Memorandum submitted by The Association
for Science Education
1.1 The Association for Science Education
is the professional association for teachers of science with over
20,000 members in schools and colleges throughout the United Kingdom.
The Association is committed to raising the quality of science
education through the development and sharing of best practice.
The evidence that we are submitting is based on the views of our
membership, which represent a sizeable proportion of the science
teachers in the UK.
1.2 We welcome the Select Committee's enquiry
and believe that it should make a valuable contribution to ensuring
that science education in the UK continues to excel in international
comparisons. We believe that it is very important that the Committee
should start any report by recognising the success of science
educationit is too easy to focus on the failures and consequently
compromise the successes.
1.3 We would also urge the Committee to
ensure that it keeps the broader context of the school environment
in mind when making recommendations. As many of the issues facing
science education are not unique to the subject, eg teacher supply,
assessment, and continuing professional development, any recommendations
that the Committee makes must be operational in a whole school
1.4 One of the lessons that should have
been learnt from the introduction of the National Curriculum is
that any changes need to be holistic. For example, any change
in the content of the curriculum needs to be mirrored by an appropriate
change in assessment and provision of initial teacher training
and professional development for teachers.
2. SCIENCE IN
A 14-19 FRAMEWORK
2.1 In preparing learners for the 21st century,
the ASE believes in working towards universal scientific capability.
It is an essential component of the rounded education of any individual
in the 21st century. It is also vital for the economic health
of the UK. This capability needs to manifest itself in two ways;
firstly, the UK must have a population capable of engaging in
mature political debate about advances in science and technology
if we are to take full advantage of the strong science and technology
base that the UK processes. In addition, if this science and technology
base is to grow to match the growing demand of the 21st century
then as many students as possible must be in a position to use
science in pursuing their careers.
2.2 This gives rise to a tension which is
particularly manifest at KS4. For a large number of students this
may be their final encounter with science education and consequently
it must prepare them to engage with science as citizens. For others
this is a staging post in the development of their scientific
knowledge and understanding as part of their continuing education
in science. At present we do not believe that the qualifications
available meet either of these needs. However, we are encouraged
by the work that QCA has undertaken on KS4 as part of its work
in ensuring that the Science Curriculum keeps in step with the
2.3 Another issue of concern to teachers
is the scope for flexibility within the present arrangements.
There is little scope for teachers to provide pathways through
science and technology that best reflect local needs or the interests
and aptitudes of their students. We believe that a 14-19 curriculum
offers the opportunity for students to gain a basic understanding
across the range of sciences whilst studying particular aspects
in greater depth. An important component in broadening the possible
scientific pathways must be achieving parity of esteem for the
vocational pathways. ASE believes that many students could find
fulfilling and rewarding futures in technical careers given the
right support and guidance. Vocational training in science and
technology would contribute to meeting current skills shortages
in a range of industrial and service sectors nationally as well
2.4 For these reasons ASE would support
steps towards making a more coherent framework for qualifications
by developing a 14-19 framework.
2.5 Feedback from colleagues in the further
education sector and NIACE indicates that provision and uptake
on adult learning courses in science is limited. This suggests
that we should be wary of allowing students to drop science at
too early a stage, even if a 14-19 curriculum makes it easier
for students to restart their science education. ASE would encourage
the committee to adjust its remit to consider the level, eg up
to and including to NVQ equivalent level 3 qualifications, rather
than a specific age range. This would ensure that the lifelong
learning in science and current skill shortages could be addressed.
2.6 In the short term we would be wary of
radical change. In particular we believe that science must remain
a core subject up until the age of 16.
2.7 We hope that the Committee will find
Appendix 1, Science Education for the Year 2000 and Beyond,
(not printed), useful in considering what type of science should
be taught from 14-16. This suggests that a balance of breadth
and depth of scientific knowledge and understanding must be maintained,
in addition to the development of problem solving, investigative
skills and informed attitudes. The ASE believes that learners
should spend a minimum of 20 per cent of curriculum time on the
study of science between the ages of 14 and 16 in order to achieve
breadth and depth in each area of science education.
2.8 In the longer term, there is a need
for dialogue as to what constitutes a basic scientific capability
and how this is developed through the 14-19 framework. We would
urge the Committee to consider ways in which the 14-19 curriculum
could provide a mechanism for ensuring that all students attain
an acceptable level of scientific literacy, perhaps by inclusion
on a leavers certificate whilst guaranteeing that those students
who wish to pursue their studies in science are able to do so
at an appropriate standard and pace.
3.1 In making recommendations about the
type of science that students should study, we hope that the Committee
will give due consideration to the impact of assessment on what
3.2 There is no doubt that the SATS have
had a major impact on the way that science is taught from 4-14.
They have helped to clarify progression in science and have helped
ensure England and Wales are near the top of the world league
in achievement in science.
3.3 Whilst the ASE recognises that SATS
have evolved, there is still some way to go before they reflect
the science curriculum required for the 21st century. In particular,
there is still too much emphasis on recall of scientific facts
and not enough emphasis on the assessment of the understanding,
skills and processes of science. Some of the issues about progression
arise from this narrow perspective of achievement in science.
