STEM Education bulletin – reports and resources

Dr Hilary Leevers is Assistant Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering.

Education is undergoing a huge overhaul – perhaps even more so than other areas of government. We will be posting blogs on specific issues in science, technology, engineering, or maths (STEM) education in schools and colleges over the coming weeks and months – kicking off with one from Peter Main, Director of Education and Science at the Institute of Physics, on physics teachers in schools. But in advance, here we provide a few links to recent papers and developments on the issues.

The Education White Paper: The Importance of Teaching, was published on 24th November. It throws up a breadth of issues, from curriculum reform and teacher recruitment and training to restructuring schools themselves. CaSE has already met with a small group of colleagues working in STEM education policy to share thoughts and discuss what actions should be taken. We and others will be blogging on them in more detail as things develop.

The White Paper followed a National Audit Office report, Educating the next generation of scientists, that noted the many positive advances over recent years in science and maths secondary education. However, certain problems persist, like shortages of specialist mathematics and physics teachers. It presents an interesting analysis of the benefits of various STEM interventions. CaSE’s comments were covered in the Financial Times article on the report.

In October, Michael Gove announced changes to arrangements for specialist schools and colleges – they will no longer have to meet any requirements to call themselves specialist, nor will the receive any additional funding for their specialisms. Thus, the 1,300 schools specalised in STEM will no longer be required to offer any enrichment or offer separate GCSEs in biology, chemistry and physics. CaSE raised this issue in a letter in the Times Educational Supplement.

On the day before the white paper was published, the Public Accounts Committee took evidence from the Department for Education on the National Audit Office report, school specialism, and other issues.

Over the summer, Stijn Broeke produced an informative paper: Does offering more science at school increase the supply of scientists?

Analyses compared two adjacent cohorts of pupils in schools that offered triple science to one year but not the next (or previous) one. Adding triple science to the subjects on offer produced large and significant effects on later subject choice and attainment, particularly for boys and pupils from more deprived backgrounds. (These effects were observed across all students who were offered triple science, not by comparing those who actually took it with those who did not, producing good evidence for a causal link between triple science and later performance and progression in STEM subjects.)

A November report by Policy Exchange focused on how to keep extremism out of faith schools. It discussed the need to keep creationism out of the science curriculum and also what mechanisms can be used to influence new school entities. Academies and free schools will be state-funded independent schools, receiving their allocation of funding directly from the Department for Education and must meet must meet the Independent School Standards.

Finally, at the start of December, the Sutton Trust released a report examining the use of an aptitude test for university entrance. The evidence suggested that the aptitude test examined would not be helpful in selecting students for universities.

The report also added to evidence that a student’s schooling background should be taking into account when considering their performance at A levels (e.g., a comprehensive school student with A-level grades BBB is likely to perform as well at university as an independent or grammar school student with grades ABB or AAB). This is relevant to the STEM Diversity Bursary that CaSE proposed in 2008 – offering university bursaries for STEM subjects to the best performing students in schools with a poor history of progression to higher education.

Feel free to add more links to recent papers in comments below and do get in touch if you would like to read (or write!) a blog expanding on the issues.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 07/12/2010 at 15:28 | Permalink

    Interesting OECD stats on STEM performance in schools just published

    In my capacity as Chair of the Royal Society’s Education Committee I would say that the UK consistently ranks as one of the highest performing scientific nations, with a long and prestigious history of innovation and invention. Our education system should reflect these high standards in science and mathematics if we are to continue to stay at the forefront of academic and industrial excellence. Inevitably, therefore, the suggestion that our education standards are stagnating is a cause for concern. We must ensure that we provide the UK’s young people with the highest quality experience in schools, both to fulfil our responsibility to give the next generation the best start in life, and to guarantee our long-term economic competitiveness.

    The three recent Royal Society State of the Nation reports have all highlighted a paucity of specialist science and mathematics teachers in state schools, and we strongly advocate that this issue is addressed through targeted recruitment and retention programmes, as well as investing in appropriate training for our teachers. There is no doubt that teachers are the lynchpin of an excellent education and we must now ensure that amongst the plethora of exemplary teachers, there are sufficient science and maths specialists to deliver the high-quality education that our children deserve.

    For further information about the Royal Society’s State of the Nation reports, please see:

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