wherever possiblewhich will be in the great majority of caseswe wish pupils to be put in also for the second general science GCSE. Indeed, we are about to introduce a performance indicator from next year which will publicly identify, school by school, the proportion of pupils who are entered for the two science GCSEs. This is in response to concerns that the take-up of the second science GCSE needed to be improved.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but we need a little clarification on these Benches which will be quite crucial to the decision that we make. Did I understand the Minister to say that students who have taken the Nuffield science coursefor which, I repeat, we have enormous respectcannot take separate sciences at GCSE?
Lord Adonis: No, my Lords, absolutely not. I shall come to the issue of the three individual sciences in a moment. Pupils have an entitlement to the two new science GCSEs and the programme of study that goes with it.
As to the issue of the three individual sciences, which the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is seeking to promote, there is a great deal of unity of purpose across the Chamber. I need to describe our policy because it accurately reflects what both the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and the noble Lord, Lord Lewis of Newnham, set out in their criteria for how we should approach the subject.
Taking up the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, made earlier, there has been no statutory entitlement to the three individual sciences. Before 1988, in the national curriculum there was no entitlement whateverthat was part of the great problem with the education system. There was an entitlement to the double science course thereafter, but not an entitlement to the three individual sciences.
However, when we sought systematically to review the improvements we needed to make to school science and to ensure an adequate supply of students going through the system, and published in March our Science & innovation investment framework 2004-2014, which my department conducted with the Treasuryit is a detailed publication which owes a
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The document Science & innovation investment framework 2004-2014 set out very significant new entitlements that we intend to introduce to the three individual sciences. It sets out two which are precisely captured in the noble Baronesss AmendmentsNos. 96 and 97. First, those pupils who achieve level 6 or above, who are the higher performing pupils, in the key stage 3 test at the age of 14, should from 2008 have an entitlement to study the three individual sciences.
To give your Lordships an idea of the scale of the entitlement we are introducing, this year 41 per cent of pupils achieved level 6 or above in sciencethat is 259,000 students. As of this year, only about 45,000 students are doing the three individual sciences at GCSE. So we are increasing from about 45,000 to 259,000 over the course of the next two years the group of students who will have an entitlement to study the three individual sciences. As I say, that is about 40 per cent of the cohort going into GCSE which is a very generous interpretation of the group described by the noble Lords, Lord Sutherland and Lord Lewis.
Our second policy announcement was that comprehensive schools which have a specialism in science, of which there are nearly 300, should also, from 2008, have a requirement to make available the three individual sciences, on the grounds that in addition to schools already offering the three individual sciencesand quite a number of state schools dothey would have the greatest capacity to have teachers in physics, chemistry and biology to offer the individual sciences. That highlights the type of networking and cluster-type arrangements which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, described. We see them as hubs in their communities for excellence in science education; they are the schools most likely to be able to offer the three individual sciences, and to do so on a collaborative basis with other schools.
That is a very substantial addition to the entitlement that will be available to the three individual sciences. We believe that that very ambitious programme of extending entitlement to the three individual sciences is as far as it is practical for us to go at the moment, given the supply of teachers in the system. Despite the big incentives we have put in the system, which have led to significant increases in the recruitment of science teachers in all three disciplines, it is still not sufficient for us to have a universal entitlement in all schools and for all pupils to study the three individual sciences, much as I would like to make that available now.
As of January this year, the National Foundation for Educational Research found that 26 per cent of schools for 11 to 16 year-olds had no physics specialist, while 12 per cent had no chemistry specialist. We are significantly increasing the supply of both physics and chemistry teachers; we have set targets in the documents to which I referred earlier for a very significant further increase in both disciplines, and are increasing the golden hellos and other payments to encourage graduates to come forward. But I do not believe it would be appropriate and right for us to put in legislation requirements on schools which they simply cannot meet at present.
While Amendments Nos. 96 and 97 reflect accurately the policy we have set out to increase the availability of the three individual sciences and to extend the entitlement substantially in the way in which I have describedup to about 40 per cent of the cohort over and above those who can do the general scienceto make it a universal entitlement at one stroke, as the noble Baroness proposes in Amendment No. 95, would simply put a burden and a requirement on schools which they are unable to meet. It is much better to go down the path described by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, of having a great increase in the supply of science teachers, focused particularly on the science specialist schools, and then seeing how, from those hubs, we can spread out a steadily wider availability of the three individual sciences.
I hope that the noble Baroness will not press Amendment No. 95. If she does, we will simply be unable to support it because I cannot say that the school system can deliver the objective she wants. However, with regard to Amendments Nos. 96 and 97, under Clause 71(5)(b) the Secretary of State has a power to prescribe entitlements in respect of science within the curriculum. If she does not press those two amendments, I will undertake to see how the requirements that the Secretary of State prescribes reflect our policy on the further extension in availability of the three individual sciences. I believe that that will secure the objective that she is seeking in respect of her second and third amendments. However, as I say, Amendment No. 95 is simply not deliverable on the current scale of resources and the current capacity of schools.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I accept that there is a critical shortage of properly qualified science teachers. But my concern is that as long as the three separate sciences are available only to those high achievers from the age of 14, we will have even fewer qualified science teachers for the future.
There is a downward spiral in terms of the number of science teachers. I appreciate that the Government are putting a number of incentives in place, and I applaud that. But the fact that there is a lack of qualified teachers should not be a reason why fewer pupils are allowed to study all three of the separate sciences.
The new curriculum may offer high achievers the opportunity or the entitlement to study the separate sciences, but my belief is that all children, no matter what their academic capability, should be allowed to study the three separate sciences up to the age of 16. That has always been the case in the independent sector. It is tragic that we are reducing childrens life chances in the state sector by making this possible only for high achievers.
I have never said that I am against the new curriculum for the 21st century, but having one system alongside the other is a problem. Unless we properly prepare students in all three separate sciences, or give them that opportunity right from the start, how will they then be able to go on to A-levels and universities such as Imperial College to become the next scientists and science teachers of the 21st century?
We are asking for a simple shift on the part of Government to allow all children, whatever their capability, to learn and develop their aspirations and inspirations in terms of the future of science. I therefore welcome the Liberal Democrats support. Children should be able to make the choice to learn those three separate sciences up to the age of 16.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness in her winding-up, but I thought that I had indicated to her that the Government had convinced us and that we would not support her amendment.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, that is a great pity. We are denying more than half of children who are learning science in school the opportunity to study the separate sciences. It is why parents from whatever background are doing everything possible to move their children out of the state sector and into the independent sector, where they are being given greater life chances. That is a tragic situation. I shall test the opinion of the House, because I believe that what I am asking for is reasonable.
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