Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report


Timetable for change

69. The problems affecting science at 14-16 are clear: the difficult issue is how these can be tackled. Changes in the curriculum cannot be achieved overnight: teachers need to know of any changes before they start teaching a two year GCSE course so that they can prepare their teaching appropriately. The revised GCSEs, which are being examined for the first time in 2003, should address some of the issues about which we have raised concerns. We therefore expect that the GCSE assessment in 2003 will look noticeably different from that in 2002. Other proposals, such as the review of the National Curriculum, will need more time for development, including genuine consultation with teachers. We see no reason why these discussions should not start immediately, with a view to seeing conclusions implemented from 2005.

Rethinking assessment of the current GCSEs


70. Assessment at GCSE is the responsibility of the three awarding bodies, overseen by QCA. When we first sought evidence from the awarding bodies they told us simply that they "believe that the choice of specifications...meets the needs and aspirations of centres".[141] When invited to justify this statement they subsequently told us that they recognised that "there is a need to include more up-to-date ideas"; that "the applications of science should be highlighted more strongly"; and that there were problems with both practical work and the current single science GCSE.[142] To this we would add that the specifications are overloaded with factual content and lack flexibility. Exam courses should encourage the development of the skills of comprehension, evaluation and synthesis of scientific ideas and information, as much as they do the recall of scientific facts. While the responsibility for the excessive factual content could be blamed partly on the National Curriculum, most of the problems lie with the methods of assessment imposed by the awarding bodies.

71. Some development work is being undertaken at GCSE. OCR are developing an alternative approach to single science GCSE and are also working with QCA on the pilot of a new approach to GCSE science. But overall the awarding bodies seem to be doing remarkably little to resolve to the problems with GCSE science. We are amazed that the awarding bodies take so little responsibility for finding solutions to problems with GCSE science that they themselves have caused. We take little comfort from their ability to identify these problems when they show little initiative in addressing them. Government should make plain to the awarding bodies that the future accreditation of their science GCSE courses depends on them developing imaginative alternative ways of assessing science at GCSE. Any changes to the National Curriculum will have limited impact on the way science is taught in schools if the assessment is not changed too.


72. It is QCA's role to regulate qualifications and they should therefore take final responsibility for the problems that we have identified with science at GCSE. Keith Weller of QCA told us that "it may be¼that the examinations do not always do full justice to the specifications they go with, or indeed, to the curriculum they sit alongside".[143] If that is the case, then QCA should have stepped in to ensure that the awarding bodies changed the way that they assessed science. The quinquennial review of QCA, published in June 2002, recommended that QCA increase its focus on assessing the capability of awarding bodies to fulfil their role, and step back from detailed involvement in individual qualifications.[144] Certainly QCA should give more attention to the capability of the awarding bodies to develop and implement innovative ways of assessing science at CSE. QCA's lack of direction has allowed assessment of GCSE science to stagnate. QCA should now set out clearly what they expect of awarding bodies offering science GCSEs and should intervene where these criteria are not met.


73. As discussed in paragraph 25, the perception of teachers and students alike is that GCSE science exams are based largely on the recall of facts. The GCSE specifications go into some detail about exactly what students should know and teachers go to every effort to cram all this information into the two year course. This leaves little time to explore areas outside the exam course, leaving teachers and students frustrated. Following our evidence session with QCA and the awarding bodies, when we raised these issues, we were sent some examples of questions used at AS and A level in science.[145] One example asked students to answer questions using any appropriate case study that they had covered. A second asked students to write an analysis of a modern application in science using chemical principles learnt during the course, articles provided by the awarding body and further independent research. In these examples, up-to-date science and its applications were used as exam contexts, teachers would have had flexibility in the specific examples that they use in their teaching, and students were required to demonstrate that they could think and apply their knowledge and understanding rather than just regurgitate facts.

74. The awarding bodies told us that it required a minimum of three years to introduce developments in science to GCSE specifications and exams, since teachers needed to know well before the beginning of the two year course what their students would be examined on at the end.[146] Martin Hollins from QCA told us that it would be possible to bring contemporary science into GCSE more quickly if there was a move away from factual recall questions.[147] If GCSE exams were to use a wider range of questions, including some that gave flexibility in the answers that students could offer, this could do much to free up teaching at key stage 4. GCSE exams should also test skills that will be more useful to young people than the ability to learn facts parrot fashion. Similar approaches to assessment are used at GCSE in subjects such as history and humanities. It is surprising that they have not been adopted in GCSE science as well.

