Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 333-339)




  Chairman: Thank you for waiting this long. You are batting last but there has not been a collapse like the England cricket team so you are okay. We are very glad to welcome you here and we look forward to our session. I will turn over to my two colleagues, Mark Hoban and Andrew Murrison.


  333. Could I ask about the dual award for science at GGSE. We have heard so far that there is a declining number of students going on to study AS-levels and A2 for science and that FE colleges need to put booster classes in place for maths for people doing science A-level and chemistry for biology. Has the balanced award been a success?
  (Mr Bell) Yes.

  334. But the evidence suggests otherwise.
  (Mr Bell) It depends where you start with your evidence. If what you are trying to do is put something new at one level but you are not making any modifications to what follows, then it may well not work. It is like introducing and giving you directions to a place without realising they have altered the roads. If you are look at balanced science at Key Stage 4, what you are producing is not somebody who has done biology/physics/chemistry or any combination of those three but a different sort of student with different qualities which can be built on through into the higher levels. You need to start to compare like with like as to what you are taking students on to rather than just saying it has not worked because there is an incompatibility there.

  335. That does not sound as if we have got a very coherent system of education. We have heard there is a turn off of students through the education system, how they seem very motivated by science at an early age, and we have heard how FE colleges are working hard to remotivate them at 16-plus, but there is a huge turn off in the middle. What is causing that? Is that the syllabus that we are promoting where you have got a situation where physics is being taught by biologists in many schools?
  (Dr Moore) Can I make a further comment to that. Clearly we have seen evidence where a dual award system has worked perfectly adequately if the system within the school is built on where they got to post-16. I think there are other issues. This was invented more than 15 years ago and the world has changed significantly in lots of ways. One of them is the amount of science that is now taught in primary schools so children are arriving now at a system constructed 12 or 15 years ago. Many of us would agree that we need to change Key Stage 4 and we hope that that process is beginning.

  336. What would you like to see changed in Key Stage 4?
  (Dr Moore) More relevance and more choice. There is another factor in there I would like to hoist in. My background is as a teacher although I am running the ASE and I taught for 20 years. In the early days children only had physics, chemistry, biology and maths to choose from whereas now there is a vast range of A-levels and it is easier for a 15-year-old to see where sports science is going than to understand where physics or chemistry may lead them as a career. There are other elements in there apart from what they are experiencing in the curriculum. It is their perception of where that subject is leading them which is maybe something we have underplayed as well.

  337. What do you mean by increasing relevance and choice?
  (Dr Moore) I mean trying to teach the subject in the 21st Century with the science that they see around them on the media and the television. We need to provide opportunities where they can discuss what is going on in today's science rather than the science of 50 or 100 years ago.

  338. So you are looking to increase people's scientific literacy?
  (Dr Moore) Yes.

  339. How does that then lead on to the study of A-level science? Because you are more literate does not necessarily mean a population or cohort that is prepared for the move to A-level.
  (Dr Moore) It maybe produces a different challenge to your A-level teachers. You have got to recognise that the system has to adapt and if that is one of the adaptions we have got to make that is perfectly within our capability in my view.
  (Ms Scott) Could I make a point about the differentiation between sciences. Of course, as soon as they leave school and have to make a choice they are back into their three divisions and making choices on which to choose. Although there are advantages to a combined approach, there are also disadvantages in that students may not necessarily be aware which bits of science they are studying are biology, chemistry or physics. In other words, they do not have those labels attached to them so it is more difficult for them to differentiate the bits that they do not like from the bits that they like. There is therefore a danger that if they are turned off part of the course, double award science is seen as a single subject rather than possibly allowing for differentiation at the next stage. There are issues that what was a good idea before is perhaps now not helping students to make the right choices at the next stage. There are new developments in the curriculum which are now allowing for that differentiation to be brought back through the addition of extra units so that there are going to be three separate sciences and I think that is probably for the good.
  (Ms Norrington) I was jotting down earlier "horses for courses", but it is probably "courses for horses" in the sense that we are trying to fit a very wide beginning with very wide areas of interest into a fairly narrow target when we get towards A-levels or the equivalent advance qualifications. Therefore, with the wide range of alternatives of which we have already heard examples, we have to accept that more is different. If we are going to do more of it, it is going to have to be slightly different with different end points and different ways in. What we have got to do is make sure we are enhancing science as a whole rather than worrying about whether we are getting people to the same position they used to be in, if that makes sense.


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