Stark warning for science education
27 January 2006
The findings of the first statistical analysis of UK school science teaching in a decade highlight serious gaps in the physical sciences.
The government-sponsored study, compiled by the National Foundation for Educational Research, reveals that only 25 per cent of the country's science teachers have a specialism in chemistry, and only 20 per cent in physics.
There are schools without a single appropriately qualified chemistry teacher, notes the RSC, which helped compile the report.
Of more than 2500 science teachers sampled, less than half of those who taught chemistry to 14-16 year olds had a degree in the subject, and the situation was even worse in physics.
'This would inevitably mean students receiving less exposure to specialists in physics particularly and also chemistry, which could perhaps affect their perceptions of these sciences and possibly militate against their selecting these sciences for further study,' warned the report's authors.
The situation improved post-16 years old (A-level), but chemistry A-level pupils were still taught for 10 per cent of the time by people whose highest qualification in the subject was itself an A level.
'Government has placed science at the heart of the political and economic agenda and yet the situation with respect to properly trained teachers of the physical sciences is unacceptable,' said RSC president Simon Campbell.
The report follows the launch last October of a series of training courses by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) aimed at increasing the number of people eligible to teach priority subjects such as chemistry.
The TDA's 'pre-training courses' will enable up to 700 graduates extend and enhance their subject knowledge before starting teacher training. Science enhancement courses will run for six months and allow graduates with either an A-level in the subject, an element of the subject in their degree, or occupational experience to build on and deepen their knowledge.
"There is an historic shortage of qualified . science teachers but no government has done more to reverse it,' said schools minister Jacqui Smith. 'But there is still more to do and that is why we have introduced such a strong package of incentives. This includes golden hellos of up to £5,000, tax free bursaries of up to £9,000, record pay and new initiatives to help people with real industry experience pursue a career in the class room.'
The Royal Society joined the RSC in calling for further action. 'In light of these findings the Government should seriously consider the need for a national strategy which will ensure that none of our secondary schools are without a specialist teacher in each of the sciences,' said RS president Lord Rees.