75. Teachers from Fareham in Hampshire said that a specimen question produced for the new GCSEs in 2003 showed a welcome shift towards ensuring that students had the intellectual tools to assess future science issues. This specimen is likely to have been approved by QCA at the same time as the new specification. QCA now needs to ensure that all awarding bodies implement and sustain such an approach when it comes to setting actual exam papers. QCA should require awarding bodies to introduce a wider range of questions to GCSE science exams. These should enable issues raised by contemporary science to be used as the focus for questions; allow flexibility for students in their answers; and, most importantly, they should test a wider range of skills than the mere recall of facts.


76. Coursework arrangements for GCSE science are at present pointless and tedious and must be changed. One option would be to do away with coursework altogether. It is clear that teachers and students see practical work as a fundamental part of science education, which helps students to gain understanding, and so it can be assumed that teachers would continue to use practical work as a key part of their teaching even if it were not formally assessed as part of GCSE. Getting rid of coursework would allow teachers to use practical work as and when appropriate to support teaching. In key stage 2 and 3 SATs - the national tests sat by students at ages 11 and 14 - students' investigative skills - planning experiments, interpreting data and drawing conclusions - are assessed through a written exam. It is assumed that teachers will have carried out and assessed actual practical work with their classes as a normal part of their teaching, but hands-on practical skills do not contribute to the test level awarded. A similar approach could be taken at GCSE where practical skills are not formally assessed. The risk would be that - where teachers felt under pressure to maximise exam results, they did not have adequate technical support, their laboratories and equipment were in poor condition or classes are large, the use of practical work would be reduced. Students might also be less interested in carrying out practical work if it did not contribute directly to their final mark.

77. Practical work not only helps students to gain understanding but also develops technical and manipulative skills that will be needed if they continue with science-based education or employment post-16. It could be argued that the ability to use equipment safely and accurately is in itself an important skill that needs to be assessed in its own right. In the past, these skills were tested in practical exams and this remains an option at A level. At GCSE, the numbers now entering science are probably too large to make this option logistically feasible. In any case, there is a risk that practical exams would encourage the rote learning of practical experiments, which would have little value for most students. The alternative to practical exams is to assess practical skills through coursework. We think that it remains important to assess practical skills at GCSE through coursework. But there is no point in continuing with coursework arrangements that have little educational value.

78. Michelle Ryan, a teacher at Ricards Lodge High School in Wimbledon told us that she would like to see students carrying out more open-ended investigations where they could get involved with "proper scientific inquiry".[148] We strongly endorse this view. Students should be given opportunities to undertake inquiries where there is no predetermined answer and to contribute something to scientific knowledge. We can imagine students measuring the water quality of a local river or the incidence of butterfly species in the local area. They could collect field data over an extended period of time, possibly with the aid of ICT. Contributing to national investigations - which have looked at subjects as diverse as background radiation in homes and woodlice populations in the past - might fire students' imagination. Linking practical work to high profile events - the solar eclipse for example - can help to engage students' interest. We are told that, in the United States, students routinely participate in long-term science projects. The students select the topics themselves, which is said to foster creative thinking and an interest in science, and often present their results at school science fairs.[149]

79. It has become the accepted norm that coursework in GCSE science means carrying out investigations. The range of coursework could be widened to include a project chosen by the student and focusing on an area in which they are interested. For example, in the AS Science for Public Understanding course, students have to write a report on a topical scientific issue of their choice and write a critical account of a popular science book that they have read. We could imagine a similar project based approach being used at GCSE. Students could be asked to produce a report on the scientific arguments for and against GM foods, MMR vaccines or an aspect of the history of science.

80. For the GCSEs being taught from 2001, QCA gave the awarding bodies the flexibility to allocate up to 10% of science assessment to coursework other than investigations. This could have included project work, but the awarding bodies chose not to take advantage of this. The awarding bodies did amend the mark scheme for GCSE coursework investigations, with the support of QCA. The changes were intended to enable teachers to be more flexible in the way that they approached coursework. QCA told us that it was too early to see if they were having any effect, or indeed if teachers had yet assessed what the changes might mean for them.[150]

81. We recognise that coursework creates additional burdens for teachers in terms of marking and moderation. It can also raise questions about the reliability of the marks. The '59 Club, made up of the Heads of Science at 26 independent schools, suggested that "only those practical skills which cannot be tested on paper should be subjected to a system of internal assessment".[151] Skills of planning and of analysing evidence should be tested through a written examinations, as in the SATs. They suggest that this coursework component may amount to only 10% of the final mark. This would leave the other 10% available for a more open-ended report on other aspects of science.

