Embargo: 00:01 Sunday 5th November 2006
Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659
UK SCIENCE UNDER THREAT FROM SEVERE SHORTAGE OF PROPERLY QUALIFIED TEACHERS, PEERS WARN
A report published today by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has warned that the severe shortage of specialist science teachers is putting the future of British science and engineering at risk.
Science Teaching in Schools, urges the Government to rectify this problem by ensuring that schools offer significantly higher salaries to chemistry and physics graduates where necessary. The Committee also calls for teachers specialising in these subjects to have their student debts written off after four or five years' service.
The Committee also expresses concern that students are opting for "easier" A-levels over science and mathematics, a problem which is compounded by over-specialisation at the age of 16. To counter this,
the peers recommend a move towards a wider diploma or baccalaureate system, ensuring that students study a broader range of subjects and have a better chance to see the merits of studying science.
The Committee also criticises the poor quality of school science laboratories.
They are strongly critical of the Government for failing to deliver the £200 million promised for school science laboratories before the 2005 General Election. The Committee goes on to attack the poor quality of many new or refurbished science laboratories, which is "both regrettable and avoidable".
The peers also criticise the Government's obsession with testing. They feel that the current tests focus on too narrow a range of skills and stop teachers using their own creativity to inspire students to study science. The Government's focus on ongoing testing at all school ages takes much of the fun out of studying science for many children.
Other recommendations in the report include the following:
All teachers should be obliged to undertake a certain amount of subject-specific continuing professional development (CPD) each year, as many other professionals are required to do. In addition, schools should be provided with extra ring-fenced funding to help them pay for teacher cover.
The Government should act immediately to improve the poor quality of careers advice in schools, so that students are fully informed about the excellent opportunities which qualifications in science and mathematics can bring.
The Government should commission a central website on practical science to address health and safety fears and to give details of exemplar risk-assessed practical experiments that will excite and stimulate students.
There should be a proper career structure and improved pay for school science technicians, who continue to be undervalued by the school system in spite of the crucial role they play.
Commenting on the report, Professor the Lord Broers, Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, said:
"The UK economy faces a serious threat if we do not act now to increase the number of pupils studying science and maths.
"We call on the Government to look again at a diploma or baccalaureate system, which would enable students to keep studying science and maths along with other subjects, reducing the tendency for them to drop science entirely for 'easier' subjects after their GCSEs. The Welsh Assembly Government has recognised the need to broaden post-16 educationthe Westminster Government needs to catch up.
"The chronic shortage of specialist chemistry and physics teachers is also causing serious problems. Parents should be confident their children's science teachers are properly qualified in their subject area, at the moment this is simply not the case.
"The Government must accept the realities of the marketplace and ensure that recruitment is stepped up through higher salaries and other long-term financial incentives. Teachers should also be obliged to undergo subject-specific CPD, especially in such a fast moving area as science.
"The quality of school science labs must also be improved. Prior to the 2005 election the Government promised £200m for improved science facilities but this investment has yet to emerge. If this commitment was more than just a hollow election tactic the Government must now back up its words with actions and ensure that school science labs are fit for purpose."
Notes to Editors
1. The report is published by The Stationary Office:
Science Teaching in Schools, House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, 10th report of 2005/06, HL Paper 257
2. The report will be available shortly after publication at:
3. The reference to the government's broken promise of £200m for improved school science facilities relates to a commitment made by Patricia Hewitt in April 2005 at an election press conference. The plans were later dropped. The issue was reported on 9 March 2006 at:
4. Between 1996 and 2005 the number of student studying physics A-level dropped from 28,400 to 24, 606 a fall of 3794 or 13.4% See Table 1 in the report for further information.
5. The members of the committee who conducted the inquiry are:
Lord Broers (Chairman)
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff
Lord Howie of Troon
Baroness Perry of Southwark
Baroness Platt of Writtle
Earl of Selborne
Baroness Sharp of Guildford
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood
Lord Young of Graffham
For further information, or to request and interview with Lord Broers, please contact Owen Williams on 020 72198659 or 07961 101 461.