Select Committee on Science and Technology Second Special Report

APPENDIX (Continued)

30. We regret the move towards generalist science courses, which we fear will dilute the knowledge base and result in inadequate preparation for higher education in the sciences. (Paragraph 57)

All 5-16 year olds study an equal balance of biology, chemistry and physics, with the majority (77% in 2000) taking the double award science at GCSE. A revised curriculum was introduced in September 2000. The changes in science were designed to clarify and strengthen experimental and investigative science, to place greater emphasis on contemporary science and on applications of science.

The double award GCSE, which is generally delivered using 20% of curriculum time, enables pupils to gain a balanced scientific education whilst also allowing the time to study a broader curriculum. The GSCE double award in science provides a secure grounding for pupils to progress to AS and A level. The Government assumes that the Committee would prefer pupils

to study separate sciences at GCSE level. With current GCSE specifications, this could theoretically be achieved in two ways:

  • All pupils could study three separate sciences to GCSE, which would take approximately 30% of curriculum time. While this would enable pupils to study science in more depth, it would narrow the curriculum by limiting the range of non-science subjects that pupils could study.

  • Pupils could choose to specialise in one or two areas of science, as occurred prior to the introduction of the National Curriculum. The Government believes that it is important for all pupils to receive a balanced science education to age 16. This provides both a general understanding on which 'non-scientists' can draw in later life and a secure grounding for those who wish to continue with further study. The Government has also been pleased to see a gradual reduction in the gender divide post-16. Passes awarded for A level chemistry are now evenly split between males and females. A concern would be that allowing pupils to opt out of certain areas of science at age 14 would resurrect the gender divide.

The Government does not consider that either of these options would be a positive move forwards. However, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) has been asked to consider whether the current science curriculum best meets the needs of pupils in the 21st century. It will report to DfES in 2002.

31. The quality of science teaching in schools has become a major concern. (Paragraph 58)

34. It is essential that the Government develop a clear strategy for improving the quality of science teaching in all schools¼ (Paragraph 60)

The Government notes the Committee's concerns about the quality of science teaching in schools.

Performance in primary science is outstanding. Since 1997 the number of pupils achieving national expectations at age 11 has increased from 69% to 85%. Ofsted has highlighted that the national literacy and numeracy strategies have led to clear benefits in other subjects, including science, and reports that science teaching at ages 11-16 is at least satisfactory in 9 out of 10 lessons and good or very good in 6 out of 10.

To build on this, and to ensure that science teachers have access to the support they need and to high quality professional development, the Government will establish a Centre of Excellence for Science Teaching. The Centre will provide leading edge professional development for science teachers to enable them to develop their professional skills and their knowledge of up-to-date scientific advances. It will also act as the hub of a network linking together schools and higher education providers of science teacher training. In addition, the Government is piloting a Key Stage 3 strategy. The science strand of this strategy will roll out nationally in 2002/03 and will provide focused professional development for all Key Stage 3 science teachers in both pedagogical and subject knowledge. They will receive comprehensive and high quality training that will help to ensure that pupils' progress and learning in Key Stage 3 science is enhanced.

'Learning and Teaching', a strategy for professional development, was launched on 1 March 2001 (see The strategy is designed to give all teachers greatly increased opportunities for relevant, focused, effective professional development, and to place such development at the heart of school improvement. A science teacher who identifies a need to develop their subject or pedagogical knowledge will select the most appropriate professional development activity to enable them to do this. This could take place in school or be facilitated by the range of providers that deliver science specific continuing professional development to teachers. Science Year was launched on 7 September 2001 with the aim of increasing engagement with science and science-based learning. It is targeted primarily at 10-19 year olds and those who influence them, including teachers. The Year is being delivered by NESTA on behalf of the DfES and they are working closely with the Association for Science Education to develop materials and resources for schools. The Government hopes that the Year will have a sustainable impact.

