LIST OF RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
The GCSE curriculum
1. It is clear that the major problems
lie at key stage 4. ... Many students lose any feelings of enthusiasm
that they once had for science. All too often they study science
because they have to but neither enjoy nor engage with the subject.
And they develop a negative image of science which may last for
life (paragraph 24).
2. The GCSE science curriculum is over-prescriptive.
This puts students off science because they do not have the flexibility
to explore areas which interest them. It kills the interest in
science which may have been kindled at primary school (paragraph
3. If students are to be able to see the
relevance of their school science, the curriculum should include
recent scientific developments (paragraph 27).
4. Students want the opportunity to discuss
controversial and ethical issues in their science lessons, but
this happens very rarely. Engaging in debate is an approach to
teaching that is unfamiliar to many traditional science teachers;
and the way that science is assessed means that students are not
rewarded for thinking for themselves or for contributing their
own ideas (paragraph 28).
5. During GCSE students repeat much of
the science that they have covered in key stage 3. Inevitably
they find this boring (paragraph 29).
Practical and fieldwork
6. The science curriculum at 14 to16 aims
to engage all students with science as a preparation for life.
At the same time it aims to inspire and prepare some pupils to
continue with science post16. In practice it does neither
of these well (paragraph 32).
7. We endorse the view of the Field Studies
Council that fieldwork should be strongly recommended in all courses
8. In our view, practical work, including
fieldwork, is a vital part of science education. It helps students
to develop their understanding of science, appreciate that science
is based on evidence and acquire hands-on skills that are essential
if students are to progress in science. Students should be given
the opportunity to do exciting and varied experimental and investigative
work (paragraph 40).
9. The way in which coursework is assessed
for GCSE science has little educational value and has turned practical
work into a tedious and dull activity for both students and teachers
Use of ICT
10. ICT may have the potential to revolutionise
science teaching but the evidence would suggest that it has not
yet had a real impact in many schools (paragraph 42).
11. There needs to be a clearly defined
role for ICT within science teaching if it is to have any real
educational value (paragraph 43).
12. It would seem that students study
science post-16 not because of science at GCSE but despite it
13. It seems that recent reforms to post-16
education have not produced a significant increase in the number
of students studying sciences (paragraph 47).
14. We welcome the increase in the number
of girls studying biology and chemistry to A level that has occurred
since the introduction of compulsory balanced science to GCSE.
In particular we are pleased that girls now make up 50% of A level
chemistry entries. We are, however, concerned that physics remains
an unpopular option with girls (paragraph 50).
15. The falling number of boys choosing
biology and chemistry A level is a matter for concern. The reasons
for this need to be investigated further and we recommend that
DfES fund research in this area (paragraph 51).
16. The GCSE science curriculum fails to
provide for the differing interests of boys and girls (paragraph
17. We welcome the introduction of pupil
level ethnic monitoring by DfES. We trust that the data will show
the performance of different ethnic groups in science subjects
and recommend that this information will be made public as part
of DfES's annual statistics publications (paragraph 54).
18. It would appear that some of the usual
assumptions about the relative participation of men and women
in science and engineering are simply not true in respect of ethnic
minority students (paragraph 55).
19. Students may be dissuaded from studying
science at A level if they think it will be harder work than other
subjects and more difficult to achieve a high level grade (paragraph
20. The mathematical requirements, or students'
perceptions of the mathematical requirements, of A level sciences
puts students off choosing to study these subjects. This particularly
applies to physics (paragraph 59).
21. Students' awareness of scientific careers
and the value of transferable skills gained through science would
appear to be limited (paragraph 63).
22. The vocational options in science
are not yet attracting students. More should be done to provide
attractive vocational courses and to ensure that students are
well aware of the potential value of the qualifications for a
range of future careers (paragraph 65).
23. Where universities place restrictive
demands on applicants, specifying grades in three A level subjects,
students are unlikely to place value on broadening their education
24. 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 (paragraph
25. 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 (paragraph
26. 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 (paragraph 75).
27. 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 (paragraph 77).
28. 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 (paragraph
Science for citizens and for scientists
29. 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 14-16 (paragraph 83).
30. 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 (paragraph 84).
31. Having taken the decision to keep science
compulsory to age 16, DfES should include science in the requirements
for any matriculation diploma (paragraph 85).
32. 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 (paragraph 86).
33. 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
34. 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 (paragraph 89).
35. 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 (paragraph 90).
A new curriculum
36. 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 (paragraph 93).
37. 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
38. 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 (paragraph 100).
39. A new science curriculum will need
to define more explicitly the skills and knowledge associated
with scientific literacy (paragraph 101).
40. Incorporating scientific literacy
in the National Curriculum will not, on its own, be enough. If
this aspect of the curriculum is to receive the attention that
it deserves it must be given a higher priority in assessment (paragraph
41. Research and development needs to be
undertaken to develop ways of assessing the skills associated
with scientific literacy. This should be seen as an urgent priority
and funded by Government (paragraph 103).
Support for teachers
42. If science teachers are to be asked
to teach a different curriculum at key stage 4, they will need
time, resources and training. The Government must ensure that
all three of these are available to teachers before implementing
any major changes in science at key stage 4 (paragraph 104).
43. QCA should work together with the
awarding bodies to develop a range of courses in science at key
stage 4 that reflect the diverse interests and motivations of
students (paragraph 105).
