Schoolzone blog: Time to stop the rot

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15 Oct 2014


As we have reported in our primary schools research many times over the past few years, the position of science in the primary curriculum has been dramatically eroded since the scrapping of science SATs in 2009. Some might say that that it has only been demoted to the level of the foundation subjects (or maybe now we should say the other foundation subjects), so why the fuss? But fuss there should be, since science is absolutely vital to our economy. Already, the number of physics graduates is low and the number of girls taking science A-levels continues to be a challenge, despite many initiatives to combat this.

Where are girls most likely to find a positive female scientific role model? In primary schools of course, where staffing is hugely dominated by women, but with only 5% of primary teachers having science-related qualifications, according to CaSE. So if there is no SAT pressure, very little expertise and no government incentive, what is there to motivate primary schools to do more?

CaSE would like to see Ofsted putting a particular pressure on schools to do more for science - both its teaching: "it's a core subject and should be treated as such" and in careers advice: "three quarters of the schools they visited were not implementing their duty effectively". This is from their new Election 2015 – Policy Briefings which aims to support parties in developing (education and other) policies for forthcoming manifestos - echoing the Schoolzone Blog's previous calls for something to vote for.

CaSE also call for all primary schools to appoint a science subject leader, who receives regular update training, plus £2 million a year for science CPD: desperately needed money.

At secondary level, CaSE point out that in 2013/14 there was a deficit of over 1000 teachers in STEM subjects compared to recruitment targets. That's one in three schools lacking a STEM teacher. They also point out that the continuous system change is demoralising and draws teachers' energies away from teaching.

For years, governments have underlined the need to support science, in order to strengthen the economy, but each new one tries something different, and talks a lot (of rot, largely) about what should be done.

"The total government spend on science, engineering and technology (SET) across all departments dropped by a billion pounds in real terms from £12.7bn to £11.7bn between 2009 and 2012 to its lowest point since 2001" according to CaSE.

Unless investment in science in the UK keeps pace with that elsewhere in the world, the UK could lose its competitive edge in science and innovation, with consequential impacts on the economy” Lord Krebs, Science and Technology Select Committee, quoted by CaSE

According to the IOP, physics alone contributes £220 billion to the UK economy. So imagine a country where we have too few scientists to maintain this, inadequate research funding and the UK having withdrawn from the EU so that we can't take researchers and funding from that vital source. It's not a pretty picture.





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