34. ¼ providing for both teachers and students to gain experience of science and technology in "the real world". (Paragraph 60)

The Government wants all children to have access to a range of high quality, focused, structured experiences of the world of work throughout their school career. This includes activities that support the teaching and learning of science and technology. The Government also recognises the importance of providing teachers with access to similar experiences.

As from April 2001, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) has been responsible for ensuring the provision of education business link activity in each of the 47 local LSC areas. To help the LSC meet its responsibility, consortia of education business link organisations have been formed in each LSC area. By providing a single face to both schools and businesses, Education Business Link Consortia should make it easier for both parties to engage in this activity. The consortia will deliver a full range of high quality activities to all children and their teachers, including the wide range of science and technology related education business link programmes and initiatives that already exist.

Professional Development Placements offer opportunities for teachers, as part of their continuing professional development, to update their subject knowledge and increase their understanding of employers' needs. Science teachers are included in the priority group which LSCs and Education Business Link Consortia have been asked to target.

The total core funding allocated to the LSC for education business links in 2001/02 is £23 million. This will be followed by £25 million in 2002/03 and 2003/04. In addition, the LSC will be able to use its Local Initiatives Fund to supplement core funding. DTI are investing £6 million over the next 3 years to provide every child under 16 in the UK with the opportunity to participate in an appropriate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) activity, at least once in each Key Stage, or the equivalent, over the next three years.

32. We note that the House of Lords Committee highlights the decline in the amount of practical work in its recent Report on Science in Schools, and recommends that continuing professional development for teachers should be specifically targeted at the problem of declining practical work. We wholeheartedly endorse these views. (Paragraph 58)

Despite the Committee's observations, there is no evidence that practical work in schools is declining. The Third International Mathematics and Science Study Re-run, published in December 2000, shows that pupils in England do more practical work than their counterparts in many other countries. The importance of scientific enquiry has been further strengthened by recent changes to the National Curriculum. Well-taught practical work, including demonstration, group work and individual investigation, is an essential and valuable part of every child's science education.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is keen that practical work should not be hindered by over-stringent application of health and safety regulations which is not justified by the legislation. The new health and safety statement in Curriculum 2000 clearly identifies the need for students to be taught the skills of risk assessment, and joint guidance for teachers was prepared by the HSE and QCA. HSE is now working at other methods of informing teachers about the statement and what it means, such as producing support materials and influencing the materials produced by a wide variety of educational stakeholders.

If individual teachers or schools identify a need for further development in delivering safe and effective practical work, there are a range of providers who offer this, as well as the expertise within their own and neighbouring schools on which they can draw.

33. How to attract high quality science and technology graduates into teaching is a real problem, to which there is no ready answer. Nevertheless, it is a matter which has to be addressed as a matter of urgency. (Paragraph 59)

The Government is working hard to increase recruitment for science and technology and teacher training and the Committee has noted the £10,000 training package. Most science teachers qualify by taking a postgraduate course of initial teacher training. Between 1999 and 2001 there was a 5% rise in the number of graduates training to be science teachers. In a buoyant graduate labour market, this is good progress after several successive years of decline. By the end of March 2001, there had been a 26% increase in applications for science PGCE training places, including 20% for physics and 20% for chemistry, compared to the same time last year. The Green Paper, Schools: Building on Success, also contains a proposal for the Government to pay off, over time, the student loans of newly-qualified teachers of shortage subjects, including science, who commit themselves to teaching careers in the maintained sector.

In addition, the Government is strengthening employment-based training options. Schools employing trainees on the Graduate Teacher Programme now receive grants of up to £13,000 in a full year in respect of each trainee, effectively making the trainees supernumerary. This programme allows graduates to qualify as teachers while working in the classroom. It has proved especially helpful to schools with hard-to-fill vacancies and for mature trainees who are career-changers. Following the March 2001 budget, the Secretary of State announced that 2,250 fully-funded places a year would be available on the programme. Applicants in the shortage subjects, including science, receive priority for funding.

The Government is also encouraging trained teachers to return to the profession. In particular, it is currently consulting the School Teachers' Review Body on proposals for a Welcome Back bonus for people who return to teaching in the maintained sector between 17 April and 31 December 2001. Under the proposals a higher rate of bonus (£4,000) would be paid to teachers in shortage subjects, including science.

