Select Committee on Science and Technology Tenth Report



Effective science teaching in schools is essential, both for ensuring a satisfactory degree of scientific literacy in society at large, and for equipping the next generation of scientists and engineers to progress into higher education and beyond. In this report, we seek to show how the examination system and the provision of advice to students can be improved; how science and mathematics teaching can be enhanced and enriched; how the current problems with teacher recruitment and retention can be tackled; and how the take-up and provision of continuing professional development (CPD) can be addressed.

There is good evidence that students are opting for "easier" A-levels over the sciences and mathematics. This problem is compounded by the fact that students are being forced to study an excessively narrow range of subjects at too early an age. The Government should replace A-levels over the long-term with a broader-based syllabus for post-16 students. To this end, we recommend that the Government both revisit Sir Mike Tomlinson's proposals for a broader diploma system for 14-19 students and give further consideration to the International Baccalaureate. These systems would ensure that students receive a more rounded education and do not over-specialise before they have seen the merits of pursuing science and mathematics. We also call for the Government to improve the quality of careers advice in schools as a matter of urgency.

We are deeply concerned about the impact that so-called "teaching to the test" is having upon the quality of science and mathematics teaching. We therefore call on the Government to alter the current testing regime so that the tests assess a much broader range of skills, thus allowing teachers greater flexibility to inspire students in the classroom. In particular, we believe that the Government must act to secure the future of practical science in schools. We call for a central website on practical science to help address health and safety fears, and urge the Government to improve their unsatisfactory "exemplar" designs for science laboratories by consulting much more widely with experts in the field. Finally, we recommend a proper career structure and improved pay for school science technicians, who continue to be undervalued in spite of the crucial role they play.

There is a serious shortage of specialist physics and chemistry teachers, which is a barrier to better teaching of these subjects. We strongly believe that this issue can only be tackled effectively if schools are given more freedom to offer significantly higher salaries to candidates with specialist qualifications in these subjects: market forces cannot be ignored. We also call for the Government to offer longer-term incentives to science and mathematics teachers, by reducing the size of the golden hellos and offering to write off student debts in return for four or five years' service. Finally, we call for a better-paid and faster route for those people with substantial expertise of science or mathematics in industry to gain qualified teacher status.

On professional development, we recommend that the Government make it compulsory for teachers to undergo a certain amount of subject-specific CPD each year. We also call for additional ring-fenced money to be allocated to schools in order to cover the cost of supply teachers standing in for staff on CPD courses.

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