Where other subjects develop skills that can then be built on
in different contexts, in science the development is frequently
in the same context. This can make it difficult for teachers and
pupils to see progression. This will only be addressed by putting
the understanding, skills and processes that pupils need at the
heart of assessment.
3.4 The ASE believes that there is a need
to help teachers measure progress so that teaching and learning
can be adapted to reflect the needs of individual pupils. Therefore
the ASE would actively encourage moves to support the professionalism
of teachers in assessing the progress and needs of their pupils,
by, for instance, raising the profile of teacher assessment.
4. TEACHER SUPPLY
4.1 ASE is concerned that the continued
prosperity of science is threatened by the difficulties in recruiting
high quality graduates to the profession. The recent teacher training
salaries are a very positive step, as are making entry routes
to teaching more flexible.
4.2 ASE believes, however, that teacher
retention is as important as recruitment. Indeed recruitment is
strongly influenced by the morale of practising teachers. ASE
believes that rising class size has had a detrimental impact on
the morale of science teachers. We welcome the Government's enquiry
into teachers' workloads. We hope that the outcomes of this enquiry
will take account of the additional workload facing science teachers
and, in particular, those with managerial responsibility because
of the practical nature of the subject.
4.3 We welcome the Government's emphasis
on continuing professional development and believe that this could
also have a beneficial effect on retention. The professional development
of science teachers needs to include the issues of supporting
their teaching outside of their specialism, and providing ways
of helping them to use contemporary science in the classroom.
We would be happy to discuss the role that the ASE already plays
in this and how we could achieve much more if greater emphasis,
recognition and support were given to the individual needs of
teachers in developing their own skills and knowledge.
5.1 A frequent criticism of maintaining
science as a core subject is that it has not resulted in an increase
of the numbers studying science post-16. However, few of the advocates
of "Science for All" envisaged the type of science curriculum
that is now on offer, ASE does not believe that the present courses
are sufficiently motivating to persuade students to continue with
science. In addition, making science a core subject may well have
resulted in less effective marketing of science to students at
the age where they start to make career choices. ASE is concerned
that careers advisers do not always have appropriate knowledge
to give students guidance on the whole range of scientific careers
that are available. ASE hopes that the large investment in the
Connexions Service will enable all pupils to access accurate and
inspirational advice about careers in Science, Technology, Engineering
6.1 ASE believes that there is scope for
mathematics skills to play a greater role in the science curriculum
post-14. In particular, there should be more opportunities for
students to use mathematics as a tool of enquiry. In order to
achieve this, more time needs to be devoted to developing students'
mathematical skills and understanding in science. This suggests
that students should make a more in-depth use of mathematics in
fewer scientific contexts.
6.2 An ASE Conference, Science and Mathematics
Building Together, found agreement that a common vocabulary
needs to be developed and that teachers need to be given time
to collaborate on planning schemes of work and ensuring a common
approach to the development of mathematical skills.
7.1 ASE believes that well designed practical
experimental work is an important part of every student's experience.
As well as enabling the development of a variety of skills that
contribute to students' ability to engage with scientific issues,
practical work is a proven motivating factor.
7.2 Safety concerns are often quoted as
a reason for not doing practical work but we do not believe that
current Health and Safety legislation justifies this. However
the present climate of accountability and an overcrowded curriculum
have led to a situation where practical work is often neglected.
7.3 ASE was, and still is, a strong supporter
of experimental work that attempts to give students a flavour
of the enquiring nature of science. Unfortunately, the present
assessment regime does not encourage this. It would appear that
validity has been sacrificed in order to try to ensure reliability.
The range of experimental work carried out to provide an assessment
of student's experimental skills is very limited which leads to
concerns about the originality of practical course work. In addition,
many teachers feel that the time and effort that they and their
students put into the coursework are not justified by the learning
7.4 We would urge the Committee to consider
the impact of class size in the manageability of teaching science.
A serious issue for our members is that class sizes in the 14-19
age range have been rising. ASE recently carried out a small survey
(50 schools) into class sizes. Because of the range of options
available at KS4 it is not appropriate to report statistical data;
but it was clear that the top sets at KS4 were generally in the
size range of 26 to 30 students. In these circumstances, it is
not surprising that teachers are reluctant to carry out practical
work. It is also interesting to note that this may have the greatest
effect on the most able students.
7.5 At present ASE does not believe it is
possible to impose a statutory size limit in England, although
it notes that this exists in Scotland and Northern Ireland. However,
ASE believes that Government ought to make a commitment to reducing
secondary practical science class size to no more than 20 students.
8.1 As well as supporting teachers, the
ASE plays a significant role in the support of laboratory technicians
working in schools and colleges. There are now over 1,800 technician
members of the ASE. We believe that technicians play a significant
role in raising standards in science. The ASE and the Royal Society
have published a joint report, Supporting Success: science technicians
in schools and colleges. The report suggests that government should:
investigate the levels of science
technician support available in schools;
set national guidelines on the management
and deployment of technical staff;
ensure a clear and properly remunerated
career path including for science technicians.