Memorandum submitted by fforwm
1. fforwm welcomes the opportunity to provide
a written memorandum to the Science and Technology Committee in
its welcome Inquiry into Science Education 14-19. This response
has been drawn up with the assistance of members of fforwm's Curriculum
2. fforwm is the national organisation representing
all 24 further education (FE) colleges in Wales. It is an educational
charity and a company limited by guarantee. The fforwm Board comprises
college principals and chairs of corporations, appointed by member
colleges. fforwm provides a range of services to its members including
networks, conferences, research, consultancy and the sharing of
good practice. It also works closely with a wide range of partners
in seeking to deliver high quality post-16 education and training.
Through fforwm, colleges are represented on various committees,
working parties and other groups influencing and shaping policy
in post-16 education and life-long learning. fforwm has recently
set up a Curriculum Policy Group, comprising senior curriculum
managers from six colleges in Wales, to assist the Board in developing
proactive policies on a wide range of curriculum matters.
3. The 24 FE colleges in Wales offer a huge
range of courses to some 220,000 students. They include general
FE colleges, tertiary colleges, specialist land-based colleges,
a sixth form college and an adult residential college. Colleges
also provide higher education (HE) courses directly funded by
the Higher Education Funding Council Wales (HEFCW) or through
partnership arrangements with HE institutions in Wales. They make
a significant contribution to the economic development of Wales
and are central to the ambitious agenda set by the Assembly for
raising the skills levels of the working population of Wales.
FE COLLEGES IN
4. Science provision in the colleges in
GCSE courses in chemistry, human
biology and physics (by far the most popular is human biology).
AS and A level courses in biology,
chemistry, human biology and physics; over the last four years
there has been a decline in the number of students enrolling in
chemistry (down 20 per cent) and physics (down 25 per cent) programmes
and an increase in the number of students taking biology (up 25
per cent) and human biology (up 67 per cent).
Science input to other courses, for
example, Sports Science, Childhood Studies, Health & Social
Care, Engineering, Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy. Most of these
courses, which include modules of applied science, have experienced
an expansion in student enrolment; engineering, where there has
been a fairly significant decline in enrolments, is the exception.
GNVQ Intermediate and Advanced Level
Course in Applied Science; there are only two such courses running
in Wales currently and both have low enrolments.
5. An interesting point to note is that
there has been a small increase in the number of students combining
science subjects with other subjects, for example, humanities.
Perhaps we have the first signs, post-Curriculum 2000, that students
are embracing a mix of humanities and science subjects in a more
positive way. This contradicts findings by a University of London
Institute of Education/Nuffield Foundation research project quoted
in the TES of 15 June 2001.
6. The experience of Coleg Gwent (Wales's
largest FE College) in September 2000 demonstrates the pattern
1,253 students enrolled on AS courses
92 enrolled for Biology
17 for Environmental Science
122 enrolled for Psychology
7. The way in which science is taught:
There tends to be too much emphasis on theoretical
aspects and not enough on practical work.
8. Where science is taught:
Much of science is taught in somewhat old-fashioned
laboratories. This contrasts strikingly with the more modern laboratories
used for teaching computing, IT and electronics. There is a serious
image problem that adversely affects science and aspects of engineering.
9. There are encouraging signs that colleges
are beginning to respond. For example, Jane Davidson AM, Minister
for Education and Lifelong Learning, National Assembly for Wales,
recently opened a £1.75 million purpose-built science centre
at Coleg Gwent (Crosskeys) to mark the launch of Wales Science
10. Mathematical content:
There is a marked correlation between the decline
in the number of students studying chemistry and physics and the
numbers studying mathematics. Similar trends are evident in engineering
and economics. All of these subjects are dependent on students
having a sound basis in mathematics. 16 year-olds, although having
completed GCSE mathematics and achieving a grade C pass or better,
do not have the necessary understanding of mathematics (especially
algebra) to cope with A, AS science or applied engineering courses.
Many students lack confidence in the manipulation of equations
11. Lacking relevance:
Much of GCSE, AS and A level science provision
lacks relevance to everyday life. It is only in vocational contexts
that students really develop an appreciation and understanding
of scientific applications.
This has been largely based on recall of factual
knowledge rather than understanding and application. Surely, there
should be much more emphasis on the assessment of practical work
in the sciences and on students "learning by doing"
science. The inclusion of a formal practical examination in the
new AS courses is a welcome development. The amount of formal
assessment is excessive, with students and staff constantly on
an assessment "treadmill". There is too much emphasis
on assessment at the expense of learning/understanding/enjoying
the subject. Examinations still have too many questions based
on recall rather than testing understanding and application.
13. Aspects of teaching:
Science teachers in some FE colleges project
an ageing profile when contrasted with their counterparts in other
curriculum areas. Physics and chemistry teachers are almost invariably
male and there is a significant age and gender stereotype (although
in at least one college in Wales, science lecturers are entirely
female). Some colleges are experiencing difficulties in recruiting
well qualified science teachers.
14. The use of equipment in teaching and learning:
The equipment in science departments varies
in quality. The best and most modern equipment is usually associated
with purpose-built laboratories well equipped with up-to-date
computers. The worst reflects the old fashioned, space consuming,
inflexible and inappropriate facilities of days gone by. In many
cases, practical work is not carried out in an investigative way,
to reinforce theory or to teach a new skill, but is carried out
to fulfil assessment criteria.
15. Lacking responsiveness to the needs of
industry and employers:
Science departments tend to be driven by an
academic, HE orientated set of aims and objectives. A recent research
project published by fforwm on "the Contribution of FE Colleges
to Economic Development" drew attention to the needs of employers
in pharmaceutical, plastics and polymers. Only one college in
Wales currently has part-time courses to meet the training needs
of such businesses and this is at HND/HNC level.
16. Quality and standards:
Although most of provision is deemed to be of
a satisfactory standard and some 40 per cent of science provision
to be good or outstanding, an above average amount of provision
for the FE sector as a whole in Wales is deemed to be less than
satisfactory. GCE A level pass rates are often good but GCSE pass
rates at grade C or above are poor in many FE colleges. A number
of colleges experience poor retention rates in science courses
which are subsequently reflected in unsatisfactory completion
17. Science curriculum 14-19:
Separately taught sciences at GCSE are felt
to provide a better grounding for those who wish to progress to
AS and A level. Students who have studied balanced science courses
seem to be at a disadvantage compared with students who have studied
single sciences. Some students underachieve at GCSE because they
have performed badly in one of the "combined subjects".
There is a strongly held view that the content of the National
Curriculum, especially at Key Stage 4 (14-16 year age range) restricts
the time available for practical work.
fforwm believes that there should be increased
investment in the recruitment and training of science teachers,
closer links between educational institutions and industry in
the teaching of science, a strong focus on the vocational aspects
of science and a planned increased investment in science facilities.
At present, the choices available to students in science do not
meet the range of ability, aptitude, interest and perhaps career
aspirations. Science provision will need to respond to the widening
ability range of students in post-16 education and training. Students
should have the opportunity to follow a more skills-based vocational
course with less emphasis on academic rigour.