COMMONS

MPs voice fears over provision of school science practicals and field trips

School science
14 September 2011

Students are not receiving the practical science education necessary to produce the next generation of scientists, warns Commons Science and Technology Committee.

The Commons Science and Technology Select Committee today publishes its report on practical experiments in school science lessons and science field trips. It concludes that many students are receiving poor practical science experiences during their secondary school education.

Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Committee, said,

"We heard evidence that the pressures of managing a busy curriculum, challenges in finding time for specialist continuing professional development, or time to get out of the classroom, are all factors contributing to a decline in the quality of practical science.

This is worrying. If the UK is to be confident of producing the next generation of scientists, then schools -encouraged by the government - must overcome the perceived and real barriers to providing high quality practicals, fieldwork and fieldtrips."

The report says health and safety concerns may be used as a convenient excuse for avoiding practicals and work outside the classroom, but the MPs found no credible evidence to support this frequently cited explanation for a decline in practicals and trips.

Knowledge and practical skills

Instead, the committee says more focus is needed on what happens after teachers have been recruited to the profession: knowledge and practical skills must be maintained and developed in order for high quality science education to be delivered.

High quality science facilities and qualified and experienced technical support are vital. A career structure for technical staff should be provided and the government should ensure schools provide science facilities to match its aspirations for science education.

Practical science is relatively expensive and carries little cachet for parents comparing schools. The inspection regime and the requirements set for exam boards should therefore drive higher quality with more and better practical science lessons.

STEM directories

The committee also found a lack of coherence in the provision of science educational materials. It urges the science community to utilise the STEM directories—the online database of STEM enhancement and enrichment activities for schools and colleges—and calls on the government to secure the future of the directories which provide vital contacts between schools and scientists.

Detailed strategy

Finally, the committee urges the government to provide a detailed strategy on how it intends to achieve its ambition to increase participation in school science subjects.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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