Members present:

Dr Ian Gibson, in the Chair
Mr Parmjit Dhanda
Mr Tom Harris
Mr David Heath
Dr Brian Iddon
Mr Tony McWalter
Bob Spink


MR DAVID MILIBAND MP, Minister of State for School Standards, MS JANET DALLAS, Team Leader, Curriculum Division, and MR JOHN JONES, Team Leader, School and College Qualifications Division, Department for Education and Skills, examined.


  1. Welcome, Minister, and your team. It is nice to see you here. I think this is your first appearance in front of this Committee. I do not know if it is your first time in front of a Select Committee; no doubt you have had experience of that in the past. This is a rough and tough Committee and we are looking forward to a good session. I do not know if you want to say anything to begin with.
  2. (Mr Miliband) Would you mind if I did say a few things just to kick us off?

  3. Absolutely - please.
  4. (Mr Miliband) It may be worthwhile saying first of all, to inspire you to even greater rough and tumble activities, that we have behind us the Speaker of the Cape Verde Parliament who is here not because of his outstanding interest in science but because of his particular interest in the Committee system. I am told that when he leaves after about quarter of an hour that is not because of something I have said but because he has a busy schedule. Thank you very much for the invitation to be here. I am here with Janet Dallas whom you have met before from the Curriculum Division, and John Jones from the 14-19 Division. With your permission I will spend four or five minutes setting out some points. My own experience of science rather ill qualifies me for this task.

  5. We were going to point that out to you.
  6. (Mr Miliband) I will happily own up to my travails in A-level science which were more to do with my own limitations than those of the teachers or of the curriculum. On a serious note, we have no view that we have a monopoly of wisdom in the Department in this area. We are delighted that you are spending time thinking about science and the science curriculum 14-19. We hope by the end of this hour that you will be able to offer us a re-grade from "unsatisfactory" to at least "promising" although, as you know, the Government has to steer very well clear of anything to do with assessments.

  7. You are an expert in A-levels. We prefer degrees.
  8. (Mr Miliband) We are hoping for a re-grade. I am sure we agree that science is absolutely critical to the future of the country, not just economically but as a community. I hope you also agree that Investing for Innovation, the Government-wide prospectus for reform in science, is a very positive document. We are absolutely clear that the so-called genome generation is going to need the moral and technical resources to make some very difficult decisions in the next 20 or 30 years and science teaching is obviously critical to that. Let me start in an unusual place, which is that there are some good things happening. It is rather British trait always to talk about what is wrong, but you would not believe from reading a lot of the press in this area that the UK was ranked fourth out of 32 OECD countries in terms of scientific literacy. I think that is a tribute to teachers and to pupils and it is important in sessions like this that we recognise the outstanding work that is done all round the country and I am sure you would agree with that. It is important that we are doing some things right and we must build on those as well as correcting what is wrong. I just want to pick out three themes from your report and touch on them briefly and then answer your questions. They are to do with people, to do with the curriculum and to do with resources; in other words, effective teaching, how we get and develop an engaging curriculum, how we make sure that we have the right accommodation and equipment to achieve high standards. In relation to effective teaching, we obviously want to have the right number of properly rewarded, properly supported teachers using the best possible teaching techniques. To that end you will know that overall the pay of experienced teachers has risen by about 15-20 per cent in real terms over the last five years, and that obviously benefits science teachers as well as teachers of other subjects. In addition there are over 5,000 per teacher recruitment and retention allowances available to heads to use from their own increasingly devolved budgets to ensure that the difficulties in the recruiting and retaining of science teachers are overcome. We are waiting for the STRB, the School Teachers' Review Body, to give us their view on the need for specific allowances in relation to science teachers. In relation to the spreading of best practice, you will know about the 25 million pledge from the Wellcome Trust to the National Centre for Excellence in Science Teaching. We will soon be coming forward with the Government's proposals in this area. I would also like to flag up the 24 specialist science schools and the 58 applications we have had in the October round for specialist status for science schools. Finally, in relation to support staff in this section on people, you will know now, which you could not know when you published your report, that the Government has some very ambitious plans for bringing expertise into the classroom to support the work of the so-called para-professionals. We anticipate over this Parliament over 50,000 extra people. Some of them are just secretarial but increasing numbers are at a higher level to support teachers in the teaching enterprise. We are working closely with the Royal Society and others to ensure that we have the right framework for designating and qualifying those staff but technicians fit very squarely in the middle of that agenda. They are highlighted twice as priorities for the support staff reforms that were published two weeks ago. In relation to the curriculum, I personally see absolutely no contradiction between the emphasis we put on high standards in what are called the basics and the enrichment and the creativity that comes not just from science but also from other subjects that sometimes are seen as supportive rather than centre stage. I would say in relation to the science curriculum 14-19 that we will never get anything right if we start at 14. The Key Stage 3 science curriculum is absolutely critical and that is why I think you will applaud the reforms that we are bringing in at Key Stage 3 so that we can get to encourage much more active learning, more engaging pedagogy at 11-14 to engage young people. In relation to the 14-19 curriculum itself, you will know that just last year students started some new style GCSE courses and this year we are starting a pilot of a hybrid GCSE that has a common core and then some options beyond that core. We are at the early stages in trying to re-energise and re-engage pupils in the science curriculum at GCSE. No-one has completed their courses yet. Personally at constituency level I am getting very positive feedback from teachers about that. You will know that the 14-19 Green Paper flagged up the potential for longer term reform in this area and we will be coming forward with our response to the consultation in due course. Obviously, other matters in relation to A-levels and AS-levels have taken precedence in the last couple of months but we certainly have not forgotten about the issues raised in that Green Paper and we will be coming forward with them at the appropriate moment. Finally, in relation to buildings and accommodation, you will know that when we came into office in 1997 the total school building budget for 24,000 schools around the country was some 600 million, which does not add up to very much per school. It is now 3 billion and it is growing in the spending review estimates up to 4.5 billion a year by 2005/2006. The DfES guidance to the local education authorities puts real stress on the importance of some of that money going towards science laboratories and their importance in that and we trust the good sense of local headteachers and LEAs to put that money to good use. The Asset Management Plan is prepared by every LEA to give due significance to the importance of science in that investment. That is our agenda. We are clear that the next stage of educational reform is not about central diktat but about us setting the right framework of accountability for teachers and for LEAs to respond and to empower them with the resources to make change at local level and that is why delegation in our education system is rising and why the DfES spend is falling and why there are fewer pots of money to bid for and less bureaucracy attached to that, but with the right accountability we believe we can get not just science right but the rest of the curriculum right too. Thank you very much.

