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Education: Teacher Training Courses

Volume 712: debated on Tuesday 21 July 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the extent to which teacher training courses encourage the use of fieldwork in teaching biology.

My Lords, the Government fully recognise the value of good-quality fieldwork to engage and enthuse pupils in their science learning. We are doing much to promote the use of practical work by teachers in science lessons. Qualified teacher status standard Q30 requires that trainees must demonstrate that they can establish a purposeful and safe learning environment conducive to learning, and identify opportunities for learners to learn in out-of-school contexts, before being recommended by teacher training providers for QTS.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, but given the lack of confidence of early-years science and biology teachers in teaching outside the classroom, will she consider reviewing the qualified teacher status standard Q30 to ensure that there is proper training for young teachers in fieldwork? Will she include in those requirements not just being able to recognise opportunities to teach outside the classroom but taking part during training in a school visit, and planning and leading at least one lesson outside the classroom? Before I sit down, perhaps I may say how much I will miss the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who is “education Bishop” and has worked with so many of us on many pieces of education legislation.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness in everything that she said, not least her comments about the right reverend Prelate. I reassure her that the Government have listened very carefully to the views of the Field Studies Council, and the TDA will commence a review of the qualified teacher status standards, looking particularly at the issues she has raised about organising and delivering. The review will take place in April 2010. The consultation will include the issues that the noble Baroness is concerned about. I very much hope that those interested in promoting the improved confidence of the teaching force in fieldwork study will contribute fully to the review.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Imperial College London. Does the Minister remember that the Select Committee on Science and Technology has emphasised the importance of practical work in persuading children that science is valuable? Is she aware of the outstanding work that is done at Imperial College by Outreach, where we do a large amount of practical work with schoolchildren? Can the Government do everything that they possibly can to support this sort of activity throughout the universities, which helps to connect schools with universities and gives children aspirations to join universities?

My Lords, I am very much aware of the important work of universities such as Imperial College in connecting with science teaching in our schools, and in leading innovative approaches to practical teaching and developing important facilities. However, it is essential that we engage the entire scientific community in ensuring that science is exciting and challenging in schools. That means that we have also to work with leading partners such as the Wellcome Trust and science charities to ensure that we get the whole community behind our teachers in our schools.

My Lords, I have had the privilege of meeting the Field Studies Council to discuss these matters. May I follow the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and ask whether the noble Baroness agrees that those who are concerned about trying to recruit young people to take science at secondary school and university, and become part of our scientific community, all emphasise the need for starting in the primary schools? Field studies are important in the work of primary schools and can actually fire a young child’s ambition to become a scientist.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord completely. The new primary school curriculum has addressed the concern about the need to build confidence and provide opportunities for learning outside the classroom. The Government have committed to the Manifesto for Learning Outside the Classroom and are, as I told the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, reviewing the standard Q30. However, we need to take a whole range of measures, including, of course, encouraging more people to go into teaching science in schools.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Winston, mentioned the report of the Science and Technology Committee. I declare my interest, having chaired that inquiry into science teaching in schools. One difficulty that we identified was the fact that there is no satisfactory career path for the technicians who are vital in schools for maintaining and setting up laboratories for practical work. Have the Government considered the matter and made any progress in improving the career prospects for technicians in schools?

My Lords, I agree that the role of technicians in schools is key. Through the national network of science centres, the professional development that is offered to teachers is now being opened up to technicians as well. However, I will take the question away and think about it further, because I do not have a full answer for the noble Lord.

My Lords, for many secondary school pupils, residential field work is the most exciting part of their science education. In the 2012 Olympic site there is a unique opportunity for urban regeneration, as well as for restoration of a derelict river valley. What provision is being made for field work, both for teachers and students, on the 2012 site?

My Lords, I apologise that I cannot give the noble Baroness a proper answer to that question, either. I will take the question back, write to her and put a copy in the Library. Activities outside the classroom such as pond dipping and nature trails, which give an understanding of how the natural environment works, are a very important part of primary school learning. That continues into secondary school, too. The noble Baroness talked about the value of field work. It is important at GCSE and A-level, and will also feature in diplomas.

My Lords, is it easy for children to access school laboratories in school breaks and after school hours? What progress has been made in addressing health and safety issues concerning children accessing school laboratories?

My Lords, the Government have invested heavily in developing science clubs that do exactly what the noble Lord is talking about. By involving volunteers from industry and universities, we can make sure that science clubs are accessible. People talk about health and safety being a challenge. Schools are very careful to consider health and safety. Science labs represent some challenges, but we have to encourage the sensible evaluation of risk. We must not stop children and young people taking risks in a measured and supported way.