The teachers' pay award for 1 April 2001 included, within its 4.2% overall cost, a 6% increase in starting pay and 30% increases in London allowances. In addition, schools now have 5 recruitment and retention allowances, worth up to £5,000 per annum, available for use at their discretion. These may be paid in the normal way or as "golden handcuffs" at the end of a period of unbroken employment, and they may be used to attract and retain science teachers.

'Learning and Teaching', a strategy for professional development, was launched on 1 March 2001. Evidence already shows that schools with strong cultures of continuing professional development find it easier to recruit and retain staff

The Committee suggested that industry should be encouraged to contribute to the delivery of science and technology in schools. As part of Science Year, the Government will be launching a Science and Engineering Ambassadors Scheme that will encourage scientists and engineers from industry to form links with schools where they will work with both pupils and teachers.

34. It is essential that the Government develop a clear strategy for improving the quality of science teaching in all schools providing for both teachers and students to gain experience of science and technology in "the real world". (Paragraph 60)

See above

35. The inconsistency in the PhD stipend paid by different Research Councils and by independent agencies is unfair and is likely to be distorting, given the current levels of post-doctoral research salaries. (Paragraph 65)

36. We welcome the very significant increase in the minimum PhD student stipend, but we believe that it is still not enough to ensure that the best graduates stay on to do doctoral research. The Government should work towards a further significant increase in the PhD student stipend. (Paragraph 66)

37. While the increase to the PhD stipend is welcome, a more serious problem lies with the pay and conditions for post-doctoral scientists. (Paragraph 67)

38. The Government can no longer afford to ignore the problem of low pay and poor job security for post-doctoral researchers and support staff. A shortage of skilled personnel threatens to undermine its commitment to strengthening the science base. (Paragraph 67)

39. What is important is to build on the strengths of the individual and to accord equal value, and rewards, to both teaching and research. (Paragraph 68)

40. We must do more to support excellent scientists and engineers. (Paragraph 69)

Surveys have not so far suggested across-the-board problems in recruiting high-quality students to PhDs, but take-up is difficult in some subject areas. The Government is not able to prescribe the level at which other agencies support PhDs, and, in view of the pattern of take-up, is not currently minded to do so, other than setting a minimum, for the Research Councils.

The Government agrees that improvement to postdoctoral research careers is highly desirable. Primary responsibility must, however, lie with academia itself and university employers. Reinforcing other measures already taken to encourage improvement, the Government is now considering the large number of responses received, including many from the higher education sector, to its recent consultation on proposals to implement the European Community directive on fixed-term work. This aims to prevent fixed-term employees generally from being less favourably treated than similar permanent employees, limit the scope for using a series of fixed-term contracts to employ the same person in a "permanent" position, and improve access to training and information on permanent jobs for fixed-term employees. In addition, as a result of the last Spending Review, the Government has made substantial additional resources available to the higher education sector to support increases in academic and non-academic pay, to help institutions recruit and retain the key staff they need, and to help modernise management and reward systems.

As the Committee notes, the Government has asked Sir Gareth Roberts to undertake a review of the supply of skilled scientists and engineers in the UK, focusing on the sort of high-level scientific and technical skills that are possessed by postgraduates and, to a lesser extent, by well-qualified graduates. The aim of the review is to ensure that businesses can recruit and retain the scientists and engineers necessary to lead and underpin their research and development activities. The Quinquennial Review of the Research Councils is considering the Councils' role in postgraduate training and research support generally, and the Research Careers Initiative Strategy Group, also chaired by Sir Gareth Roberts, will be delivering a further report later this year on progress in improving research careers in higher education.

The Government will take the Committee's recommendations into account alongside those emerging from these further studies.

