Boffins demand: Cull bogus A-Levels, hire brainier teachers

UK values sci/tech grads – very few forced into teaching

Plenty of secondary schools don't offer worthwhile GCSE science – so if your kid goes to one, he or she is stuffed already

It gets worse, too: in general it will be hard for a kid to study physics or chemistry at A-Level if they haven't previously done a GCSE in the subject. But far too many secondary schools don't offer these GCSEs, instead blobbing all the sciences together in simplified "science" qualifications – more or less writing off their entire student body's chance to study sci/tech subjects any further. Many parents don't realise that this is now quite common and don't find out until after their children are at a such a useless secondary school.

And more bad news. Even if children attend a secondary school which offers proper science teaching, they may get permanently turned off science and maths while still at primary school – in part due to unimaginative curricula and "teaching to the test", but also because primary school teachers with any real knowledge of science and maths are extremely, vanishingly rare. Primary school teachers as a group are like a sort of more extreme version of the teaching profession generally.

The Royal Society doesn't really know how to deal with the woeful lack of teachers who know things: the only concrete suggestion is that such science and maths teachers as there are should be kept up to speed in their subjects.

Science and mathematics teachers should undertake subject-specific continuing professional development (CPD) as part of their overall CPD entitlement. Funding should be maintained for the National Science Learning Centre, the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics and the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre, to allow these bodies to continue to support effective subject-specific CPD for science and mathematics teachers.

It's probably going to take more than that, but the Royal Society has declined to tackle knotty issues such as vastly enhanced pay for specialist teachers, or some trimming back of the bloated Postgraduate Certificate of Education guild-badge system.

The learned drafters of the report also decline to discuss the problem at the other end of the sci/tech higher education system: that despite the low numbers of science grads and postgrads produced in the UK, they often struggle to find work that makes any real use of their qualifications (in their view, anyway; though they may tend to underestimate how useful their skills are in apparently non-scientific fields). We get a lot of grumpy mail and comments on the subject here at the Reg, along the lines of "here I am with a PhD in astrophysics and writing code/minding data centres/flipping burgers like any monkey" etc.

Evidently the employment situation for sci/tech grads isn't that desperate, though, or more of them would be willing to become teachers.

Read the full Royal Society report and associated documents here. ®


*The Royal Society has telling words for anyone inclined to study biology without maths and/or other sciences at school, thinking this will let them become a proper scientist:

Data from this report suggest that, across the UK, of the numbers of students taking biological sciences and/or chemistry and/or physics, a comparatively small proportion takes physics or chemistry alone. However, the proportion of students with a single biology qualification is, by comparison, very large.

While a qualification in the biological sciences alone (or possibly alongside geography or psychology) may allow entry to courses such as psychology, sports science, environmental science or nursing, students who have a single A-level/Higher in biology have a reduced number of STEM degree options (which includes being able to study biological sciences at many HEIs) compared with those who have studied, say, both biological sciences and chemistry.

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