  9. Thank you very much for that, but I guess that what we say is that we have very much a different view about what is happening in science teaching in schools and that comes from us going round the schools, both as a Committee and as individuals in our constituencies, talking to science teachers and talking to technicians. In some respect we may be looking down the microscope at the finer detail of what is going on in the schools whereas you are looking at the broader picture and relating it to education in general. We only called you back because we found your Department's report turgid, complacent and showing lack of any sensitivity about the real problems that face our young people in science in this country, and that is not us taking a very dogmatic line. That comes from the people we have talked to, both in Scotland and in England and, as I say, in many of the constituencies. We feel that science does not get its fair wack in terms of interest from your Department and perhaps that may be because some of you have not done much science and so on and seen the importance of it to the British economy at a time when the Chancellor and the Prime Minister have highlighted science as predominant almost in developing the economy in this country, it is so important that we build on that and ensure that the science we teach is world-class. This Committee thinks that we are some way from that yet and we will now try and illustrate that with some of the questions in terms of areas that you have already broadly referred to, but I think in probing you will hear a bit more detail of what is going on out there at the coal face. I guess you are saying that you do not feel from your report that you have to act on anything we have said whatsoever. Is that the case?
  10. (Mr Miliband) It is quite the opposite. I take quite the opposite view that because we agree with you and confirm that we are taking action in areas where we agree with you, it seems to me strange therefore to seek areas of disagreement. Throughout our response to your report we agree that you have identified important issues and we set out the ways in which we are trying to address them, so I would take quite the opposite view from you. We have deliberately not written a sensationalist report in reply to you that tries to find areas of disagreement where there is none. Instead we have given an honest appraisal of where we think you have hit the mark, which is a large number of areas. They are areas that we have identified as well and I think that we can have a very productive discussion about how we do better in a number of those areas but I would really urge you not to feel that because we agree with you that areas need to be addressed somehow we are complacent; quite the opposite. I feel that we have a shared agenda in terms of pushing science forward. I hear what you say about the evidence base but with all due respect the OECD study which I cited, showing the UK's performance in science, has not been challenged by anyone and whatever the anecdotal comments that might come forward from the front line the overall situation is as I described it. We agree that there are real pinch points, real problems, real areas where we need to do better as a country and we have tried to highlight where we are addressing those issues. It is precisely because we share some of your concerns that we have taken a lot of action to change those things.

  11. So what is your strategy to reverse the trend of many young women, for example, not going into the sciences, many of whom we have talked to, some real high fliers? You said quite clearly that they are not going into science for all sorts of different reasons career-wise and so on, and also a lot of teachers who now are talking about not having the proper equipment, not being able to allow individuals to carry out their own experiments, having to watch demonstrations and so on. What is the Department's strategy for developing science teaching in this country to world class level other than just scraping the surface? How do we get to those young people who are running away, indeed, from maths and physics and indeed some of the other sciences as well, where this country really does need them?
  12. (Mr Miliband) With respect, those are two very different questions so let me address them separately. Although you say we are scraping the bottom of the barrel as a country there are 28 countries who are performing worse than we are in a national survey of 32 countries, so let us not do ourselves down. In relation to young women, which I agree is a serious issue, the overall position in our schools actually is that the young girls are doing much better than the boys, including in science. If you look at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 the gender gap is against boys. Girls are doing better. Where you have highlighted an important issue is how we then translate that into study at post-16 and study at university, and obviously there is a whole range of issues associated with that. One is the curriculum and the extent to which it motivates all young people. I would be nervous of making changes to the current curriculum before we see the effect of the new GCSEs that have just been brought in a year ago. The second issue I would raise with you is the pedagogy, if you like, the teaching and learning strategy and the extent to which it gets the right balance between course work and examination and the extent to which the learning is genuinely active learning as opposed to passive learning. I do not want to become too jargon laden, and there I see an important role for the specialist science colleges being genuine beacons of good practice that spread the best methods of science teaching around the local schooling system. We are going to see the same in relation to sports colleges, in relation to technology colleges where there is a greater critical mass and where we have seen progress, so that is the second thing I would mention. The third aspect of this is that we want to give young people when they make their choices about 14-19 science the sense that they are moving into a growing field where there are future possibilities for them at university and beyond and that is why it is so important to locate our discussion today in the context of the Investing for Innovation overall strategy. We can only succeed as part of a growing science base. We cannot do it in the absence of that.

  13. This is a personal question in a way. What turned you off science? You must have had the opportunity to develop your career along scientific lines. Were you stimulated by science or were you an economist from the day you were born?
  14. (Mr Miliband) I was not very good at it and there is nothing like a "D" to make you think twice about whether or not you want to carry on pursuing a subject. Frankly, I would not have got into any university to do university degree physics. Such is life. As I say, it was more my problem than the system's problem. The system is probably quite lucky that I did not pursue science any further.

    Mr McWalter

  15. I very much agree with what the Chair has said. I do think that there is an extraordinary sense in which there is no real sense of urgency and passionate commitment in the kind of response that you have made to our report. We are looking at a situation where we have students at school needing to be taught by people who are qualified to teach them and yet at the same time we are seeing chemistry departments and physics departments close all over the country in universities. This is partly because there is a market system that the Government seems to be employing which says,"You can go to university but once you are there you can do whatever you like", and people increasingly are voting for moving away from the sciences which you and we think are absolutely vital to this country's wealth and economy, and are moving into many other sorts of courses. That is partly because it is much cheaper for people to lay on courses in the humanities than it is in engineering or physical science. Do you really think that the Government has grasped the nettle on this and understood that you cannot just delegate; you have also to indicate a sense of direction and make sure that the quantum of resource is sufficient to be able to deal with these needs? I do not want an overall figure. I want a figure for science.
  16. (Mr Miliband) Anyone in the social sciences at university would give their right arm for the degree of investment that has gone on in the natural sciences.