82. Coursework in science at GCSE needs a radical rethink. This is the responsibility of the awarding bodies but it is obvious that they are going to need significant encouragement from QCA. QCA should evaluate the coursework submitted in 2003, which will be the first to be submitted under the recently modified arrangements. If there is no significant change in the approach to investigative work, they should enter into immediate discussions with teachers and awarding bodies about how coursework could be changed to encourage more stimulating and engaging practical work in schools. In addition, we would like to see project work available to teachers as an option for GCSE coursework. This may mean reducing QCA's requirement that 20% of GCSE assessment be based on investigative skills measured through coursework.

For the future - should all students continue to study science from 14 to16?

83. The DfES Green Paper 14-19 proposes a more flexible structure for education at 14 to 19 where students would follow a range of vocational and academic courses at times that suit them during this period. To create this flexibility the Green Paper proposes removing the requirement to study a modern foreign language and design and technology between ages 14 -16; and to keep English, maths, ICT and science as compulsory subjects on the basis that they either

Mr Timms, the then Schools Minister, told us that "there was certainly a debate" within DfES about whether science should be kept as a compulsory subject within this flexible 14 to 16 framework.[153] We are convinced that science is essential for progression and for personal development and welcome DfES's decision to keep science as a compulsory element of the curriculum from ages 14 to16.

84. In the foreword to the Roberts Review, Sir Gareth Roberts says that "scientists, mathematicians and engineers contribute greatly to the economic health and wealth of a nation. The UK has a long tradition of producing brilliant people in these areas."[154] He raises concerns that the decline in the numbers studying physics, maths, chemistry and engineering at university level "could undermine the Government's attempts to improve the UK's productivity and competitiveness". We agree. Many government initiatives, such as modernisation of the health service and the development of high tech industries, rely on a body of knowledgeable and skilled scientists, engineers and technologists. Science at school should inspire and prepare students to continue with science related careers. But this is not all. The skills that science education provides are highly valued and scientists are in demand across the economy. Further, science is an integral part of our culture, vital to the understanding of the world around us and a source of inspiration and wonder. Science and technology have a huge impact on our everyday lives and as new developments occur and new possibilities open up there is, and will continue to be, public debate on how these should be used. Everybody needs to be able to recognise the impact of science and technology and to participate in an informed way in the debates on the direction of future developments. The challenge at 14 to 16 is to provide a secure foundation for those moving on to further scientific study post-16 and to give an understanding of science to those who do not; that is, to meet the needs of future scientists and of citizens.

85. The Green Paper also outlines proposals for a new matriculation diploma, which would draw together and recognise qualifications and experiences gained by young people between ages 14 to19.[155] It suggests that students should be able to matriculate at different levels, depending on their achievements, and that both taught and work-based qualifications would be counted. For example, to matriculate at intermediate level, students would either need five good GCSEs or a foundation modern apprenticeship diploma. The Green Paper suggests that in order to gain any diploma, students would have to show competence in literacy, numeracy and ICT. No mention is made of science. Given the decision to keep science, as well as English, maths and ICT, compulsory to age 16, this seems illogical. While ICT is important, science and technology remain vital for the economic wellbeing of the country. In order to matriculate, students should demonstrate that, between ages 14 and 19, they have studied a balance of biology, chemistry and physics to an appropriate level. Most provinces in Canada require students to have gained science credits in order to graduate from school at age 18.[156] Many students gain the necessary credits pre-16 and we can imagine the same situation applying in England. For those students who did not achieve the matriculation requirements for science in England pre-16, further thought may need to be given as to how they could be supported to achieve this. This would apply particularly to students following work based courses post-16, such as modern apprenticeships. Having taken the decision to keep science compulsory to age 16, DfES should include science in the requirements for any matriculation diploma.

What science do all students need?

