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As an example of what others have done, first-year engineers at MIT are required to study biology. This increase in breadth inevitably means that some depth will have to be sacrificed in the traditional core of the syllabus, and it is unreasonable to expect students to arrive at university as well prepared in the core subjects as they were in the past. It is better that they come with a broader knowledge base, although in delivering that, the fundamentals of science and mathematics should be maintained in school curricula.



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To accomplish breadth and at the same time bring students to an adequate level at graduation, it will probably be necessary to lengthen the courses for those who intend to become professional engineers and scientists, but this greater length is not needed by those studying science and engineering as a general education. For them, a broader base would prepare them better for what in future are likely to be far more diverse careers with periodical retraining and realignment during the working lifetime.

Both needs would be satisfied if we adopted a three-year plus two-year structure, where a relatively broad three-year undergraduate degree was followed by a two-year master’s degree. Those seeking a general education would leave university after three years or go on to broaden their horizons by studying non-science subjects such as law, economics or management, while the professional scientists and engineers would go on to take a two-year master’s degree. The latter would also better prepare them for a PhD. At present, an increasing number of students studying for a PhD have to spend their first year reading to bring themselves up to the level at which they can commence their research. Hence, science and engineering PhDs end up taking four or more years.

I am concentrating here on the physical and biological sciences, engineering and mathematics. Arts, humanities and social science subjects provide different postgraduate challenges and, in particular, one-year master’s courses have proven especially successful in these subjects and should continue. However, our four-year science and engineering master's courses, in part justified because of a perceived slippage in our school education standards, themselves fall between two stools. They are longer than is necessary for those who are not going to be specialists and too short for those who are. The three plus two format, which was more widespread in the middle of the 20th century in the UK, and which has now emerged in the Bologna agreement, is better suited to future needs.

No matter what the format, it is important to avoid asking young people to decide what they want to do before they have the knowledge, intelligently, to do so. For example, it is not necessary to ask students to commit to the majority of professional careers until the second or third year of university, and it is certainly wrong to try to persuade them to commit to given professions while they are still at school.

Good science teaching both in schools and in universities is of extraordinary importance and must continually be adjusted to take account of the ever-increasing reservoir of human knowledge. We are not seeking some ideal system that will last us for decades. We need to adjust our syllabuses and the way in which we teach them every few years and it is not clear that we have been doing that. Change is overdue.

In concluding, I would like once again to draw attention to the recommendations in the Select Committee's report Science Teaching in Schools and compliment our Clerks, Christopher Johnson and Tom Wilson, on the outstanding way in which they co-ordinated our inquiry and drafted the report. The recommendations, if implemented, would

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significantly improve the present standard of our science teaching in schools and I encourage the Minister to look once again at those recommendations that the Government have chosen not to pursue. I beg to move for Papers.

2.45 pm

Lord Winston: My Lords, this is a slightly curious situation when we have two debates in one. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Broers, on his outstanding contribution in chairing the recent inquiry, but also an introducing this debate, which is of immense importance. There is an echo in this debate of the one that we just had on stem cell research and it is interesting how much they are linked. One that came up during that debate was that of public engagement and the notion of public responsibility that scientists have. There is a real need now to consider how important that is, particularly in teaching in universities and, to a large extent, in schools, which is essentially where we change the fundamental culture of our society.

There is a huge job to be done if science is to remain both wanted and respectable, and something that is seen as promoting and improving the quality of life for individuals in this country, overseas and for the protection of the planet. The first thing that we need to be thinking about in terms of public engagement, is how we try to do better at university level. It is interesting that recently HEFCE introduced its Beacons for Public Engagement initiative. There are a number of issues about how that initiative was introduced—in my view, rather too hurriedly with not enough thought. It is also true that it might have been better focused in some ways on the real issue that we are facing this afternoon—science. But it is good that that initiative has happened and perhaps, over the next few years, we may see it develop.

One of the things that concerns me as a scientist in a university is the poverty of ability of so many young scientists to communicate their science to other people, both in written material when they write reports when they are eventually published, but also in how they communicate their science outside. That should be an essential part of the university course. We should also recognise the relevance of science to society and face the fact that we as scientists do not own the science that we do. It is a public matter and something about which we need to listen to the public and understand.

