Select Committee on Science and Technology Tenth Report

CHAPTER 6: Summary of Recommendations

6.1.  We outlined the key points of our report in the Abstract. In this chapter we set out our conclusions and recommendations in full. The numbers in the brackets refer to the relevant paragraphs in the text.

Student Attitudes and Choices

6.2.  There is good evidence that students are opting for "easier" A-levels over the sciences and mathematics, a problem which is compounded by the specialisation forced upon students by the A-level system. We call on the Government to replace A-levels, over the long-term, with a broader-based syllabus for post-16 students. To this end, we suggest that they revisit Sir Mike Tomlinson's proposals for a diploma system and also consider the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. These systems would allow students to maintain greater breadth in their studies, giving them more time to choose the areas which they wish to pursue. They would also result in a more rounded education and would prevent the damage caused by the perception that science and mathematics A-levels are particularly difficult. (2.28)

6.3.  In general, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers advice offered in schools appears not to be of sufficient quality, and the Connexions Service is not well adapted to the needs of high achieving students. The Government have largely neglected careers advice in Next Steps, and this omission should be remedied at the earliest opportunity. We recommend that the Government act upon the findings of the Roberts Review by establishing a small central team of advisers to support existing advisers, teachers and parents in making pupils aware of the full range of opportunities and rewards opened up by studying science, mathematics and engineering subjects. (2.41)

6.4.  The proposed "Careers from Science" website would be a valuable tool in persuading more students to study STEM subjects at A-level and beyond. In light of earlier commitments, the lack of Government assistance to the Science Council is unacceptable. We urge the Government to provide financial and logistical support to the project as a matter of urgency. (2.42)

Teaching Methods

6.5.  We do not believe that Ofsted's new regime for the inspection of individual subjects, based on a small and statistically insignificant sample of schools, will provide sufficiently reliable data on science teaching. We recommend that Ofsted revisit the new subject-specific inspection regime with a view to devising a system which draws evidence from a substantially larger number of schools. We further recommend that subject-specific inspections be carried out by specialists in the subject concerned. (3.7)

6.6.  We welcome the new science GCSE courses, although it is essential that teachers should maintain the necessary rigour in their teaching and ensure that the "hard" science is retained. However, it is unfortunate that the Government opted to roll out the new courses before the results of the Twenty First Century Science pilot could be fully evaluated, and before the other, unpiloted courses had been sufficiently scrutinised. We recommend that, in future, the Government should allow more time between piloting new courses and rolling them out across the country. In addition, the Government must keep a very close eye on how the unpiloted courses are bedding down, providing appropriate support where necessary. (3.16)

6.7.  We welcome the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's (QCA) plans to align the Key Stage 3 programme of study and the science A-levels with the new GCSEs. However, the introduction of the new A-levels in particular must not be rushed. We recommend that the Government review the proposed timetable for introducing the new A-levels, so as to ensure that there is sufficient time for the new GCSEs to bed down and for teachers to adjust before national roll-out. Furthermore, we call on the Government to ensure that some piloting takes place before the new courses are introduced. (3.19)

6.8.  Whilst we welcome the existing schemes that bring scientists and engineers into the classroom, particularly the Science and Engineering Ambassadors Programme, we are concerned that academics and university students receive little recognition for helping to inspire the next generation of scientists in schools. We recommend that the Government work with the funding councils to ensure that outreach work in schools is properly valued as part of the RAE, and to encourage higher education institutions to provide details of any such work in their submissions. (3.30)

6.9.  We welcome the formation of the Regional STEM Support Centres as a means to provide a single, simple source of information on STEM enrichment opportunities. However, the web portal must be comprehensive and accessible. We therefore recommend that there be separate sections for each region, so that the content is tailored to the audience, and teachers and students are thus able to obtain information with the minimum time and effort. (3.35)

