Select Committee on Science and Technology Tenth Report

Science Teaching in Schools

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

1.1.  Good science teaching in schools is fundamental to the relationship between science and society as a whole. This became clear to us when, in 1999-2000, we conducted the major inquiry that resulted in our 2000 report Science and Society.[1] Even though we chose not to focus on education in that inquiry, its importance was so clear that we simply could not ignore it. We not only devoted a chapter in that report to science education, but shortly thereafter initiated the short inquiry that led to our 2001 report Science in Schools.[2]

1.2.  In both these reports we argued for a high and consistent standard of continuing professional development for science teachers, and for more and better quality practical work within science teaching. These two issues remain crucial to improving the motivation of science teachers, raising the quality of teaching, and thus to engaging young people with science.

1.3.  Since 2001, the Government have displayed an impressive determination to improve the teaching of science and mathematics and to engage students more effectively in these subjects. In particular, Science and innovation investment framework 2004-2014: next steps, published in March 2006, set out ambitious targets to increase the number of students taking A-levels in physics, chemistry and mathematics, and the number of teachers specialising in those subjects. However, the decline in the number of students sitting A-level physics has continued apace, and there remains a shortage of specialist chemistry and physics teachers. Clearly more needs to be done.

1.4.  As recently as September, the newly-formed Science Community Partnership Supporting Education (SCORE) partnership warned that "the next generation of scientists could be lost if urgent, concerted action is not taken". The partnership, which brings together the scientific learned societies, the Science Council and the Association for Science Education, will focus in particular on the two issues mentioned above: the low take-up of physics A-level and the shortage of specialist chemistry and physics teachers. It aims to do this by providing the Government with "a coherent voice from the scientific community, advising on how to best address some of the key issues facing science education".[3]

1.5.  This is therefore a timely opportunity to revisit the themes of our previous reports, focusing on the take-up of science and mathematics at GCSE and beyond, teaching methods, the recruitment and retention of teachers, and the role of continuing professional development for teachers. In so doing, we have opted to focus on secondary education in England, although we acknowledge the great importance of quality science and mathematics teaching in primary schools. We have not looked in detail at the science curriculum, which has only just been reviewed at GCSE level, partly in response to the 2002 report by our sister Committee in the House of Commons, Science Education from 14 to 19.[4]


1.6.  We received valuable written and oral evidence from the witnesses listed in Appendix 2, for which we are most grateful. In addition, we thank those who took part in our seminar at the House of Lords on 14 June 2006.

1.7.  We are also indebted to those who made our visits to the National Science Learning Centre, Huntington School, York and Little Heath School, Reading so successful.

1   House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, Third Report of Session 1999-2000, Science and Society (HL Paper 38). Back

2   House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, First Report of Session 2000-01, Science in Schools (HL Paper 49). Back

3   See and Back

4   House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Third Report of Session 2001-02, Science Education from 14 to 19 (HC Paper 508). Back

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