41. The Government must ensure that schemes to encourage experienced entrepreneurs from abroad to come to the UK are not undermined by tax disincentives. (Paragraph 70)

In Budget 2000, the Government introduced tax-favoured Enterprise Management Initiatives (EMIs) to help small, higher risk companies to recruit and retain the people they need to achieve their potential for growth, through the award of share options. Further improvements were made in Budget 2001, removing the limit on the number of employees who can benefit from the initiative and doubling the maximum value of options to £3 million per company.

42. We welcome the Government's commitment to improving opportunities for women in science, engineering and technology. (Paragraph 74)

43. It is clear that there are still barriers to women realising their potential in science, engineering and technology. (Paragraph 74)

The Promoting SET for Women Unit in the Office of Science and Technology continues to support projects such as ATHENA, which seeks to tackle inequality of opportunity and treatment for women in the higher education sector. It also brings the expertise of the social science community to bear to help address the barriers to women's progression, in particular in higher education.

One of the key barriers for women is the low rate of adoption of good work-life balance practices in the SET sector. Tackling this will represent a significant challenge over the coming years, as will ensuring that the issue of increasing the role of women in SET becomes part of the mainstream of policy-making.

In schools, there has been some progress in encouraging more girls to study chemistry in recent years, to the extent that it is expected that this year nearly half of all A-level chemistry candidates will be girls. This increase at A-level is feeding through to undergraduate degree courses. It is now important that successes in chemistry be repeated in other subjects where progress has been slow or absent, such as physics and design and technology.

The Stevens Report on the Information Technology, Electronics and Communications industries focused on the likely development of a skills shortage in the sector. It has recommended a number of measures to increase the participation by girls including the establishment of girl-only computer clubs and research on the image and perception of information technology among young people.

44. We stand by our view that the Office of Science and Technology should remain with the Department of Trade and Industry, and that the Minister for Science should be raised to Cabinet rank. (Paragraph 75)

The Government agrees with the Committee that there are advantages to locating the OST within the DTI, in particular that it allows science and technology policies to be developed more closely alongside policies on innovation. Excellence and Opportunity - a science and innovation policy for the 21st century is an example of this approach. In addition, the recent White Paper on enterprise, skills and innovation, Opportunity for all in a world of change, contained a significant SET component. The OST has retained strong links with DfES and, as the Committee acknowledges, the links between science policy, higher education policy and management of the universities have not suffered.

The Minister for Science has day to day responsibility for science policy. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry argues the case for science in the Cabinet. The Government believes that this present arrangement works well.

45. We hope that the departmental science strategies, which are expected to be published in the Summer of 2001, will demonstrate that departments are committing additional funding to research and development. The publication of Forward Look 2001 also provides an opportunity for Government to show the impact of the 2000 Spending Review on overall government expenditure on R&D. (Paragraph 76)

The departmental science and innovation strategies will set out the broad framework within which research programmes and other science related activities are carried out. Rather than specifying funding arrangements, the strategies will demonstrate departments' commitment to optimising the use of science and technology to meet their policy objectives, not only in the short and medium term but in the longer term as well. Funding decisions will flow from departments demonstrating the value added by science related activities to achieving goals and meeting objectives. Some departments have already published their strategies; there may be some delay for areas such as agriculture and environment which have undergone significant changes following the General Election.

The publication of Forward Look 2001 will set out departmental spending plans and the Government's planned investment in the science base arising from the Spending Review 2000. Last year's cross-cutting appraisal of scientific research and the subsequent Spending Review should help to provide some stability over the next 3 years, with some departments anticipating a real terms rise in expenditure on research and development. The publication of Forward Look 2001 is also delayed until new responsibilities and spending plans can be reflected.

46. If public confidence in science is to be restored, it is essential that Government Departments have sufficient well-qualified scientific staff in-house to advise on scientific matters and to ensure that Government is able to make full use of science and technology; and there must be mechanisms to ensure that their advice is taken into account by policymakers. (Paragraph 77)

The Government agrees that it has a responsibility to maintain sufficient in-house expertise and scientific literacy to provide sound advice and to be able to respond to advice from sources outside Government. The Nicholson report of science and technology activities across Government recommended that Ministers needed to ensure that their departments had high quality people with scientific and technical backgrounds to understand science issues, to evaluate advice, and to interpret scientific issues simply and clearly. This recommendation was accepted in the Government's response, which included a commitment for departments to review present and future requirements and supply arrangements. This process is underway.