6.10.  We are seriously concerned about the impact that the national testing regime is having upon the teaching of science and mathematics. We call on the Government to ascertain as a matter of urgency how the tests can be altered so as to assess a much broader range of skills, thus allowing the teacher greater flexibility in inspiring students in the classroom. (3.42)

6.11.  Practical science is at risk in our schools. We urge the Government to take the following action.

6.12.  A motivated and well-trained supply of technicians is an essential component of effective science teaching. We therefore wholeheartedly endorse the ASE's proposed career structure for technicians, the new NVQ and the virtual assessment centre. We recommend these proposals to the Government, and in addition invite them to consider whether the career structure could be linked to advisory salary scales, in an attempt to increase the almost universally low level of pay for technicians. (3.72)

Teacher Recruitment and Retention

6.13.  We welcome the provision of pre-Initial Teacher Training (ITT) enhancement courses in physics, mathematics and chemistry. We recommend that the Government implement a loan system to help participants—especially those with family commitments—to meet their living costs between the end of the course and the commencement of ITT. We also call on the Government to consider further incentives to encourage higher education institutions to participate on enhancement courses. (4.20)

6.14.  A clear system of accreditation—accompanied by appropriate rewards—is essential if practising teachers without a physics or chemistry specialism are to be persuaded to give up their time to take courses which will qualify them to teach these subjects more effectively. We recommend that the Government introduce such a scheme as soon as possible. (4.24)

6.15.  If the targets for increasing the number of specialist teachers of physics, chemistry and mathematics are to be met, the Government must confront the issue of salaries. Whilst schools already have some flexibility with regard to salaries, the current situation is not satisfactory. We therefore recommend that the Government grant schools a specific right to offer significantly higher starting salaries to candidates specialising in physics, chemistry and other shortage subjects. The Government should simultaneously work to ensure that head teachers are aware of this power and that, where necessary, they make this information available when placing job advertisements. (4.35)

6.16.  Whilst the training bursaries and golden hellos offered to postgraduate trainee teachers appear to have had a positive effect, we are concerned that they may have a fairly short-term impact on the recipient. We call on the Government to examine the merits of reducing the size of the golden hello and offering instead to write off a certain amount of the student debt of new science or mathematics teachers, in return for four or five years of full-time teaching. (4.41)

6.17.  We recommend that the Government introduce a modified version of the Graduate Teacher Programme which will allow those with extensive relevant experience of science or mathematics in industry to gain Qualified Teacher Status more rapidly. We further recommend that relevant knowledge and experience should be reflected in a higher salary for career changers commencing their teacher training. (4.50)

6.18.  We call on the Government to ensure that schools have sufficient powers and funds to offer generous retention bonuses to teachers of shortage subjects, and that those schools with retention problems are fully aware of these powers. (4.59)

Continuing Professional Development

6.19.  Whilst we welcome the Government's attempts to link continuing professional development (CPD) to career progression, we remain unconvinced that those teachers who could most benefit from subject-specific CPD will take advantage of such opportunities. We therefore recommend that the Government introduce a requirement for all teachers—whatever their subject—to undertake a certain number of hours of subject-specific CPD each year. We further recommend that the Government provide schools with ring-fenced funding for supply teachers to cover staff on external CPD courses, whilst simultaneously giving urgent consideration to how the availability of supply teachers or higher level teaching assistants can be maximised. (5.16)

6.20.  We have already recommended that Ofsted revisit the new subject-specific inspection regime with a view to devising a system which draws evidence from a substantially larger number of schools. Following on from this, we recommend that the Government, along with Ofsted, explore more formal mechanisms to promote contact between schools performing poorly in science or mathematics and better performing schools in the area. This would enable teachers, teaching assistants and technicians to share best practice and to find out how they might improve their performance. (5.19)

6.21.  We welcome the new Science Learning Centres, but have serious concerns that they will not be able to attract a sufficient number of attendees once the bursaries have come to an end. We urge the Government to work with the Wellcome Trust to determine how bursaries can continue to be provided in the longer-term, to ensure that the centres are able to flourish. (5.26)

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