Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report


The Science and Technology Committee has agreed to the following Report:




1. School science education has long attracted considerable interest. The Devonshire Royal Commission published a report in 1875 which said that "still no adequate effort has been made to correct the deficiency of scientific instruction pointed out by the commissioners in 1861 and 1864. We were compelled therefore, to record our opinion that the present state of scientific instruction in our schools is extremely unsatisfactory". This Committee in previous Parliaments raised issues relating to science education in several reports.[1] The Education Committee published a report on science education from 7 to14 in 1995. In 2001, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee reported on continuing professional development for science teachers.[2] The Council for Science and Technology considered continuing professional development in their report on science teachers, published in 2000, and reported on the relationship between the sciences and the arts in 2001.[3]

2. Science education is a matter of crucial importance to the UK, both for the future generations of scientists, engineers and technologists and for the wider public. Science and technology are essential for our economic competitiveness, and to our quality of life and lie at the heart of our history and culture. We need people qualified in science and engineering at all levels and all areas of the economy. We decided that our first major inquiry of the Parliament should be into science education in schools. Our intention was to influence the review of science education which is to be undertaken following the recent Government Green Paper 14-19 and to complement the Review led by Sir Gareth Roberts on the contribution of school science to ensuring a supply of scientists and engineers.[4] Our inquiry relates to England, though our findings may have relevance to other parts of the UK.[5]

3. Our terms of reference specifically excluded the issue of teacher supply, on the ground that this requires an inquiry of its own and could not be limited to the shortage of science teachers. The supply of science teachers is a crucial issue and has been raised with us repeatedly, and is a particular concern for physics and chemistry where there are severe shortages of subject specialists. The developments in curriculum and assessment discussed in this report will have no effect unless a strong and confident teaching force is maintained.  

4. We began our inquiry by holding an informal seminar in January with Professor Edgar Jenkins, formerly of Leeds University, Professor Robin Millar of York University and our specialist advisers. We had an informal meeting in February with Sir Gareth Roberts. We issued a call for evidence and have received 107 items of written evidence from individuals and organisations. We held five oral evidence sessions with: scientific and engineering learned societies; AS and A level students, held at the Science Museum in London; practising teachers, Further Education lecturers and technicians; employers, universities and witnesses interested in science for citizens; and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the awarding bodies, and Stephen Timms MP, the then Schools Minister at the Department for Education and Skills.[6] The Committee visited Quintin Kynaston School, St John's Wood, London and Westminster School, London to speak informally with teachers, technicians and students. A further informal meeting was held at Westminster with staff and students from Hammersmith and West London Further Education college. To compare the system in England with that in Scotland, the Committee visited Beeslack High School, Penicuik, near Edinburgh. We were briefed there by Jack Jackson HMI on science education in Scotland and discussed the issues further with four other science education experts. We also met with teachers, students and technicians. Individual members of the Committee made informal visits to schools and colleges in their constituency areas: Fareham, Norwich, Trowbridge, Bolton, Somerset and Castle Point in Essex. Details of these visits are printed in Annex 1.[7]

5. We are grateful to all those who have assisted with the inquiry, and in particular to our Specialist Advisers: Professor Michael Elves, former Director of the Office of Scientific and Educational Affairs, Glaxo Wellcome plc; Professor Jonathan Osborne of King's College, London; and Ms Becky Parker, former Head of Science at Simon Langton Girls' School, Canterbury. Our thanks are also due to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on which we have relied heavily for staff support in this inquiry.

6. The young people from whom we took formal evidence were drawn from the steering group of a student review of the National Curriculum. This review was based on an on-line survey of people's views of GCSE science. The survey was carried out between October 2001 and March 2002 under the coordination of the Science Museum. 2,000 young people from across the country responded. We ourselves conducted a small survey of the views of young postgraduate and postdoctoral scientists, brought together by the Royal Society of Chemistry in March 2002, on their experiences of science education at school.

7. We are grateful to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Science and Technology Unit for providing us with information about science education in a number of countries overseas. Details are given in Annex 2.[8] We have also received useful information from UNESCO, which has been active in promoting good practice in science and technology education around the world, and from the Spanish Senate where the Education, Culture and Sport Committee is conducting an inquiry into science education in secondary schools, motivated by concerns which are very similar to our own.[9]

8. In this report we set out the findings of our inquiry. We explain the existing arrangements for science education from 14 to 19, identify problems which currently exist at 14 to 16 and post-16 including the resources for practical science, and propose a number of ways forward. Our intention is that this report will draw political attention to science education, inform the House and influence Ministers in developing Government policy and allocating expenditure.

1   Most recently, Sixth Report, Session 2000-2001, Are we realising our potential?, HC200-I, paragraphs 57-60. Back

2   Education Committee, Fourth Report, Session 1994-95, Science and technology in schools, HC28-I. House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, First Report, Session 2000-2001, Science in Schools, HL49. Back

3   Science Teachers: a report on supporting and developing the profession of science teaching in primary and secondary schools, February 2000. Imagination and Understanding: a report on the arts and humanities in relation to science and technology, July 2001. Both reports are available via Back

4   Green Paper 14-19: extending opportunities, raising standards was published by DfES in February 2002. Chapter 3 refers to science. It can be seen at The Report of Sir Gareth Roberts' Review into the supply of scientists and engineers was published in April 2002 . Chapters 2 and 3 refer to schools. Available via­ Back

5   Responsibility for education in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Back

6   The transcripts of the oral evidence, and written evidence, are published in Volume II to this Report Back

7   See p 65 Back

8   See p 70 Back

9   For details of UNESCO's science and technology education programme see

Details of the Spanish Senate's inquiry can be found via Back

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