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.
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.
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".
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.
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
House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, First Report
of Session 2000-01, Science in Schools (HL Paper 49). Back
See http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/news.asp?id=5215 and http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/page.asp?id=5216. Back
House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Third Report
of Session 2001-02, Science Education from 14 to 19 (HC
Paper 508). Back