    Chairman: It is expensive.

    Mr Heath

  17. That is totally irrelevant.
  18. (Mr Miliband) No, with respect, it is not irrelevant. I was asked by Mr McWalter whether the Government was willing to give priority to science. In our spending decisions we have given priority to science. It is absolutely in relation to infrastructure, in relation to funding of personnel that the Government has responded to the demand that we give greater priority to science, and we have. Those are funding choices we are making to build up the capacity of science departments. I am skiing off piste here; that is outside my area, but we have put significant sums of money into science and not into the social sciences. You can rightly say, and I will agree with you, that it is long overdue, it is long needed, the money is necessary, we need more, but the Government has flagged up in the most obvious way it can its own commitment there. I would ask back to you, what are you saying to me about the choices that students are making? I do not see how we can run a university system by us making the choices for them; I am sure you would agree with that. They are making the choices about what subjects they want to study. We are making it possible for them to study to a high standard by expanding the science base in universities. We want to do more of it. We are committed in a whole number of ways. I do not need to rehearse how we hope to do that, but I do not see what you are suggesting about an alternative model of getting people to do science at university other than the choices that they make.

    Mr McWalter

  19. University vice-chancellors are trying to operate budgets and finding that if they operate a budget where they have a significant amount of engineering and science in their portfolio they run into deep financial difficulty. If, on the other hand, they cut them, --- chemistry at Salford, civil engineering and physics at my local university, all over the country there are science courses shutting and the people who might have graduated from those places as a result are not being made available to teach in the schools, so we end up with the schools being the only place where people do not have the qualifications they need. We need some direction from the Government, not simply a laissez faire system that says, "We want 50 per cent of students going to university", when most of those will inevitably not be doing science with the current investment levels.
  20. (Mr Miliband) We must not let this discussion close without having on the record that there are 12 per cent more people doing science in university than there were six years ago. That is a fact that I have not invented. Between 1994 and 1995 and 2000 and 2001 total enrolments in full time science based first degrees in UK institutions increased by 12 per cent.

  21. We know that there is an increase in medicine. There is not an increase, as has been said repeatedly, in the physical and mathematical and engineering sciences. If we look at our report, in paragraph 57 we say, "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." In paragraph 59 we say, "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." What we have is a system where, as it would appear, students vote with their feet against things they find difficult and we end up with science courses, particularly with a significant mathematical content, being increasingly a rarity in our universities with departmental closures an inevitable consequence.
  22. (Mr Miliband) Let me come back on those two because I think they are important points. My figures are that there are 40,000 more undergraduates studying science than there were six or seven years ago.

  23. Mostly the biological sciences.
  24. (Mr Miliband) They cannot all be doing medicine, with all due respect.

  25. Sports science.
  26. (Mr Miliband) I take seriously what you say about the content of science at A-level. However, I will never be party to saying that we should make science A-level easier. That gets the Government into very hot water, rightly, and I am not saying that. I hear what you are saying about maths but I have seen no research, either from the universities or from anywhere else, showing that the maths content of science A-level is a determining factor in putting people off. I am open to it and I will certainly pass it on to the QCA who are responsible for this, but I cannot direct a change in the maths content of the science A-level without significant research evidence that is independently based showing that.

    Dr Iddon

  27. How do we stop people studying tap dancing BSc and encourage them to go into productive subjects which we are so short of in this country to make the engineering and manufacturing in science base tick?
  28. (Mr Miliband) How many undergraduates are there in tap dancing?

  29. I chose that as a trivial example, but you and I know that students want a degree and they will take the easy route unless they are attracted into the difficult routes. Everybody around this table knows that to do science engineering or technology at university is a tough option, and if you do not get grants to go to university and you want to take the safe option then you take a subject which is easier to study, frankly, and we have got to reverse this.
  30. (Mr Miliband) I know of no students doing tap dancing.

  31. I withdraw that. You know what I mean.
  32. (Mr Miliband) I do not want us to demean the choices that people are making. People often say that media studies is a load of nonsense but actually the employment rates of media graduates and some of the emerging technologies in that area show that there is a market for them. In relation to science and the like, as a personal view I am not convinced that they are seen as hard for people who have shown skill at science A-level. If I tried to do undergraduate physics I would not find it possible but for the young people who are doing well at A-level, as a personal view I do not think it is the fact that they are seen to be hard. I think that there is an issue about the extent to which the world of science holds on to its graduates and the extent to which they float out into other occupations, which is a different thing. That relates to the place of science. Someone referred to engineering, the economic base of the country; there are some very big issues there. I am interested if you have got some evidence showing this because it is perceived to be hard. For kids who are talented at science I am not convinced that that is the problem.

  33. Imperial College itself is saying that its engineering course wills hut in seven years' time.
  34. (Mr Miliband) Why?

  35. We have a situation in which there is a widespread view that there is an easier way to achieve becoming a university graduate than to pursue this route and huge numbers of students exercise that choice. We are asking you for a sense of direction but apparently you think that there are lots of people around who have got these talents and who find it natural and easy. All we can say is that we have no evidence of that in our inquiries.
  36. (Mr Miliband) I do not want to end this session on a false note. What I have said is that the Government is committing significant resources to expand the capacity of science departments of universities to offer more and better degrees to science students. That has resulted in 40,000 more people doing science at undergraduate level. You say the distribution is not as it should be. The Government's commitment is to a bigger, better science base at university level. It is up to students then to make those choices. Our job is to get right the science teaching at Key Stage 3, GCSE and A-level so that you have the right flow coming through.

