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Science Syllabus

Volume 467: debated on Monday 12 November 2007

5. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the new science syllabuses for secondary schools. (161958)

The new science GCSEs have had an enthusiastic welcome from teachers and pupils alike. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has commissioned research evaluating them.

I am pleased to hear that response. The other day I visited two Bolton schools, where the new 21st century science syllabus was being taught by two extremely enthusiastic teachers to enthusiastic pupils. Will my hon. Friend continue to monitor those courses and compare the different science syllabuses that are being taught? Does he accept the criticism that I have picked up from children that they would prefer more practical work to be built into those syllabuses? However, that would require—I hope that he will accept this—massive investment in bringing school laboratories into the 21st century.

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for championing in the House the cause of science education. I will be talking to the QCA about how it will monitor the different syllabuses—or syllabi; I am not sure of my classics—as they are rolled out. I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said about enthusiastic teachers. He will welcome today’s figures from the Training and Development Agency for Schools, showing that the number of trainee science teachers recruited has reached more than 3,000 for the fist time. He will also welcome the increase in the numbers choosing physics, 31 per cent., and chemistry, 32 per cent. Those are good strides forward and what he says about practical work will mean that he, unlike the Conservative party, will welcome the new science diploma that will deliver much more practical learning.

When I completed an Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship with Universities UK a couple of years ago, the universities’ concern and despair about having to bring on young science undergraduates who had not had the quality of science education at school that enabled them to keep up even in their first year was noticeable. Does the Minister take note of the concerns of universities and of what they would like to see in the science syllabus? It is all very well defending something new, but unless it is producing the quality at school that we need before university we are not serving our young people very well at all.

We take careful note of what universities are telling us, which is one of the reasons why we have strengthened the A-level—the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming the increases in entrance to physics, chemistry and biology A-levels—with the A* and the extended course. We are responding to universities’ concerns by bringing forward the science content in all 17 of the diplomas, but particularly with the science diploma, which has been welcomed by Russell group universities, by Oxford and Cambridge, and by universities such as South Bank university that have been working with us on diploma design.