MPs not happy

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee is not at all happy with the Government's response to its report, 'Science Education from 14 to 19'

and is also fairly unhappy with NESTA. The education report was concerned with the initial training of our future scientists and engineers. It concluded that assessment at GCSE is based on the rote learning of facts that will be of little use to most students, fails to inspire students to continue with science, discourages students from thinking for themselves, neglects contemporary science, lacks flexibility and had made practical work into a tedious and dull activity. It found that poor laboratory facilities and a shortage of technicians are preventing exciting practical work from being carried out, and called on DfES to invest in laboratory refurbishment and to address the appalling pay and conditions for technicians. Speaking to Eureka after the report’s launch Dr Ian Gibson, the committee’s chairman, declared: "I think it will shake the Chancellor and the Minister of Education and make them realise the major part played by science education in schools. It has had a bad deal in the past and needs more government support. Laboratory facilities play an essential part. Unless young people try it for themselves, they will never understand the true nature of scientific discovery." Far from being shaken however, Dr Gibson said on 22 October: "The Government's reply to our report shows little sign that the DfES recognises the scale of the problem with GSCE science. Much good work is going on – as our report describes – but too slowly. We intend to impress on the School Standards Minister the need for greater urgency. The Government's reply is particularly disappointing in relation to science technicians, whose appalling pay and conditions we highlighted in our report. We will be pressing the Minister to take action to address this." And, on another great white hope, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) the committee notes that the nomination of candidates for fellowships through a circle of nominators and organisations leaves NESTA "open to accusations of networking and favouritism". Further, it said: "We are disturbed at NESTA's lack of clarity surrounding its programme expenditure." Dr Gibson added: "I would like to see NESTA with a clear grip on what it is spending where." TS