Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

  The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry represents the majority of companies in Britain that research, develop, manufacture and supply prescription medicines. It also has other members drawn from organisations with an interest in the pharmaceutical industry operating in the UK. The Association and its member companies actively support the study of science and technology in schools, colleges and universities.

  The pharmaceutical industry in the UK is amongst the leaders in industry-schools partnership in terms of quality, relevance of content and in ensuring good practice, as well as in its level of involvement.


  1.  The Association supports the inclusion of science as a subject which should be studied by all pupils beyond the age of 14. This should include a broad and balanced core science component to ensure that future citizens are scientifically literate.

  2.  We concur with the view that the current GCSE in Science (Single and Dual Award) does not, however, suit all pupils—particularly the majority who will not pursue a scientific career but who will want to understand the science behind controversial issues which may affect their future lives.

  3.  A course specification which is seen by pupils to be interesting and relevant can have a very positive effect on uptake of the subject post-16. This has been seen with the rapid uptake of AS and A level Chemistry and Physics courses developed by the Salters' Institute.

  4.  The skills that scientific employees in the pharmaceutical industry need includes the ability to present scientific information clearly both verbally and in writing, numerical skills, computer literacy, problem solving and team working skills in addition to practical skills. We believe that it is important that attention is paid to the development of all these skills from an early age and would welcome changes to the science curriculum which would encourage a greater development of these skills.

  5.  We believe science to be an exciting, challenging subject which is very relevant to the lives of all young people. We would support changes to the curriculum which are aimed at increasing their interest in science though teaching of scientific principles using contemporary examples, whilst still providing an appropriate background for further study at university level.

  6.  An example of a course which could meet these criteria is one under development currently by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), in conjunction with the University of York Science Education Group under the working title "21st Century Science GCSE" and described by Hollins.[65] This proposal seeks to maximize choice to meet the diverse needs of students in mainstream schools through providing a core single science award GCSE together with two different types of additional modules to make up a dual award qualification. One type of module will suit pupils who wish to go on to study AS level science-related courses, the other fits well with some of the vocational developments in the current 14-16 curriculum.

  7.  We consider that the current science curriculum, particularly at Key Stages 2 to 4, is content-heavy and assessment-driven. Research for the National Institute for Careers Education and Counselling (NICEC) has found that this highly-directed curriculum provides insufficient opportunities for teachers to excite their pupils about science and scientific discoveries and that, at GCSE, science is less challenging for very able pupils when compared with some humanities subjects[66].

  8.  The time allocated to science is being reduced in many schools, notably in Year 12 where an Association for Science Education (ASE) survey[67] found the introduction of AS levels had resulted in a reduction in time allocated for teaching each subject, in some cases down to 240 minutes per week

  9.  The ABPI welcomes the recent development of courses such as the AS level Science for Public Understanding which aims to provide students with a better grasp of the science which underpins everyday choices and decisions, to increase their confidence when reading and discussing media reports of issues involving science and to help them develop a greater appreciation of the impact of scientific ideas on the way we think and act. We are disappointed that the uptake of this course has not been greater and would welcome changes to the statutory curriculum which would enable schools and colleges to increase the range of free standing AS levels that they offer.

  10.  The Association has concerns that the restricted time allocated to science in some schools has resulted in fewer opportunities for pupils to carry out experiments to support their understanding of scientific theory. We believe this aspect of the study of science in schools to be an important means of enthusing students about scientific developments as well as providing opportunities for them to learn the practical skills required for further study of science. We are also aware that substantial further investment in facilities for practical science is needed in some schools

  11.  The Association is concerned that, despite all pupils in England and Wales studying a balanced science course to age 16, there are still significant gender differences in subjects selected for post-16 study with, in particular, at least three-quarters of the entries for "A" Level Physics being male. The take up of Advanced Modern Apprenticeships is even more gender related with 97 to 99 per cent of participants in the construction, electrical installation engineering, motor industry and engineering manufacturing apprenticeships being male. We should like the Committee to investigate the reasons for this imbalance and to suggest ways in which it could be overcome.

  12.  We are aware of a new Department of Trade and Industry campaign, RESPECT, aimed at increasing the number of young African-Caribbean people studying and working in science, engineering and technology careers and we would welcome information on any ethnic differences in take-up of post-16 science courses.

  13.  The challenge of making science at school reflect the rapidly expanding body of scientific knowledge is one which could be addressed by increasing the flexibility of what is taught. This would allow new and interesting developments of relevance to society to be incorporated into science lessons. This could include information on the issues surrounding use of animals for medical research, vaccinating children and genetic testing of individuals. Increased provision for whole class use of the internet, through the use of laptop computers and data projectors, could support this style of science teaching.

  14.  The increasing availability of internet access within schools has encouraged organisations including ABPI to provide and sponsor web based interactive resources such as those found on the website These resources are closely related to the science curriculum and may be accessed by school teachers and students free of charge.

  15.  The Association welcomes the introduction of Science and Engineering Ambassadors as a means of encouraging links between industry and schools. Many young scientists in the pharmaceutical industry already work closely with teachers and pupils in both primary and secondary schools and the training and accreditation which will be offered through SETPoints is welcomed.

  16.  The Association supports the incorporation of industry-based activities into the curriculum rather than the introduction of such activities as optional additions to the main programme of study. We believe that scientific theory becomes more meaningful to pupils if they are made aware of the applications of the theory. The ABPI has sought to encourage students of science, manufacturing and business studies to relate topics studied to their applications in industry through publication and distribution of brochures such as "The Pharmaceutical Business" and "Manufacturing Pharmaceuticals".