It is also surprising that, as far as I know, no university in the United Kingdom teaches ethics as a matter of routine to its science undergraduates. We do so in medical schools in that part of university, but not in general to the rest of our undergraduates. That is something that we should address now and think about more carefully.

The nature of science is something that we too often neglect. We think of science in terms of certainty rather than uncertainty. Seeing that he has been mentioned already once this morning, the sad thing about the title of the book The God Delusion is that it implies a kind of certainty about the universe that a good scientist should not entirely share. In an

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important echo of the previous debate, we need to understand the nature of commercial activity. To hark back to that debate, if we allow too much private funding on stem cell research, that may be the worst solution in terms of how we exercise control over what is done in the public's name in universities.

With regard to teaching in schools, it seems to me that the report has made some really valuable recommendations, and I hope that the Government take them seriously. I shall address just two aspects—the issue of continuing professional development for teachers and the issue of practical science. There needs to be recognition that continuing professional experience must be audited, properly monitored and rewarded. There needs to be dedicated time out for teachers to do this in a constructive fashion and it needs to be specified with validated teaching materials.

What turned me on to science at the age of 13 was a boring chemistry lesson—my first such lesson ever—when a master at St Paul’s stood in front of the class for 10 minutes, with his hands behind his back, describing some abstruse piece of chemistry while we all went to sleep. He was an exceptionally boring man—but suddenly behind him there was a flash of light, a huge bang, and the entire room was filled with smoke. Mr Langham, the teacher in question—and I see the noble Lord, Lord Baker, smiling at the memory of this man—caused such a commotion in the form that we were completely glued to chemistry ever afterwards. Sadly, the Health and Safety Executive would now have something to say about that, but we are too timid in that regard. In my own laboratory at Hammersmith we cannot even put posters up showing the work that we have just published because the Health and Safety Executive says that it would be a fire hazard. How ridiculous.

Practical work is something that we need to concentrate on much more. It is quite shocking; I go to about 20 schools a year, some of them primary schools but most of them secondary schools, to give various informal tutorials. It is shocking how many poor laboratories I have visited that are in disrepair right across the sector in secondary schools. That is a matter of public shame.

There are many other aspects to this subject, but I conclude with a recent example in New Zealand. I was incredibly impressed at a recent visit two weeks ago, at the Liggins Institute which is run by a fellow of the Royal Society, Peter Gluckman. The institute has employed a science teacher inside the research institute who brings in pupils from schools throughout Auckland, and about one-third of the pupils doing science in Auckland have visited already and have been absolutely turned on. It is extraordinary the response that those children have. There should be a better connection in all sorts of ways between school teachers, children at schools and the universities.

2.52 pm

Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, there can be no doubt of the importance of today’s subject if Britain is to retain its economic success in today’s

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competitive world. There are few areas of industry and commerce in which a sound and innovative knowledge of science, technology and maths is not essential. That means attracting young people into careers in those fields who have a good understanding of those subjects enabling them to keep up with worldwide progress and pursue new ideas themselves with success. That is now not happening enough, as is clearly shown in the tables in chapter 2 of our report. It is vitally urgent and needs action.

There are several reasons for this decline: a shortage of inspiring teachers, although there are many good ones, and careers advisers; and the view that scientific subjects are difficult, which leads to easier choices of A-level and degree subjects by young people and their schools. Maths, physics and chemistry do demand bright answers and our report shows clearly that they are difficult subjects. Therefore, the Government need to do all that they can to recruit inspiring teachers and careers advisers into these subjects. Science commands good salaries elsewhere, so good science teachers need good salaries if they are to be attracted into schools—and golden hellos are a good idea. People who have worked in industry and decide to change careers need positive action, too, and I am glad that their numbers are increasing. Their working experience could do much to make the subjects more interesting for young people and persuade them to make scientific career choices.

