Longer-term thinking around education reform is vital and welcome, and we are cautiously optimistic about the intentions of the ABS proposals. One promising signal is the inclusion of FE colleges in the teacher bonus scheme – for too long these teachers have missed out on recruitment and retention incentives focused on schoolteachers. However, the ABS will require a significant increase in the teaching workforce. As the chemistry teacher recruitment targets in England have been missed for a number of years, it’s hard to see how the proposed teacher bonus scheme will attract and retain enough specialist chemistry teachers to both solve the current recruitment and retention crisis and provide enough extra teachers to cover the ABS. Working conditions (including excessive workload), and the declining appeal of teaching as a profession must be addressed. This is essential to help attract the numbers of new chemistry teachers that will be needed to deliver the ABS and to stem the flow of experienced teachers leaving the profession.
In addition, subject-specific professional development for science teachers, not only has a role to play in ensuring teachers have the right expertise for the classes they are required to teach, but also has the potential to increase teacher retention. We want to see government investing in a systematic approach to high-quality subject-specific professional development.
Funding for developing a robust approach to high value apprenticeships is welcome, to ensure they meet the knowledge and skills requirements of preparing apprentices to make a lasting impact in facing up to global challenges, now and in the future.
R&D tax credits
Cuts to the SME R&D tax credit scheme in the Autumn 2022 budget have the potential to damage SMEs, particularly if they are pre-revenue. Subsequent changes in 2023 moderately improved the situation by defining additional benefits for “research-intensive” companies, but we are still concerned about unintended negative impacts of the new R&D tax credit regime. Noting the importance of incentivising SME investment - given the role chemistry SMEs can play in tackling sustainability and health challenges - it's now key to understand the detail of implications for this crucial sector.
University spin outs/Tracey Review
It is positive that the Government is investing to enable university spin outs. The chemical sciences are integral to the work of many research-driven small and medium enterprises (SMEs) creating innovative products. These deep tech SMEs could play a role in tackling the most pressing societal and economic challenges we face including the push to net zero, food and energy security, and finding novel treatments for disease. Our ‘Igniting Innovation’ report found that these SMEs can face very significant challenges getting their potentially beneficial technologies to market, so action to support these entrepreneurs in spinning out their discoveries and building businesses is helpful.
Research and innovation based on the chemical sciences happen all around the UK, not only in the “Golden Triangle” of London, Oxford, and Cambridge. We welcome funding for investment zones to facilitate the success of the chemical sciences across the UK.
We are glad to see the Government’s published response to the Nurse review of the Research, development and innovation (RDI) organisational landscape, which we will consider in detail to understand what this means for our community.
Government clearly recognises the role that science and innovation plays in driving economic growth, improving lives and helping to tackle societal challenges, and we welcome the investments announced that use some of the Horizon Europe underspend for new Discovery Fellowships and business innovation support. We look forward to seeing more detail on how the underspend will be distributed and will continue to push for the best outcome for our chemistry community as well as the wider science community.