86. The scientific learned societies argue that pupils should have an "understanding of key areas of science in relation to the ways in which it affects their lives, society and world in which they live".[157] Students need to have acquired knowledge and skills beyond the ability to remember scientific facts. This is described by the Wellcome Trust and others as "scientific literacy".[158] Defining scientific literacy - or what an individual would need to be able to do in order to be scientifically literate - is not straightforward. For instance, the Nuffield Foundation asks "what did the citizen need to understand, for example, to come to a sensible decision about whether to eat beef during the BSE crisis? What does a parent need to know to come to a decision about MMR vaccination?".[159] Research has shown that the knowledge of science that school currently provides is of little value when considering these issues. In addition, much of the scientific knowledge acquired at school is forgotten by adulthood.[160] Rather, what is needed is a much better understanding of the practices, processes and limits of scientific knowledge. Developing such an understanding is essential if individuals are to be able to make personal decisions and to participate in the public debate about the moral and ethical dilemmas increasingly posed by scientific advances. We note the introduction of citizenship to the National Curriculum from September 2002 and suggest that which science can make a significant contribution. What is important is not that citizens should be able to remember and recall solely a large body of scientific facts, but that they should understand how science works and how it is based on the analysis and interpretation of evidence. Crucially, citizens should be able to use their understanding of science, so that science can help rather than scare them.

87. The need for school science to promote scientific literacy is argued in the "Beyond 2000" report, published in 1998 as the outcome from a series of seminars funded by the Nuffield Foundation.[161] The description that it gives of what a compulsory science education for all should be aiming to achieve is shown in figure 4. The UK Deans of Science Committee tell us that "from a higher education perspective, we would happily see the general approach advocated by the Beyond 2000 report applied to the entire secondary science curriculum".[162] They also specifically emphasise "the ability to understand scientific data, including its statistical presentation" as one aspect of scientific literacy.[163] The Wellcome Trust outlined four points that they considered described scientific literacy: citizens need to be able to be engaged in informed discussion about scientific controversy; to evaluate the significance of scientific information that they may hear from different sources; to understand and interpret data giving risk and probability; and to have a basic understanding of scientific methodology and process.[164] In Canada, scientific literacy has been defined as "an evolving combination of the science-related attitudes, skills and knowledge students need to develop inquiry, problem-solving and decision-making abilities, to become lifelong learners, and to maintain a sense of wonder about the world around them.[165]

Figure 4: Extract from Beyond 2000: Science education for the future.
The science curriculum should:
  • ·Sustain and develop the curiosity of young people about the natural world around them, and build up their confidence in this ability to inquire into its behaviour. It should seek to foster a sense of wonder, enthusiasm and interest in science so that young people feel confident and competent to engage with scientific and technical matters.
  • ·Help young people acquire a broad, general understanding of the important ideas and explanatory frameworks of science, and of the procedures of scientific inquiry, which have had a major impact on our material environment and on our culture in general, so that they can:
  • Appreciate why these ideas are valued;
  • Appreciate the underlying rationale for decisions which they may wish, or be advised, to take in everyday contexts, both now and in later life
  • Be able to understand, and respond critically to, media reports of issues with a science component;
  • Feel empowered to hold and express a personal point of view on issues with a science component which enter the arena of public debate, and perhaps to become actively involved in some of these;
  • Acquire further knowledge when required, either for interest or for vocational purposes.

88. It must be recognized that there is a downside to this approach. If teachers are to have the time to teach skills associated with scientific literacy then some of the existing factual content will need to be removed from the GCSE courses. Jerry Ravetz warned that a move too far towards the teaching of cultural aspects of science could mean that "the subject becomes fluffy and loses respect".[166] Ralph Levinson told us that "it has been all too easy, for example, in the general studies course, for students to write about issues without actually presenting any real knowledge of the basic science involved".[167] Some students motivated by such an approach may be encouraged to take post­16 courses, but we see a risk that those who currently enjoy the knowledge based, technical nature of the science curriculum would be alienated by a course that takes a more wide ranging approach. This could be overcome by moving away from the assumption that all students will follow essentially the same science curriculum at 14 to16. Those students interested in continuing with science post-16 would need to take additional science at key stage 4. On balance we believe that the advantages of increasing the priority given to the teaching of skills associated with scientific literacy at GCSE far outweigh the disadvantages.

What science do future post-16 scientists need?