I have declared my interest as an engineer and as patron of the WISE campaign—Women into Science, Engineering and Construction. Marie-Noelle Barton, the director, gave valuable advice as a witness. Females form 52 per cent of the population at schools and as adults. Therefore, we need to do far more to attract them into these fields—otherwise they can be regarded as male subjects, which they are not. WISE and the Women’s Engineering Society have provided a database for the ambassador scheme so that successful young women can come into schools and describe in an exciting way the rewarding nature of their careers. All the problems in need of solution, as I shall describe, make girls less likely than boys to choose scientific and engineering careers, so urgency must be added to the solution if we are to make them attractive and see an improvement in these fields. I implore the Government—action, not just words.

Often careers advisers, who are mostly humanities based, can put young people off scientific careers. Their lack of knowledge and experience leads to their regarding work in these fields as boring. Anyone who has worked as a scientist or engineer knows that that is not true. Problems in pharmacy, aviation, the health service—or the production of mobile phones—are interesting to solve and give those involved exciting possibilities of success in their working teams. Connexions needs to encourage the least able, but not enough is being done in the careers service to attract technicians, chartered scientists and engineers to choose further and higher education leading to rewarding scientific careers. Again, urgent action is needed.



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The schools are over-dominated by targets. They have recently been described as results factories. Dr Pike of the Royal Society of Chemistry said, “Scrap targets”, which I have a feeling might be a good idea. League tables can lead to young people being actively discouraged from these subjects. Science teachers need to be freer to teach their subjects in their own way. They also need to be able to take up continuing professional development in the knowledge that the money is available for CPD, if necessary ring-fenced, and to recruit supply teachers so that their classes are not neglected when they take their courses and they keep up to date. Those scientific supply teachers may later become full-time, which would be good news.

We were worried about the opportunity for practical work, which young people enjoy. It is absolutely necessary that better labs should be available. Their design and improvement must be carried out with the advice of the experts in local authorities, the Association for Science Education and the scientific institutions, which will need capital investment as soon as possible. That is an urgent matter, too, as some labs are very unsatisfactory indeed. Those labs need well-trained technicians to support science teachers if they are to teach practical work in an interesting way. Experiments need to be well prepared and the ASE’s proposed career structure for technicians with good salary scales will make that an attractive career option.

There are encouraging things in the Government’s response: the ambassador scheme, student associates, the international baccalaureate expansion, science regional centres and Project Faraday—but none of this will come cheap.

2.59 pm

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Broers, for introducing this important debate. I am a former science teacher. I taught general science in a comprehensive school—a boys’ school—and biology up to A-level. That was a long time ago, but I think that I can assure the noble Lord that, at least at that time, I was rather creative. Indeed, I can honestly say that many of my boys will never forget some of my demonstrations.

We have two clear tasks when teaching science: to provide a rigorous foundation for the young professional scientists of tomorrow and to produce scientifically literate young citizens. In relation to the first group, there are so many opportunities available to bright young people, and we need to attract the brightest of them into science rather than other often better-paid jobs. Science subjects are perceived as difficult with the result that they are avoided by many. Therefore, we need to make the subject interesting and relevant. Coincidentally, these are exactly the same criteria needed to attract the second group—the scientifically literate citizen. How do we do that? It boils down to motivation, which comes from three things—teaching, resources and curriculum. First, we need enthusiastic, confident teachers trained in their subject, who undergo regular CPD. That is why I support the committee’s Recommendation 6.19 that

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all teachers be required to take regular subject-specific CPD, with the appropriate support for the school to enable them to do so.

This ongoing training is particularly important when it comes to practical work both inside and outside the school. Many of your Lordships will have received the briefing from the Field Studies Council, which gave the horrifying statistics that less than 5 per cent of GCSE students will have the opportunity for residential science fieldwork while even at A-level nearly half of biology students will do no fieldwork at all, or have only half a day’s experience. One has to ask oneself why this is. The Field Studies Council has 17 field studies centres and there are others, but there are clearly nowhere near enough. If schools demanded them, I am sure that the market would provide them, but schools are not demanding them because the national examination system does not require, or cannot assess, field studies skills. But they are crucial to any serious science course and are very motivating to young people.