44. The evidence from A level courses that
focus on presenting science in contemporary and relevant contexts
suggests that it is possible to attract girls to study physics
and for them to enjoy the experience. This has lessons for the
study of physics at 14 to 16. QCA should explore how the curriculum
and assessment at key stage 4 could be adapted to reflect the
positive features seen in the new physics A level courses (paragraph
45. We recommend that the Government consider
how best to ensure the future of the Ishango after-school Science
Clubs, if necessary by continued central government funding (paragraph
46. The African-Caribbean Network for Science
and Technology recommends that the Government commission further
research on race equality in science, maths and technology and
explore ways of targeting resources on underachieving groups.
It calls for science teaching materials to be developed to encourage
multi-cultural and anti-racist teaching; and for teaching training
and continuous professional development for science teachers to
include these elements. We endorse these recommendations (paragraph
47. We welcome the establishment of science
and engineering specialist schools as a recognition that Technology
Colleges, although numerous, are not representing the breadth
of science and technology education. The Government should set
a target for the number of science and engineering specialist
schools within the overall target of 1,500 specialist schools
by 2005 (paragraph 111).
48. We urge scientific bodies to consider
how they can encourage and support schools to apply for science
specialist status (paragraph 112).
49. In providing A level science courses
it is difficult to strike a balance between attracting a broad
range of students and providing the content needed for transition
to science-based courses at university. The onus should be on
universities to adapt to the changing nature of their intake.
The Roberts Review recommends that the Government fund universities
to use new "entry support courses" and e-learning programmes
to bridge gaps between A levels and degree courses. We endorse
this recommendation (paragraph 115).
50. On balance we are persuaded that the
mathematical demands of school science at A level are appropriate.
Where students need support with their maths, additional maths
courses are available for schools to offer. Any increase in the
maths content of A level science courses would risk alienating
students further. Where universities require greater mathematical
skills, they should take action to teach these themselves (paragraph
51. The Government should ask QCA and the
awarding bodies to explore how it would be possible to address
the imbalance in grading across A level subjects (paragraph 117).
52. FE colleges offer a range of science-based
vocational courses linked to specific careers. These give students
the opportunity to engage with science and achieve where they
may previously have struggled (paragraph 118).
53. For those students who do not achieve
grade C in GCSE science, there need to be intermediate qualifications
available that will allow them to move on to AS and A level or
VCE (paragraph 119).
Science for all
54. In evaluating the new AS and A level
structure, the Government should look closely at whether the changes
have successfully broadened the curriculum studied by post-16
students. If this is not the case, Government should consider
the introduction of a compulsory post-16 curriculum, which would
include science as one of its core subjects (paragraph 121).
55. Improving the experience of science
at 14 to 16 in the ways that we suggest in this report should
motivate students to consider studying science post-16. They should
be provided with proper careers advice. Government should ensure
that the careers service improves the quality of advice offered
to school students about scientific careers and the breadth of
career possibilities open to those with qualifications in science
56. We welcome the motivation behind the
Government's Science and Engineering Ambassadors initiative and
look forward to seeing an evaluation of how effectively it is
implemented and what impact it has (paragraph 123).
57. A benefit of requiring science to be
taught using contemporary contexts is that it would encourage
more science teachers to make use of local science based employers
to support their teaching (paragraph 125).
58. Good laboratory and prep room facilities
are important because they enable high quality practical work
to be carried out in a pleasant environment, motivating and inspiring
staff and students alike (paragraph 127).
59. It is appalling that the laboratories
in one quarter of England's secondary schools are in such a poor
state that the quality of teaching is being directly affected
60. We welcome the £60 million committed
to laboratory refurbishment by DfES; this should have made a significant
impact. We are very surprised that DfES has not evaluated what
impact this substantial sum of public money has had on those schools
most in need (paragraph 128).
61. We recommend that, over the next three
years, the Government ringfence a minimum of £120 million
to bring all school laboratories and prep rooms up to at least
adequate standard. This money should be allocated direct to LEAs
so that it can be targeted at those schools most in need (paragraph
62. DfES should ensure that schools are
properly informed of the importance and costs of maintaining expenditure
on science equipment (paragraph 131).
63. We expect to see action taken within
the next year to address the appalling pay and conditions of science
technicians and to create a career structure that will attract
skilled and dedicated people to work as technicians (paragraph
64. It is essential that technicians have
opportunities for professional development. This will mean not
only making appropriate courses available but also ensuring that
technicians have the time and funding to be able to participate
65. There is a widely held belief that
practical work in schools is now constrained by health and safety
regulations. This is simply not true (paragraph 137).
66. The longer term aim should be to reduce
secondary school practical science classes to no more that 20
students (paragraph 138).
Motion for debate
67. We suggest the following motion for
debate by the House:
"That this House takes note of the conclusions
and recommendations in the Third Report of the Science and Technology
Committee on Science Education from 14 to 19 (HC 508-I); notes
the concerns reflected in that Report about the failure of GCSE
science to prepare students effectively either for further study
or for citizenship; accepts the need to revise the curriculum
and reform assessment so that teachers have the flexibility to
respond to students' interests; acknowledges the work that has
been done to develop new and innovative courses for both GCSE
and AS and A level; recognises the vital role of practical work
within science education and notes the poor quality of laboratories
and the shortage of skilled technicians within many schools; and
calls on Government to give urgent priority and sufficient funds
to address these issues" (paragraph 140).