  37. These figures, I am afraid, are absolute balderdash. Teesside University has got 31 courses in its engineering faculty and they are all just different varieties of graphics and computing and using the word "technology" in the sense of information technology. The basic engineering, whether it is civil engineering or the physics of structures, all those classical areas of scientific investigation, are being completely and increasingly completely ignored because the statistics you are working from put all of these things in the same pot and you do not have the expertise to understand collectively as a department that there are whole areas of science which are being completely neglected in your new arrangements.
  38. (Mr Miliband) I take very seriously what Mr McWalter has said. I think we should commit in that case to go away and do a breakdown, with you if that would be helpful, subject by subject, course by course, cross-cuts, in whatever way we can. I have no interest in saying to you that everything is fine and then to find in seven years' time, you said, that everything has gone to pot. I have got absolutely no interest in doing that at all. I am more than happy to commit to detailed discussions, subject by subject.

  39. That is what I want.
  40. (Mr Miliband) Let us drill down to what is really happening because I have absolutely no interest in pulling the wool over your eyes or having the wool pulled over mine.


  41. Right, Minister. We will follow that through with you. You mentioned the National Centre for Excellence in Science Teaching. Where has that got to at the minute? It is indeed an important addition.
  42. (Ms Dallas) As you know, we are working very closely with the Wellcome Trust to develop the new centre. Where we are at the moment is developing around 25 new courses for teachers and also including science technicians. As maybe I indicated last time, those courses are all about leading edge science. It is about access to that for teachers and pupils. It is about looking at contemporary science issues in a way which both handles the science and the controversy which sometimes surrounds issues like that. It is about engaging in effective use of ICT in the science classroom. It is about looking at ways of encouraging analytical and reasoning skills in pupils. One of the things which I remember we talked about last time was the very heavy content in the curriculum and the whole issue about regurgitation of facts. It is attempting to move away from that. Obviously you need the facts but it is about encouraging teachers to help their pupils develop those reasoning, questioning and investigative skills. That is just a snapshot of the provision that is being developed there.

    (Mr Miliband) He wants to know when we are launching it, when we are putting our money in.

  43. When is the first brick going to be put down? Is Amish Kapoor designing it? Who is going to design it? Is it going to be a scientist or an economist?
  44. (Ms Dallas) We said last time that the centre would be up and running next year, and that is still the case, and we said it would be fully operational in two years. That is still the case.

    (Mr Miliband) We want to make an announcement, as I understand it, before Christmas about our commitment to the package that was so generously kicked off by Wellcome.

    Mr Heath

  45. We are hearing a little bit more good news now, which is a move away from being in denial about there being any problem at all about the physical sciences which is what I was hearing earlier. Can I move us back from the undergraduate evidence to the key area which we have been looking at, which is the 14-19 Key Stage 4 science curriculum in particular? Anyone who reads our report cannot fail to get the peer view which we have expressed that there is something seriously wrong with the Key Stage 4 curriculum as it presently is. It is not doing a service to our prospective science students and you only have to read the headings of the paragraphs in this report to see that - Inflexibility, Irrelevance, Failure to engage in debate, Repetitiveness, Limited options, Problems with practical and field work, Problems with course work, Problems with using ICT in science. Our view is that there is a significant problem here. We are concerned that there does not appear to be any sense of urgency in the Department of dealing with those problems with the structure and form of the curriculum at the moment other than a commitment back in February to review the Key Stage 4 science curriculum. Are we still waiting for that review to be even started?
  46. (Mr Miliband) I think this is an important area and one where it is difficult for politicians, or at least politicians that are not scientists or have not been through the system, to be absolutely sure about what is really happening. You have listed a number of areas. The fact that they are listed does not mean that they are true, so the first thing we have to do is look at them and see whether or not they are right. We are with due seriousness trying to get underneath this.

  47. How? Is that a review?
  48. (Mr Miliband) No, it is not a capital "R" Review, if that is what you are saying. Let me address the second half of your comments because I am happy to hear you come back on it. We have just started, a year ago, the new style GCSE, and we have got the new pilot GCSE, the so-called hybrid GCSE, starting this year. The frustrating thing about curriculum change is that it takes a very long time. However, I am sure we would all agree that in the light of the AS-level and A-level fracas this summer, urgency always has to be balanced with due diligence in making curriculum change, and you will know not just that those initiatives were long in the gestation trying to address several of the issues that you have raised here, but that they need to be properly evaluated, but also that there is a structural issue here which is that our advisers on curriculum issues are, rightly, the independent QCA. They have given evidence to you, they have responded to your report. I think it is dangerous for me to bypass what is an established procedure, whichever party is in power, as to the nature of curriculum change. I would agree with you that where there are problems we have to tackle them seriously. However, I never want to start trialing new initiatives before we know the effects of existing ones. In this area, as it happens, we have two really major things going on: a new GCSE course and the new pilot of core science plus specialist modules. I think we all have to wait and see what the effect of those is before we rush to change it again.

  49. I think I would be more content with that answer if we did not in the Green Paper have a clear statement that the curriculum is to be reviewed. I think it is reasonable for this Committee to ask at this point whether that review has been commissioned from the QCA and what its intentions are, on what basis a review is to be held and on what timescale. At the moment we have no indication that there is any timescale or any basis for a review at all.
  50. (Mr Jones) The review has not been commissioned yet. That review will be part of the review that will be commissioned as part of the response of the 14-19 Green Paper which the Minister has not yet given. That would look at science and would be asked to take account of this Committee's report, but until ministers give their response to the 14-19 Green Paper we cannot commission the QCA to undertake that review of the Key Stage 4 curriculum.

  51. So that will happen in due course?
  52. (Mr Jones) Yes.

    (Mr Miliband) And I think it is fair to say that we have been focusing on the practical issues, the delivery of the A and AS-level system, but we certainly want to proceed when possible with the 14-19 Green Paper and the response to it because it was a very wide-ranging debate on that Green Paper.