To study biology without going into the field is like trying to study music without ever going to a concert: it is impossible. It is clear that the decline in field work has been partly responsible for the decline in the number of students choosing to study science. The committee rightly points out that good quality fieldwork helps to improve educational standards and student motivation. That is my personal experience. It also develops a wider range of skills and qualities than are normally assessed in the national tests. Therefore, I join the committee in calling on the Government to review the place of practical science within the national tests and to look at how a broader range of skills can be assessed.

Of course, most practical work is in-school and here we come to another problem—resources. Many school labs are too small for the groups working in them and that is downright dangerous. The Government have failed to deliver the £200 million promised for school laboratories. Whether this is due to the failure of the Building Schools for the Future programme I do not know, but I do know that a good, spacious, well-equipped laboratory block enhances a student’s experience and keeps him safe. I therefore welcome Project Faraday, which will provide model laboratory designs and demonstration buildings. How are the Government monitoring how the Building Schools for the Future money is being spent on science laboratories? How are they collecting data on the quality of provision and the impact it is having?

Children with disabilities and other special needs often require a learning assistant or qualified classroom assistant to help them and to keep them and their classmates safe in the laboratory. That is why I welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring that every school that wishes should be able to recruit at least one science specialist higher-level teaching assistant by next year. How are these people being trained? However, I am concerned that this should not be at the expense of a school having an adequate number of trained laboratory technicians. Teachers rely on technicians. Without them no science department can function properly. They are vital

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members of the team. Yet, until recently, there has been no proper career structure or training programme. Like the committee, I applaud the Association for Science Education’s recent career structure and training proposals and its findings on the almost universally low pay. When I was teaching I had two wonderful technicians without whom I could not have functioned. Their successors should be treated better than they were.

It is vital that the new GCSE curriculum is exciting and relevant; otherwise students will not achieve, nor choose to pursue, their science education to the next level. It must include real hands-on practical work, not just watching teacher demonstrations and videos. Internet searches and films may add to the interest and value of the science curriculum but they should never be regarded as a substitute for carrying out, evaluating and accurately reporting the results of experiments. There is real concern among teachers and others that too little time has been allowed for schools, awarding bodies and authors of textbooks to check the scientific accuracy and safety requirements of practical activities to be used for teaching and assessing the new GCSE science curriculum. They believe that the same issues may well arise with the new A-levels and the revised key stage 3 science.

This morning I visited Haggerston School in Hackney where the new 21st century science GCSE is being taught. I thank the girls, head, teachers and the school secretary for making me so welcome. I saw classes taking the applied science programme and the additional science. Both classes were engaged and interested. It was clear that they did plenty of practical work, mainly inside the laboratory. Both courses are very discursive so I worry a little about students for whom English is not their mother tongue. However, the teaching vehicles were varied and interesting and I had no qualms about the scientific rigour of both courses.

Those of us who learnt science the old way need to remember that today’s schools are teaching science to all children, many of whom would never have learnt it in the old days, because today’s young citizen is even more affected by science than we were. Maggie Kalnins, the head of the school I visited this morning, made a very interesting comment. She said, “I think this new curriculum will bring a wider range of types of people into science”. I hope that it does.

3.06 pm

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am very grateful to have the opportunity provided by the noble Lord, Lord Broers, to debate this matter. I immediately echo what he said at the end of his speech, which was picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, on the importance of breadth—for scientists, who absolutely need to be able to communicate these days, whether they are going on to be pure scientists or, most particularly, if they are going on to do other things in life; and for those who are not centrally scientists who need to understand what science is about because it is such a large part of society today. That would help us to be less plagued by the panics and misunderstandings which populate our newspapers. In both those areas

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universities have a great role to play, although I very much hope that it will be done by encouraging some universities to go down what might be called the American route of providing much broader degrees, or at least broadening out what they offer at the moment rather than compulsion or moving from one pattern to another. I think that students, by and large, can choose. If Oxbridge wants to remain in the 15th century, it is entitled to do so, as it has done for instance in German, which is why those who really want to study that language go somewhere else.


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