  17.  Many pharmaceutical companies support science teaching in schools in their local area through site visits, work experience placements for students and workshops, visits and work shadowing placements for teachers. Some companies encourage their staff to develop a relationship with a local school which includes help with science lessons and/or mentoring of pupils. Websites to support science teaching in primary and secondary schools have also been developed by pharmaceutical companies[68].

  18.  The Association has, for a number of years, provided information to careers advisors in schools, colleges and universities, on the wide range of careers available within the pharmaceutical industry. In 2001 we developed a website[69] which provides detailed information on jobs and training available within the industry. It is hoped that this will encourage young people to obtain appropriate qualifications to work within the industry and it provides up to date information for careers advisors and science teachers to access. We hope that the introduction of Connexions organisations throughout the country will result in a more co-ordinated approach to provision of careers advice to students than has been available in some parts of the country in recent years.

  19.  The ABPI is a member of the Salters' Institute Chemical Education Group and is actively involved in organising a seminar, to be held in early May, on the changing nature of work in the pharmaceutical and chemical sectors and on the skills that make chemically literate young scientists in demand both within industry and in other areas of work.

  20.  The Association believes that teachers are the key to a successful science education. Teachers who are well-motivated, confident in the subject they are teaching and competent in the methods they are using will convey the excitement of science to their pupils. Science teachers who are required to teach outside their speciality must be provided with appropriate training within a programme of Continuing Professional Development to enable them to approach the subject with confidence and enthusiasm. To encourage good science graduates and PhDs to enter teaching and to retain excellent teachers within our schools, the status of teaching as a profession needs to be raised.

  21.  We believe that the difficulties many schools have had in recruiting science teachers has resulted in additional demands being placed an existing teachers. We are concerned that these pressures might affect retention of effective teachers and we have concerns about the consequences of losing high calibre science teachers on the science education young people receive. We support the opportunity for teachers to apply to cross the Performance Threshold at an earlier stage in their career as this is likely to have a positive effect on retention.

  22.  Recent research for the Times Educational Supplement by FDS International Ltd, January 2002[70] reveals that the proportion of teachers who are very satisfied with their jobs has dropped from 29 per cent in 1998 to 23 per cent in 2002. The proportion of teachers who are rather dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their jobs has increased from 21 per cent to 23 per cent over the same time period. This figure reaches 26 per cent of teachers when only those teaching in maintained schools are considered. We believe that this finding is extremely worrying and that the reasons for this dissatisfaction should be fully identified and addressed.

  23.  We are also concerned by the finding, in the same survey, that 82 per cent of teachers believe their job has become more pressurised within the last year. The reasons for this increase in pressure were not identified but we believe that this is also an area which should be investigated further and steps taken to reduce the pressure teachers are under. Only 61 per cent of the teachers surveyed are confident that they will still be teaching in five years time. The main reason cited for this is heavy workload, other reasons include too much interference, poor pay and lack of support. We are pleased that teachers pay has increased significantly in recent years but are concerned that poor pay is still cited as a reason for leaving teaching and that 43 per cent of young teachers (under 30) feel that they are poor or not very well off. We would like this finding to be followed up as we believe it is vital to encourage well qualified young graduates to enter teaching and to remain in teaching for a number of years.


  24.  The Association believes that the mathematical demands of the science curriculum are appropriate to support understanding of the topics covered. We have concerns, however that, particularly at Key Stage 3, the science curriculum expects mathematical skills to be used which have not always been covered at this point by the mathematics National Curriculum.

  25.  ABPI member companies are taking part in a consultation process on research into mathematical abilities of staff working in the pharmaceutical sector carried out for the Science, Technology and Mathematics Council by Professors Hoyles and Wolf from the University of London Institute of Education. This may reveal deficiencies in the ability of some scientists to apply mathematical skills appropriately.


  26.  The Association would support a change in assessment away from the current reliance on factual recall of specific information and towards assessment items that encourage the use of higher order skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

  27.  We are concerned that in many cases assessment drives what is taught and, as a result, too much emphasis is placed on some aspects of the science National Curriculum and too little emphasis is placed on the processes through which scientific knowledge is gained and the scientific advancements which have occurred in recent years.

  28.  The Association believes that evaluation of evidence from different sources is a vital aspect of the process by which scientific knowledge is advanced and we would welcome opportunities for students to develop this skill within the science curriculum as they already do in other curriculum areas such as a geography and history.

  29.  We believe that coursework provides an opportunity for students to develop additional skills and that, as such, it should remain as an assessed item at GCSE. We would, however, suggest that coursework could become wider in scope to enable students with a particular interest to explore that aspect of science in greater depth through research as an alternative to coursework based on practical work.


  30.  The Association believes that it is important that young people have a choice in where they continue their education post-16 and that it is appropriate for schools and colleges to offer both academic and vocational qualifications for these students.

February 2002

65   Hollins, M (2001) School Science in Step with the Changing World of the 21st Century. A curriculum development project by QCA. Education in Science No 194, 22-23. Back

66   Munro, M and Elsom, D (2000) Choosing Science at 16. NICEC Project Report, Cambridge, CRAC. Back

67   Education in Science No 194, September 2001, p5. Back

68, Back

69 Back

70   Times Educational Supplement, 1 February 2002. Back

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