89. The scientific learned societies believe that scientific literacy is a skill required by future scientists so that they appreciate "at an early stage that the rest of society will rightly take an interest in what scientists do and why they do it".[168] In addition, for those continuing with science after GCSE, a wider range and greater depth of scientific knowledge and understanding, a better ability to use maths within science and more developed practical and investigative skills are needed. Some students have told us that GCSE science did not challenge them intellectually or prepare them adequately for the transition to A level. It is important that students are able to follow GCSE courses that fully prepare them to continue with the academic study of science at A level.

90. The new GCSE currently under development by QCA, described in paragraph 17, aims to reconcile the tension between preparing students for further study and for life.[169] The new GCSE will be piloted from 2003. This is a novel approach - changes in the curriculum and examination structure have been introduced in the past without piloting - and very welcome. Michael Terry, a teacher at Copthall School in Barnet, reflecting on the problems associated with implementing the reformed AS and A level structure, told us that "any new initiatives must be trialled and evaluated; properly funded; and with a realistic timetable for implementation".[170] We agree and it appears that QCA are taking this approach to this new GCSE. On the other hand, while we recognise that change creates significant burdens for teachers, if the general consensus is that the current arrangements for GCSE science are failing students, we would like to see change starting to be introduced more quickly. This could be achieved by requiring awarding bodies to develop new ways of assessing GCSE science, as we discussed in paragraphs 73-82. We commend QCA for taking the initiative in piloting a new approach to GCSE science which aims to reconcile the need to prepare some students for further study and to give all students the skills of scientific literacy.

Rethinking the National Curriculum


91. The National Curriculum introduced the requirement that all students study a balance of biology, physics, chemistry, earth science and astronomy to age 16. A key argument for the introduction of balanced science was that it would enable girls and boys to experience the full range of biological and physical sciences without being pressured by gender stereotypes to opt for one area or another at the age of 14. It was hoped that this would increase the demand for A level sciences and lead to equal numbers of boys and girls opting for each of the sciences post-16. This has not happened.[171] The arguments about the benefits of balanced science for all need to be revisited.

92. On the one hand, young people have told us that they often do not have equal interest or aptitude across the sciences and would like more choice at 14. Students may be more motivated if they are able to focus on areas that interest them and drop those that do not. On the other hand, if the requirement for balanced science were removed, it could exacerbate the still existing gender divide across the sciences and further reduce the proportion of students interested in continuing with science post-16.[172] Students are often not aware at age 14 of what the different sciences involve. In Scotland, where students do not follow balanced science to age 16, the gender divide is introduced in biology and physics when choices are made at age 14 and there have been significant decreases in take-up of the sciences post-16.[173] At the same time, the traditional boundaries between the various scientific disciplines are becoming increasingly blurred. Young scientists that we met at the Royal Society of Chemistry told us that they found it useful to have a grounding across all the scientific disciplines. Science-based issues faced by citizens also span the full range of the sciences and so a broad basic knowledge should enable young people to feel confident in engaging with these as they arise.

93. We would like to see the balanced science approach continue at key stage 4. This does not mean that we think it necessary for students to continue to study equal amounts of biology, chemistry and physics, but that they should be taught the core principles in each of the three sciences. Beyond this core, students should be able to select areas of science in which they are interested for further study. If DfES's vision of a flexible 14 to19 phase of education comes to fruition, students could take up other areas of science later on if they wished. We support the balanced science approach and believe that it should continue to apply for all students. However, within this, there needs to be flexibility and scope for choice by individual students to allow them to explore areas of interest.


94. Since the introduction of the National Curriculum, most students aged 14-16 have spent the equivalent of one day a week, 20% of their time, studying for double science GCSE. It was hoped that the introduction of compulsory biology, physics and chemistry to 16 would, by forcing students to keep their options open, increase the numbers continuing with science post-16. In fact, the proportion of young people choosing to go on with the study of science has fallen.[174] The question arises whether the 20% science for all at key stage 4 has been counterproductive.