  53. I understand, Minister, what you say about the fact that there is a long period of gestation, but I also recognise the fact that on this sort of timescale, that when we are talking about exams coming into effect in 2003, of having two years or so to run and then an assessment being made of that and that being fed back into a review process, we are talking about an entire generation of children who are going to continue to be turned off science by the curriculum as it presently is and we are going to continue to have a situation in which we are not recruiting people in the physical sciences, the chemical sciences, engineering, which is going to be to the huge detriment of this country.
  54. (Mr Miliband) Can you come back on my point which is that we have made what we believe, and I think you accept this, are some quite significant changes to the GCSE science course? Come back to me in a judicious way and in a way that does not say to teachers, "You have started teaching the new style course. We are going to turf it all up if you did not take any exams". We need to find a way of learning the lessons of that significant reform before we turn the system upside down again.

    Mr Heath: I think it would have been reasonable to have commissioned the review from the QCA. I think it would have been reasonable to have identified at least some of the key areas.


  55. One of the problems that came up was that when major issues like GM crops, MMR and all these things come up teachers are unable within the curriculum to stop and talk about issues that excite young people which they hear about, they read about and so on. What they have to do is bash on because the curriculum has to be achieved, "Today we do this, today we do that. We cannot have a buttercup today, we have done that. On to the next thing." That is very important in science, that young people have a chance to argue the morality, the ethics of issues and so on, and it is not allowed for in terms of the curriculum.
  56. (Mr Miliband) But is it not right, Chairman, that first of all there are schools that have been debating those things? Secondly, the purpose of science courses is to give students the technical basis on which to have what you describe as the moral arguments. There is nothing to stop those sorts of debates happening. I hear what you say about the amount of material that needs to be taken on board. I have been to schools where there are displays on the wall of work about GMOs, so I am not convinced that these are no-go areas for teachers and for schools.

    Mr Harris

  57. The gist of the report is that we need a step change in school science education and that gets bogged down in time limits and timescales. Has the Department given any thought to how to achieve that step change, not through curriculum changes but in terms of professional development for teachers or the training of new teachers?
  58. (Mr Miliband) There are a number of things I should bring to your attention or maybe you know about them already, which do constitute a significant improvement. You can judge whether or not they are a step change. First of all, the Key Stage 3 strategy really must not be under-estimated. It is a major attempt to galvanise the teaching and learning experience for 11-14-year olds. We know those are the years when there is a turn-off in secondary education. Secondly, I think that the development of the specialist science college network is an exciting step change, a genuine step change. As I say, there are 58 applications in the October round to be announced in January. Those are schools thinking, "We have got a centre of excellence in science. We want to build on that and share our facilities and our expertise in that area." That has real power. Third, I believe the school workforce reforms that we announced two weeks ago really are a radical departure in the sense that they will give science teachers, like other teachers, a chance to be at the cutting edge of what it means to be a professional. They will be properly supported with proper time preparation and assessment of pupils, absolutely critical to high quality lessons, I am sure you agree, and will get the support in the classroom from technicians and others, secretarial support as back-up, that really allows the science lessons to be of the highest quality. We know at the moment that teachers only spend a third of their time teaching. We want to increase that proportion which will have benefits right across the curriculum, but notably in an area like science. You can judge whether that counts as a step change, but I think there are important things happening that will have a positive effect.

    Bob Spink

  59. In our paragraph 29 we concluded that students face a lot of repetition and find it boring and you simply brushed that aside with your response on page 8/9 where you conclude that the current programmes of study, Key Stages 1-4, are designed to encourage progression through all Key Stages. We did not pluck our conclusion out of the air. We based it on empirical evidence that we took from students, from teachers and from QCA people. We published that evidence in our report. We would have had much more confidence in you if you had shown some understanding of the problem rather than simple denial and a defensive approach that seems to be symptomatic of your own approach in this. I know that there are changes but you would have given us more confidence in you if you had accepted that yes, there is this repetition and that the changes that have been brought in are not going to completely eradicate that repetition and had set about trying to make sure that there is not that repetition and to make room for more of these exciting subjects that the Chairman has talked about to be brought in and discussed. Do you wish that you had made a more positive approach to this?
  60. (Mr Miliband) You obviously did think it was negative and I am sorry you thought it was negative. We start with a statement of fact which is that the national curriculum, including science, was revised in 2001. It has just happened. We have got that major revision. For obvious reasons I do not need to bore you with we are not permanently revising the national curriculum. It would drive teachers and pupils absolutely mad. I will take away the fact that you think this is too complacent. I think with such a recent review, with some big changes going on at Key Stage 3, real encouragement for teachers to help students progress at their own pace, so forging ahead in some subjects like science where they have got a particular talent, we can address some of the points that you have made.

    Dr Iddon

  61. My understanding was that that the revision was not a major revision. In fact, 75 per cent of the syllabus probably was untouched. What evidence have you got that that was a major revision to the science curriculum?
  62. (Mr Miliband) It was one of the quinquennial reviews of the national curriculum which was done on the basis of real expert engagement with the science and other communities. Perhaps someone can fill me in on the 25 per cent that was revised. That is actually quite a lot of the curriculum to be revised given that it is the same people who are teaching it in a five year period.

    (Mr Jones) My understanding was that one of the changes that was made was to remove the duplication between what happened at Key Stage 3 and what happened at Key Stage 4. That would be in terms of the programme of study that would be required at each of these stages and of course the curriculum at Key Stage 4 is what drives the content of the GCSE provision. What I cannot comment on but may well be the case is whether teachers none the less found that in taking groups of pupils forward from Key Stage 3 they still had to do remedial work that would inevitably require some duplication of work in order to bring people back up to speed at Key Stage 4 and GCSE. Clearly there are issues in that about pace and progression and how you handle different groups of young people within any one year group within a school, and indeed the 14-19 Green Paper does suggest that there should be a more flexible use of different paced teaching in order to facilitate that.

  63. There were no substantive changes. You just took out the repetition.
  64. (Mr Miliband) That is what this is about though. This is what we are being asked about. We are asked, "Is there repetition" and he has just said we are taking out the repetition.

    Mr Harris: I have to say, Minister, that in the evidence we took across the country, in Scotland as well as in England and Wales, everywhere, the word "repetition" in the syllabus came up time and time again and my colleague has already referred to that.

