Select Committee on Science and Technology Tenth Report


Wednesday 14 June 2006

Members of the Committee present were: Lord Broers (Chairman), Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, Lord Howie of Troon, Lord Mitchell, Lord Patel, Lord Paul, Baroness Perry of Southwark, Baroness Platt of Writtle, the Earl of Selborne and Lord Taverne. In attendance were Tom Wilson (Clerk) and Dr Cathleen Schulte (Committee Specialist).


Recent Intelligence about the Labour Market for Science and Mathematics Teachers: Professor John Howson

Education Data Surveys' research, which involved close monitoring of the employment market, showed that there continued to be staffing problems in science and mathematics teaching. The advent of university tuition fees had adversely affected the number of teacher training applications up to 2000, but this impact had subsequently been reduced by the introduction of the training grant to supplement the so-called "Golden Hellos".

The projected number of applications this year for Postgraduate Certificates in Education (PGCEs) in the sciences was similar to last year's figure, notwithstanding a very high-profile advertising campaign to attract more teachers. There were, however, fewer applications to mathematics PGCE courses so far. The number of applications and acceptances for PGCEs in both biology and combined sciences had risen steadily over the last ten years, whereas the numbers for chemistry, physics and mathematics had dropped significantly before starting to rise again in the late 1990s, following the introduction of the training grant.

Schools were mostly recruiting general scientists—rather than those with expertise in a particular science—in order to teach general sciences. With regard to pay, most heads of science departments earned only around £8,000 above the normal teaching salary, which was thought to be too low given the extra workload involved.

Attitudes to Science Teaching as a Career: Professor Jim Donnelly

A considerable amount of research had been undertaken into attitudes to science teaching as a career. Attractions for potential teachers included working with children, the pleasure of teaching something well, staying with or returning to the subject in question and a more idealistic desire to "give something back". On a more practical level, teaching was thought to provide long holidays and to fit well with parenting—although these benefits could turn out to be illusory. For particular classes of recruit, teaching offered a good salary and job security. Problems in the supply of physics teachers (the key issue in science teacher recruitment) tended to stem more from the smaller pool of potential entrants than from the distinctive characteristics of physics undergraduates.

Factors that deterred people from pursuing a teaching career included student and parent behaviour, salary and career opportunities and adverse working conditions (long hours, poor resourcing, stress, political interference). There were also difficulties in retaining teachers, with workload, pupil behaviour and Government initiatives being the most commons reasons for teachers leaving.

In terms of attracting more new recruits, Government schemes tended to influence those already committed to a teaching career, rather than those inclined not to teach. It was necessary to increase the pool from which science teachers were drawn by improving the curriculum and teaching methods and, in the long term, to ensure that teaching was seen as a properly independent profession rather than a mere tool of Government.

Recruitment and Retention of Science Teachers, and the impact of new science courses: Mr David Bevan and Ms Sue Flanagan

New GCSE science curricula would be taught in schools from September 2006. The Twenty First Century Science courses had been piloted in 78 schools and had proved more exciting and relevant for pupils, although the courses were very hard work for teachers and carried serious resource implications.

However, the press had taken an "unhelpful" attitude to the forthcoming GCSE changes and it was therefore vital to show students that the sciences were worth studying beyond the age of 16. The Treasury's targets for increasing the number of A-level science entries were laudable, but would require a significant increase in teacher numbers.

There was a problem with the "bunching" of new initiatives in science education, with too many things happening at the same time—and it was uncertain whether the Department for Education and Skills was monitoring the situation holistically. It was essential that the changes to the GCSE curriculum be embedded, monitored and evaluated.

Support and Provision for Practical Science in Secondary Schools: Mr Phil Bunyan

Less practical work was taking place in science lessons than formerly, and there was less variety. This tended to be because of teachers' concerns about health and safety—often prompted by mistaken beliefs about which activities were banned—and classroom management. As well as operating a helpline to provide advice on practicals, CLEAPSS offered CPD courses, mostly to technicians but also to some teachers. However, teachers often found it difficult to obtain permission to attend such courses during the week.

Another problem was the state of school laboratories, 41 per cent of which had been classified as "basic (uninspiring)" and 25 per cent as "unsafe/unsatisfactory". Moreover, it was to be regretted that most technicians were part-time and worked only during school hours, because they rarely had time to carry out the required levels of maintenance on the equipment. It was also unsatisfactory that technicians were not usually included in staff meetings.


There was uncertainty about whether the new GCSE curricula would lead to an increased amount of practical work in schools or, by contrast, whether the new emphasis on ethical and social issues might reduce the frequency of practicals. However, regardless of the effect on practicals, courses like Twenty First Century Science were felt to be an improvement—rather than dumbing down the standard of science education, they would enable a better understanding of the role of science in society. There were, though, concerns that such courses were being introduced before being subjected to full evaluation.

It was important that promising young science students should receive a well-rounded education rather than undergoing "hot-housing" which, while it might increase the number of people studying science, could do them a disservice in the long-term by narrowing their options too early. Another issue was industry's desire for a greater supply of scientists qualified to a diploma level. Although an engineering diploma was due to be introduced in 2007/8, it was felt to be "rather dull".

Finally, it was noted that there was no requirement—or even entitlement—for teachers to undertake CPD. It was thought that some form of accreditation in return for CPD would be appropriate, and the ASE's Chartered Science Teacher scheme was a step in the right direction. However, it would be difficult to make progress until proper incentives were made available for CPD.

The participants were:

Dr Stephen Baker, Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA)

Dr Derek Bell, Chief Executive, Association for Science Education (ASE)

Mr David Bevan, Head of Science at Manningtree High School, Essex, and former Chair of the ASE

Mr Phil Bunyan, Director, Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services (CLEAPSS)

Dr Marianne Cutler, Director of Curriculum Development, ASE

Professor James Donnelly, Professor of Science Education, Leeds University

Ms Sue Flanagan, Deputy Head Teacher at Forest Gate Community School, London, and former Chair of the ASE

Professor Matthew Harrison, Royal Academy of Engineering

Professor John Howson, Director, Education Data Surveys (EDS)

Professor Celia Hoyles, Chief Adviser for Mathematics, Department for Education and Skills (DfES)

Ms Sarah Nairne, DfES

Ms Ginny Page, Education Manager, Royal Society

Dr Almut Sprigade, Research and Information Officer, EDS

Dr Kay Stephenson, Royal Society of Chemistry

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