95. It can be argued that, by age 14, the interests, aptitudes and abilities of students vary widely. Students have already experienced nine years of science education. Forcing those whose interests lie in other areas of the curriculum to spend one fifth of their time on science may increase their aversion towards it. No other curriculum area is allocated this amount of time. The skills of scientific literacy and an understanding of the key principles across the sciences, which we would like all students to develop, could be taught in 10% of curriculum time at key stage 4. Those with an interest and motivation in science could choose to spend more time studying it, which would prepare them to move on to science post-16 through either traditional or vocational routes. Those students who wanted to take up additional science later on would be able to build on their core knowledge. Making decisions about science at age 14 would also promote discussion about the value of science education. Currently, these discussions are postponed until students are able to make a choice about science at age 16, by which time it is too late and many have already 'switched off' science. With less science teaching being carried out at key stage 4 it might be possible to reduce class sizes in science and reduce the pressure on teacher supply - although these are not in themselves arguments for reducing the amount of compulsory science.

96. The counterargument is that 20% science is now the accepted norm in most schools and one that science teachers have fought hard for. Science is not a single subject but three, or more, combined into one. It is therefore logical that more time should be allocated to science than other subject areas.[175] If students were given the choice between 10% and 20% science, there is a risk that many would choose the former, shutting off the option of continuing with sciences post-16 and leaving them ill-prepared to handle science in everyday life. This is a particular risk while there is so little flexibility and choice available to students in science from 14 to 16. To make this choice at an age when students have had limited opportunities to consider the value and relevance of science education would be unfortunate, not only for them but for the economic wellbeing of the country. There is also a danger that removing the 20% minimum would allow schools to introduce 10% as a norm, further reducing students' opportunities to study science. This may be particularly likely to occur where schools face problems recruiting science teachers or are looking to save money.

97. The modern foreign languages are another curriculum area which suffers from teacher shortages. The Green Paper 14-19 proposed that foreign languages could become optional at 14 to 16 in order to increase flexibility at key stage 4. This was to be balanced by the provision of languages at primary level. The Green Paper says "the majority of schools will no doubt continue to prepare students for GCSE".[176] However, it has been reported that nearly 30% of schools have jumped the gun, seizing the opportunity to make languages optional from September 2002.[177] Of 300 students in one Sheffield secondary school, only eight are reported to have chosen to continue with French to GCSE and 16 with German. It seems that the Government is unable to intervene in such situations. It would be a tragedy if schools were to take a similar attitude to science, requiring students to take only the existing single science GCSE as a compulsory subject. We fear that this fact-driven course would send students' engagement with science on a rapid downward spiral.

98. On balance, we are persuaded by this second argument. We believe that reducing the commitment to science at key stage 4 would be a regressive move and that 10% science would rapidly become the norm. We believe that science at key stage 4 can become an attractive and valuable experience for all students. All students should continue to spend 20% of their time studying science. At the same time, the National Curriculum at key stage 4 must be restructured to allow the development of a range of different science GCSE courses. This should enable students to choose courses that complement their abilities and interests in science. All GCSE courses should prepare students to feel confident with the science that they are likely to encounter in everyday life and provide a route to science post-16, either through traditional A levels or through vocational qualifications.


99. The effects of an over-prescriptive curriculum were discussed in paragraph 25. Ed Walsh, a teacher at Roseland Community School, Truro told us that schools "do not try to teach the whole gamut of history or the geography of the whole world, but I think we are still hung up at key stage 4 in trying to cover all areas of science and that is a mistake".[178] QCA told us that this was because "when the National Curriculum came in, what it did was merge together all the sciences into something called 'science', and people were very nervous about losing their own section".[179] QCA felt that attitudes were now changing. This has been reflected in the evidence that we have received. Colin Osborne from the Royal Society of Chemistry said that "there are some fundamental, major ideas of science that all people need to have".[180] Nigel Thomas from the Royal Society told us that "it almost does not matter what you cut out".[181] There was general agreement among witnesses that the topics covered should be reduced.