The need for departments to retain sufficient expertise in-house was also highlighted in the Phillips report of the BSE inquiry[6]. The inquiry found that Government should:

    "¼ retain "in house" sufficient expertise to ensure that departments are able to identify where there is a need for advice, frame appropriate questions, understand and critically review the advice given, and act upon it in a sensible and proportionate manner."

The Government's commitment to carry out a review was again set out in its interim response with an additional pledge to seek wider consultation.

47. Devolution must not be allowed to weaken the UK science base. The Government must ensure that the devolved administrations are fully involved in the development of science policy in order to avoid inconsistency of purpose in the different parts of the UK. (Paragraph 78)

The Government agrees that it is important to maintain a fully integrated, UK-wide science base. A key objective of science policy is to maintain and develop the UK's world-class science and engineering base, funded through the Dual Support system. This includes the Funding Councils of the devolved administrations, and their Education Departments, whose representatives meet with those of the Research Councils under the auspices of the Science & Engineering Base Co-ordinating Committee chaired by the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser.

The Research Councils also include members from both the devolved administrations and universities in their countries who are involved in their policy development and priority setting. For example, the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland is a member of the Medical Research Council.

48. We recommend that the Office of Science and Technology update its report measuring the quality of the UK Science Base on a regular basis. (Paragraph 79)

OST's measurements of the quality of the UK Science Base derive principally from bibliometric data published annually by the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) in Philadelphia. The latest measures were reported in DTI's Expenditure Plans Report.[7] It is planned to publish updates of these measures as soon as the necessary analysis of each new set of ISI data has been carried out. This is expected to be in July of each year.

49. Sustained and substantial funding of the science base will be required to ensure that the UK can continue to 'punch above its weight'. (Paragraph 79)

The Government has already made clear its commitment to properly funding the science and engineering base by injecting large increases into the Science Budget in 1998 and again in 2000 following two spending reviews. In 1998, science received a larger percentage increase in funding than any single government department. In the years 2001-02 to 2003-04 the Science Budget will grow by an average of 7% per year in real terms. These increases have been channelled into all the key areas of science funding: increasing the volume of basic research, restoring the underlying physical infrastructure base, increasing PhD stipend levels substantially, and increasing funding of knowledge transfer and exploitation activities. The Government remains committed to the proper funding of a vital and healthy science base in the long term.

50. We are yet to see hard evidence that the policies introduced by Realising Our Potential have had a significant impact on investment in science and innovation. (Paragraph 80)

While it is accepted that UK R&D expenditure declined from 1993 to 1998, the trends have now been reversed. In 1999 overall UK R&D expenditure increased by 4% in real terms[8] and business R&D expenditure increased by 7% in real terms.[9] In addition, the 1997 Comprehensive Spending Review and Spending Review 2000 are having a positive impact on areas of Government R&D expenditure from 1999/2000 onwards, whilst the White Paper Excellence and Opportunity has introduced measures which will expand the opportunities for innovation. These changes reflect the importance which Government attaches to investment in science and innovation.

6   "The BSE Inquiry" - Report by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, Mrs June Bridgeman CB and Professor Malcolm Ferguson-Smith FRS, October 2000 and the Government's Interim Response, February 2001. Back

7   Trade and Industry: The Government's Expenditure Plans 2001-02 to 2003-04 and Main Estimates 2001-02, (Cm 5112) pages 23 and 82. Back

8   Gross expenditure on R&D increased in real terms from £14.27 billion (1.81% of GDP) in 1998 to £14.91 billion (1.84% of GDP) in 1999. Back

9   Business Enterprise R&D increased in real terms from £9.4 billion (1.19% of GDP) in 1998 to £10.11 billion (1.25% of GDP) in 1999.  Back

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