    Bob Spink

  65. And not just between Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 but across the complete range.
  66. (Mr Miliband) Janet is in the Curriculum Division. She obviously cannot speak for Scotland because they have got a different situation, but why do you not say whether you think that duplication has been removed, because that is the focus of this, whether or not duplication has been removed and he says it has?

    (Ms Dallas) I think we need to separate out two things. We need to separate out the curriculum which is a framework and has progression built in from Key Stages 1-4 and it was the case that prior to the last national curriculum review there was repetition within what was studied or what was specified to be studied between Key Stages 3 and 4, and it is that change which has been made. I think perhaps from your own evidence what you heard was that the pupils' learning experiences are repetitive which is like being on the receiving end of the curriculum. We recognise that some pupils do feel like that but I also think that today we have told you a lot about the things that we have put in place which we hope will change the experiences of those young people over time, but these things do happen over time.

  67. It was not just pupils, although pupils did tell us that. It was the teachers from schools in Truro right through to Bolton and it was also Martin Hollins of the QCA who told us that and also told us that it was not just between 3and 4 but across all the stages, so I hope you have taken that on board. Minister, do you accept that the way that GCSE is assessed in both course work and examinations has a major impact on the way that science is taught in schools leading up to that assessment?
  68. (Mr Miliband) I would certainly agree that the mode of assessment has major implications for teaching in any subject, not just in science. That is obviously true.

  69. Does the Government share QCA's view that there is no significant problem with the assessment of school science at GCSE and, if not, what actions do you intend to take to resolve this?
  70. (Mr Miliband) For obvious reasons, in matters of assessment it is always much more sensible for the Government to follow the advice of its lead advisers unless there is absolutely overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We have a system where it is not the DfES internally that makes proposals on this. We have got an independent external body full of experts in these areas. I have not seen sufficient evidence to make me want to countermand the QCA's advice, which I am sure you would agree, since they are an independent body, means that there is this high burden of proof required, and on the basis of my views simply to go against what they are saying.

  71. The Government response did not attempt to address the concerns that we raised in our report about the Awarding Bodies. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that the Awarding Bodies actively review the impact of their assessment regimes and develop alternatives where those are appropriate?
  72. (Mr Miliband) I think this is an important area and I am glad that we got a chance to look at it, but it is one where politicians have to be very careful how they tread. The responsibility for regulating the Awarding Bodies is not a matter for Government; it is a matter for the QCA. That is the straightforward answer to your question. The QCA is responsible for ensuring that syllabuses are appropriate, that examination procedures are appropriate, that the right examination is done in the right way and all that sort of thing. Having said that, you will know that there is a major review going on at the moment by Mike Tomlinson into the relationships between the QCA and the Awarding Bodies as well as into the suitability of our current structure of Awarding Bodies, so I do not want to pre-judge that but that is the formal position.

  73. Can you expand on what you are doing then to make sure that the QCA is monitoring the performance of the Awarding Bodies and, where necessary, intervening and intervening very quickly because there are a number of problems with the A-levels and AS-levels?
  74. (Mr Miliband) That is a fair point. It would be absurd in the light of this year's difficulties to say, "Look how well we are doing in this area".

  75. You may not recall but last time we had a Minister come from the DfES there were some queries here about what was going to happen with this year's exams.
  76. (Mr Miliband) I have read Stephen Timms' evidence but in relation to that there is quite an interesting story, remember, which is that last year there was a major problem with one of the examining boards, Edexel, and the way it worked. It was a huge issue I think for you and for us and the QCA were encouraged to take a very active role in ensuring due diligence on the procedures in Edexel. What we know as a result of the whole imbroglio this year is actually that Edexel got their act together, they got the requisite number of markers, they got their grades in on time and appropriately, so QCA in that specific context did its job quite well. There is a separate issue, which is where QCA fell down. It is very clear that in its specification of the appropriate standards for individual units in the AS and A-level it fell down on the job. That is the absolutely obvious conclusion of the Tomlinson Review mark one, and that is what is being addressed coming out of that Tomlinson Review by the new Chief Executive of the QCA. The six points that Tomlinson requested that he look at are being looked at.

  77. So can I tell those constituents of mine whose children are still awaiting re-grades on some subjects that you accept responsibility for that?
  78. (Mr Miliband) With respect, I do not think they are awaiting re-grades. They may be awaiting re-marks.

  79. Yes, I apologise.
  80. (Mr Miliband) Which is a significant difference.

  81. Quite so. Let us hope they are re-grades though.
  82. (Mr Miliband) Let us hope that they get the appropriate grade at the end of it. That is a procedure that happens every year and as far as I know the appeals against marks are proceeding according to a plan.

    Dr Iddon

  83. Minister, what do you see as the role of a school science technician being? In view of the recent proposals that you have published on the role of support staff, how do you see school science technicians playing in that new arena?
  84. (Mr Miliband) I think this is important. What I would say is that teachers are better able to do their job and students are better able to learn when they have got technical support from other adults in the classroom and outside the classroom. My vision of the future of the teaching force is that teachers are leading teams of professionals, in this case including technicians, better to serve the students who are in the classes. It is striking that of the five priority areas that we proposed in our proposals two weeks ago for additional staff two are directly addressed at technicians, for example, priority two, assisting classroom teachers with higher level tasks directly associated with teaching and learning. That seems to me a good description of something that technicians do. Priority four is providing technical support, particularly relating to ICT, but none the less including technicians more generally. We hope that there will be an expanding cadre of technical support in schools. We are working with the Royal Society and the other bodies to ensure that there is proper delineation of the roles of science technicians and that will be available to local authorities and to schools as they begin to judge the sort of people that they want to recruit. The money will be in the hands of the headteachers and we are hoping to create a much more transparent and supportive framework for that hiring practice.

