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


Notes of a meeting held between Bolton Science Teachers and Technicians and Dr Brian lddon, MP for Bolton South East, on 3 May 2002


Margaret Blenkinsop Director of Education and Arts
Mr. Dave ChiversTurton High School (Head of Science)
Carole DeavilleTurton High School (Senior Lab Technician)
Mr Dave HayesMount St Joseph RC High School, Norwich (Head of Science)
Mr Robin HeapThornleigh College
Mrs Doreen JollyRivington and Blackrod High School
Libby MooneyBolton MBC Key Stage 3 Advisor
Mr Chris ProffitsMount St Joseph RC High School (Head of Science)


  The curriculum content is about right but scientific investigation takes up too much time, to the detriment of practical work. Tutors feel that they can't afford to drop any topics from the curriculum but that they have too little time to teach what is required. It is hoped that the new KS3 strategy will make this easier.

Geology is taught in both Geography and Chemistry, which results in some overlap and students getting bored. However, it is important to note that not all students study Geography and so may miss out on vital information to complete the Geology tuition.

Concern was expressed about the "spiral" nature of the curriculum. Students quickly get bored with repetition and the revisiting of subjects such as chains and food webs which are taught as part of several different subjects. This results in a lack of progression.

  There is too much overlap with other departments and excessive duplication. They need more practical work and less coursework. However, it was felt that coursework should not be scrapped entirely.

Coursework seems to have become and end in itself. Tutors spend too much time teaching students how to get good marks rather than encouraging proper scientific practical work. Tutors are spending too much time marking coursework rather than preparing "real work".

  Students don't enjoy practical work where the outcome is already known and they are just expected to follow instruction to reach that end. They much prefer to be able to investigate outcomes themselves.

SC1 should be a teaching style rather than a method of assessment.

  Science needs to be taught in a "real-life" context so that the students can apply their knowledge to current issues, such as DNA and the Genome Project, BSE, MMR etc. At KS4, certain subjects are not "applied" enough and the students can't see the point in learning about them. The Applied Science syllabus for next year is a step in the right direction.

Many students are now studying science in a modular manner, although some still prefer to study the traditional separate schools of chemistry, physics and biology.

There is a noticeable lack of specialist tutors, especially chemists. It was felt that tuition standards suffer when the subjects are taught by non-specialist tutors. They need to have a passion for their subject in order to be able to motivate the students sufficiently to encourage them to take their learning further.


    —  Five lessons a week is too much.

    —  Lack of "hands-on" practical work.

    —  Too much writing.

    —  Tutors not being aware of students' prior knowledge, ie

    —  Topics already explored in other lessons.

    WHAT TURNS STUDENTS ON?—  Enthusiastic tutors and technicians.

    —  Relevance of curriculum to current issues.

    —  Practical work.


      There is a need to educate the people who sell scientific equipment to the schools. Schools are only able to order items which are actually in the catalogue, so technicians and tutors often make their own equipment. The catalogue companies need to ask the school what they need. The main supplier—"Philip Harris"—is very expensive.

    Science departments are poorly funded, especially for reprographics which take up a huge chunk of the budget. Some schools are formula funded but, in others, each department has to bid for their share of the money.

    Laboratories : each school has recently gained one new laboratory, but this still isn't enough. Laboratories are too small and in those schools which do not have sufficient laboratories, the tutors are concerned that they have to carry equipment from one lab to another. A lack of laboratories causes timetabling problems and, in one school, only one quarter of A-level lessons actually take part in a laboratory.


    Technicians are not paid enough. Few young technicians come forward to work in schools because of the poor wages, lack of proper salary structure and the fact that most technicians are only paid during term-time. The "AP&T" scales are in use in Bolton. Schools are finding it difficult to replace retiring technicians and recruitment is quite haphazard. Some felt that there weren't enough technicians, others felt they had a sufficient number.

    Day-release for training is no longer available and most training courses are single-day only. Bolton has a Technicians' Forum which meets quarterly to discuss best practice and other issues, but there is no formal training. Although NVQs are available through local colleges, most technicians cannot attend because these courses are only run during the day.

    Tutors would like to involve technicians in more practical sessions in the classroom; they are a much under-used expert resource.

    POST 16

    There is too little time to cover the whole curriculum for AS/A-level. Most people are happy with the modular approach, which has seen better final results and they do not wish to abandon it for AS-levels. Coursework is causing an overload; there is too much time pressure.

    The January examinations are too early and there is not enough time to prepare for them.

    Tutors are expected to do too much administration which restricts that amount of time they can spend one-to-one with their students.

    Very few students go on to do A-level science because they perceive it to be a "difficult" subject. Students with poor mathematics skills are struggling with science examinations because of the maths content. The national strategy on literacy and numeracy should help but it will take several years for the effect to reach the post 16 level students.

    Many students don't seem to realise that mathematics is a part of science too. Science and maths departments need to have joined-up thinking so that students are not left confused.


      Bolton LA does not provide a centralised careers advice service: the service is privatised. However, all students undertake two weeks of work experience, often in completely irrelevant environments. For example, science students end up working as shop assistants. Engineering and science-based companies need to be encouraged to participate in work experience schemes.

    Foundation level science is not much higher than KS3; students need a bigger progression. They need more vocational tuition for those students who are turned off by science.

    ICT plays a big role in the curriculum and they need more support for ICT Technicians, especially with computers. They need specialists, but they have to be well paid, otherwise they will just go and work in industry instead. Tutors are currently having to prepare "backup" lessons in case the ICT equipment fails. They need permanent ICT laboratories because a five minute lesson changeover is not enough to swap from, for example, chemistry to ICT.

    June 2002

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