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.