  85. Are you aware that a school science technician spends an inordinate amount of time in the background, in the prep room, getting the experiments ready to take into the classroom and that if that is the role that you see for science technicians in the future, and I agree with you that that would be an ideal thing for them to be able to go into the classroom and help the teacher in the classroom, the difficulty is that they are so few in number that they are worth their weight in gold and unless we have some method of recruitment and training for school science technicians we are never going to achieve what we want to achieve?
  86. (Mr Miliband) Obviously I do recognise that they work outside lessons and then come back. I think that a clearer delineation of the different roles of technical support staff will help schools and help heads. The other thing is that there is a massive culture change going on. Two or three years ago there was huge caution in schools about the prospect of other professionals coming into the classroom. I think the experience of learning mentors tackling behaviour problems, language specialists but also thinking laterally about the role that technicians have played for many years is beginning to change the culture and heads now, when they have more money in their budget, are thinking about recruiting more teachers (and, as you know, the Government is committed to hiring 10,000 more teachers in this Parliament) and are also thinking, "How can I get other staff into the schools?". Just to pick out one thing, yes there are recruitment issues. The Roberts Review highlighted the prospect of undergraduates playing a bigger role and also graduates, once they leave university, playing a bigger role. Those are two things that we are pursuing actively because they are obvious sources of technical expertise to help in schools.

    Mr Dhanda

  87. Can we expect anything concrete and, if so, what sort of timetable, about the re-structured roles of technicians, if there are to be any, and also are we going to be looking to address their pay because at the moment they are on about 9,000 a year if they are doing their current role?
  88. (Mr Miliband) On the former, the consultation on this document on developing the role of school support staff closes on January 26. I am delighted that the General Secretary of the Secondary Heads Association has written to every secondary headteacher in the country saying, "Get on with it. You have got the money in your budget. Start hiring the additional support staff, including technicians", so I would say that in terms of the formal processes in terms of making progress it can happen now because more money is being devolved into school budgets for them to make choices that will best help their school. In relation to pay, this is not a nationally negotiated pay system. However, I do think that the framework we are developing with the Royal Society and others will make much clearer the different skill mixes and levels that are required at different levels of technicians and that will bring to the attention of heads and others the implications for pay. We have said clearly that we want more heads to recruit more higher level teaching assistants. Some of those will be technicians. From where they appear on the ladder of qualifications and skills they will have to be paid a certain amount to get them in and it will be at the local level that you find the recruitment works.

    Dr Iddon

  89. But is it right, Minister, that different local authorities in different parts of the country should pay school science technicians such very different rates? That is the experience we saw. Some people were doing it for the love of doing it rather than for the pay that it gave. You would be lucky if you were earning 9,000 as a school science technician. Would it not be better if we had at least regional salary scales if not national salary scales for these staff?
  90. (Mr Miliband) The experience of regional skills has not been productive. We think that LEAs have a tradition of negotiating at their level. That is sensitive to local labour market situations. The reason there are pay differences is there are different pay pressures and different recruitment pressures in different parts of the country. Obviously it is in the interests of the schooling system, the education system, to have as many people of the appropriate and, if possible, the highest possible quality. We think we will get a better match by putting the pound in the hands' of local heads. I do not think it would be sensible to have a free-for-all, that is why LEAs have an important role and generally set rates. From a school's point of view it wants to get the best possible person, and many of them, for the appropriate amount of money. We all know how much extra money is going in to schools, the DfES has put an ordinance on how much money we put into separate pots of money at the centre with a cash flap for central progress. The choices are going to be there for the professionals to think, how do we best support teaching and learning in our schools.

  91. We are leaving it to the market?
  92. (Mr Miliband) We are leaving it to local organisations. Peripatetic and technical support is somewhere where LEAs have traditionally had a role, that is not the market, that is them playing an appropriate role in the schooling system.

    Mr Heath

  93. I am not absolutely clear, are you saying that any enhanced role or recognition of the responsibilities of a technician will be linked inevitably with classroom times, with direct pupil contact time?
  94. (Mr Miliband) No.

  95. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of technicians.
  96. (Mr Miliband) I did not explain myself properly when somebody else asked me earlier. What we are saying is high level teaching assistants working under the direction of a teacher have an increasing role in our schooling system. When we say the direction of the teacher that obviously includes pre-class time, the sort you just described, as well as in-class time but it is up to the teacher to decide how he might best use the technician.

    Chairman: Okay.

    Mr Dhanda

  97. You mentioned some of the extra money that has gone into school laboratories, which is appreciated, however your Report does not talk about how the value has essentially been measured, can you talk about the evaluation of that extra money for school laboratories?
  98. (Ms Dallas) The evaluation of the money given to the LEAs - we are talking about 60 million over the last two years, ring-fenced funding to the laboratories - will come about through our scrutiny of local authorities asset management plans, because that will tell us the effect of the investment on the schools where that funding is directed, and then following on from that whereabouts in their LEA they propose to invest future money in different schools for different purposes.

  99. How can we be sure that that money is being spent on the areas we want it to be spent in?
  100. (Mr Miliband) There is a really important principle here, 60 million for science labs, the capital budget is three billion. Of that three billion schools and LEAs will decide the relative priority of science in their area. It will be different in my area from yours.

  101. I do not have a problem with it being different from area to area. In terms of feedback and evaluation, that is a key area, that is not actually mentioned in this Report?
  102. (Ms Dallas) The LEAs have done their own evaluation and it is up to them to make future decisions about where to invest large sums of money that come to them. There is no reason why there has to be central intervention in LEAs decisions about where they saw the poorest conditions of laboratories.

    (Mr Miliband) I hope we will see the results in more people doing science, higher standards of achievement in science, because those are the things we want to see at the end of the day. I share your wish to see improvements in the science labs, however it is obvious from the two figures I quoted the biggest improvement is not going to come from the 60 million pocket it is going to come from the allocation of the three billion that goes towards science. Do you see what I mean?

  103. I do. I must also say that the Report goes on about a number of matters, one of the things it says in recommendation 62 is, "We will be working with our partners to develop interactive, flexible and user-friendly resources for schools to help in assessing their needs and procuring the accommodation and equipment necessary to teach science in the classroom of the future". It will make it much easier for all of us if the language was a little bit simpler. If can you explain to us what it actually means that would be really helpful?
  104. (Mr Miliband) What it means is that every LEA is developing an asset management plan to upgrade the quality of its capital resource, that is an important document, above all, in helping focus LEAs' attention on which aspects of their capital they want to tackle. In the end the proof of the pudding is going to be in the number and quality of science education that goes on.