100. The only courses available that fulfil the National Curriculum are the single, double and triple science GCSE options. A wider range of qualifications is essential if the needs of all students are to be met. The new GCSE in Applied Science, like the foundation and intermediate GNVQs before it, is an attempt to do this. None of these courses fulfil the requirements of the current National Curriculum.[182] This seems odd. Science is a compulsory subject for good reasons and the National Curriculum is there to ensure that all students receive the science education that they need. If the National Curriculum does not allow sufficient flexibility for a range of qualifications to be developed that fulfil students' needs then this is a clear message that it needs to be rewritten. We are pleased that Government has recognised this in the DfES Green Paper 14-19. It states that the National Curriculum for science is to be reviewed "to achieve a core of science relevant to all learners. This smaller programme of study could be built into a wider range of qualifications".[183] We would expect that a new National Curriculum would define only the science that all students should learn. This would incorporate key ideas from across the sciences together with knowledge and skills associated with scientific literacy. Qualifications would be built on this core, giving choice and flexibility to teachers and students to identify courses that allowed them to study aspects in more depth. QCA should work together with stakeholders, including learned societies, teachers and students, to agree a National Curriculum that defines a minimum core of science that all students need to be taught at 14 to 16. This should include some of the key ideas in science across biology, chemistry and physics and a range of skills and understanding associated with scientific literacy. All qualifications in science offered at key stage 4 should then fulfil these revised National Curriculum requirements.

101. The revised curriculum, which will be assessed for the first time in 2003, does include aspects of what can be described as scientific literacy. An extract is shown in figure 5. It is by no means comprehensive with, for example, no mention of risk or use of different types of evidence in science. A new science curriculum will need to define more explicitly the skills and knowledge associated with scientific literacy.

Figure 5: Extract from the key stage 4 National Curriculum for Science: ideas and evidence.
Pupils should be taught:
  • ·how scientific ideas are presented, evaluated and disseminated [for example, by publication, review by other scientists]
  • ·how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence [for example, Darwin's theory of evolution]
  • ·ways in which scientific work may be affected by the contexts in which it takes place [for example, social, historical, moral and spiritual], and how these contexts may affect whether or not ideas are accepted
  • ·to consider the power and limitations of science in addressing industrial, social and environmental questions, including the kinds of questions science can and cannot answer, uncertainties in scientific knowledge, and the ethical issues involved.

141   Ev 118, Appendix 14 Back

142   Ev 118, Appendix 15 Back

143   Q461 Back

144   Qualifications and Curriculum Authority: Quinquennial Review 2002. Chapter 7, paragraphs 3-7. Available via  Back

145   SED 42. Supplementary memorandum, unprinted Back

146   Q472 Back

147   Q475. See also Ev 116, para 17 Back

148   Q244. See also Ev 85, para 6 Back

149   See Annex II Back

150   Q455 Back

151   Ev 207 Back

152   Green Paper 14-19, paragraphs 3.9 and 3.10 Back

153   Q502. See also Ev 92, para 2.6 Back

154   Roberts Review, foreword Back

155   Green Paper 14-19, chapter 4 Back

156   See Annex II Back

157   Ev 83, para 2 Back

158   Ev 158, Appendix 29, para 5. See also Ev 88, para 2. Back

159   Ev 155, para 11 Back

160   Ryder, J. (2001). Identifying science understanding for functional scientific literacy. Studies in Science Education, 36, 1­44. Zimmerman, C., Bizanz, G. L., & Bisanz, J. (1999, March 28­31, 1999). Science at the Supermarket: What's in Print, Experts' Advice, and Students' Need to Know. Paper presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Boston. Back

161   Beyond 2000: Science education for the future. 1998. Available at See also Ev 155, paras 7-10 Back

162   Ev 113, Appendix 1. See also Ev 88, para 3 Back

163   Ev 111, para 1 Back

164   Q357 Back

165   See Annex II. See Also Ev 161, para 9; Ev 170, para 5 Back

166   Q360 Back

167   Q373 Back

168   Ev 83, para 2 Back

169   See comments Ev 83, para 3; Ev 92, para 2.2; Ev 111, para 1; Ev 133, para 19; Ev 175, para 6 Back

170   SED 70 Unprinted evidence. See also Ev 181, para 6 Back

171   See figure A4, Annex 3 Back

172   See also Ev 114, para 2.4; Ev 144, para 16-17 Back

173   Ev 128, para 10; Annex 3, figure A5  Back

174   See figure A3, Annex 3 Back

175   Ev 92, para 2.7 Back

176   Green Paper 14-19, paragraph 3.17. Back

177   Times Educational Supplement. Friday 24th May. Page 1. "Schools jump the gun in ditching languages". Back

178   Q272 Back

179   Q464 Back

180   Q13. See also Ev 162 paras 4-5 Back

181   Q13 Back

182   This is permitted under the provisions of Section 96 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. Further information is available from Back

183   DfES Green Paper 14-19, paragraph 3.11 Back

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