    Mr Dhanda: That is far more easily understood in the way you said it. Thank you.

    Dr Iddon

  105. We saw some excellent science laboratories. I have to say that the best we say were at Westminster School round the corner here in Smith Square, you might expect that. In my own personal meandering about schools I have seen some pretty grotty science laboratories, in many cases they do not work. There is a complete shortage of class work, there is a shortage of everything. I am a bit disappointed to hear that we are not going to try and evaluate how much money we need to plough into school science laboratories, we are going to leave it to the local authority to do that. Some local authorities are excellent and they will do that, will they not, but other local authorities need to be driven to do that. My other concern is, I ask the question, I am very pleased to hear that we are going to allocate three billion pounds for buildings, whether new or maintaining existing ones, such as science laboratories, that is good news. I would encourage you to ensure that quite a bit of that money goes down to the science laboratories. My question is, are you going to assure us this afternoon that quite a bit of that money will go outside the specialist science colleges, into the schools that are not getting extra money in many ways and that are really suffering?
  106. (Mr Miliband) I can tell you that every asset management plan is audited for quality to make sure that it is not just a few boxes that are being checked, it is actually a serious document. In the guidance priority is clearly given to science labs. I think that should reassure you, it reassures me, that there is a big push going on, that a significant proportion of the money does get spent on science labs. I always welcome feedback from the frontline, but the asset management plans give sufficient authority to science and our guidance gives priority to science. I agree with you that there are grotty science labs but I have also seen some improved in the last five years. The sums involved are large, they are in addition to all of the other running costs, three billion a year is four and a half billion a year on capital by 2005/2006. That is big money.

  107. Are you saying that your Department will be monitoring that that money is actually going in to improve science laboratories all round?
  108. (Mr Miliband) We monitor the asset management plan, that it conforms to the guidance we have given. If an asset management plan came forward that had no priority towards science labs we would ask a pretty serious question about it. We need to be convinced that every science lab in the LEA was of such a brilliant standard we do not have to spend any money on them.


  109. This Committee's experience was that the 570 million that went in to cancer services did not actually get through, and that was admitted by the Department.
  110. (Mr Miliband) Where did it end up?

  111. It paid off deficits in health authorities and it had to pay for wage increases. The money did not get to where the government thought it was going.
  112. (Mr Miliband) Let me go back and check on the extent of any underspend on New Deal for Schools and other capital budgets and drop you a line to see if that provides any reassurance or alarm on the state of spending.


    Mr McWalter

  113. I would just like to pick up on something you said earlier which I think reflects something that I and the Committee unanimously would wish to contest, it relates to the answer you gave earlier about GM crops. You seem to suggest that what the science curriculum was about was learning the technical stuff and then they could all have little discussions about it somewhere else, some good schools might provide scope for people to do that. What we have said in our Report, for instance a quotation from Ralph Levinson, "an emphasis on evidence and an emphasis on argument could be one way forward". What we are trying to do is to get people to think differently about the way science is delivered so there is more emphasise on the student's own interests and them being able to shape their educational experience more effectively. We think that the awarding bodies do not take responsibility for what we regard as a satisfying assessment system which prevents that kind of interaction from happening. If they are not doing it then we are asking you, will you?
  114. (Mr Miliband) To respond, I do not think we do have a difference. I did not articulate myself sufficiently clearly. The unique contribution of the science teaching is to give young people the facts. That does not mean, let me finish, --

  115. That is a source of conflict, we do not accept that.
  116. (Mr Miliband) -- you have not heard what I have said yet. That does not mean that science teaching and science classes are restricted to giving them the facts. Science lessons can have excellent debates as well as getting technical issues across, however those technical issues and debates can be pursued in other lessons as well.

  117. Should they not be integrated into the assessment procedure and the student's experience?
  118. (Mr Miliband) The assessment procedure must test the full range and knowledge and skill that exists in a young person. The science class is not restricted to those technical issues. I hope there is debate in science classes as well as technical discussion, but the unique contribution of science is it can arm young people with the technical knowledge as well.

  119. Their experience is that when they ask those questions they are told, "that is not on the syllabus we have to move on". We are trying to get you to embrace a vision of science that actually makes it much more centred round the students' interests in current issues and discursive, argumentative skills and a variety of things that draw upon that. I do not think that you have given me the feeling that you understand that. I am asking you to try and take that on board so when we next have this discussion it will not sound as if your model of science is as old-fashioned as it currently sounds.
  120. (Mr Miliband) I will take that seriously, I will take that away. A similar charge is made against us in a wholly different area, let me explain, we are told that in primary schools the emphasis on literacy and numeracy means there is no room for enrichment activities and that all other activities are being squeezed out of the primary school curriculum. OFSTED enquired into this and what they found was that in 25 per cent of schools that were actually delivering a primary strategy properly, a literacy and numeracy strategy properly, there was synergy between enrichment activities and the literacy and numeracy that we were putting such emphasis on. I feel we probably have a similar situation here, there are schools and colleges up and down the country who are arming young people with the technical knowledge but they are also firing them with imagination and enthusiasm for the debates that come out of that, the debates in which their technical knowledge is used. What I am hearing here is we have to do a better job in making sure more schools are able to provide that combination of technical knowledge and real debate. I am not yet convinced the curriculum or the assessment mechanism makes that impossible. In my estimate there is a good 20 per cent to 25 per cent of schools that are doing that.

    Mr McWalter: We say that it does.


  121. Thank you, Minister, for coming. I think we do have a fundamental disagreement, it has been important to air it here together. We do hope that you will take some of the Committee's criticisms and ideas forward. We are committed, as I am sure you and your Department are, to advancing science in this country because it does fit in so much to technological developments but also to the wealth of this country. We see a problem, we have been trying hard to convince you, and I hope that you go away and contemplate it amongst all of the other problems that you and other ministers have at the minute. We sympathise with that but please do not ignore our Report in terms of scientific developments in this country. Thank you for taking the time.

(Mr Miliband) Thank you.