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Cautious welcome for science centres

The Association for Science Education says proposals will not solve the teacher crisis.

NEW science learning centres will give teachers vital training in cutting-edge issues such as GM crops and stem cell research to boost pupils' interest in the subject.

But the national and regional centres, which will cost pound;51 million, will not solve the science teacher recruitment crisis, according to Derek Bell, chief executive of the Association for Science Education.

On the eve of the association's annual meeting, Dr Bell said recent soul-searching about the state of science in the UK meant the future for teachers looks more optimistic now than in the past 10 years.

But he warned that, while the centres would help retain staff, the shortage of specialist teachers needed further action.

Figures released last month showed that the number of science trainees increased but failed to meet government targets. According to the Graduate Teachers' Training Registry, only 250 of the 1,597 students who signed up this September were physics graduates.

Dr Bell said: "One of the dangers is that some people will think the national centre is going to answer all the problems but it will not. It should make a significant contribution but other avenues need to be explored."

The pound;25m national centre is being funded by the Wellcome Trust and will provide residential training courses for around 1,000 teachers a year. Up to nine regional centres will share pound;26m of funding from the Department for Education and Skills, and will each provide up to 2,000 training days a year.

Organisations such as universities, science parks and businesses will bid to run the centres.

Dr Bell said: "Strong input from teachers right at the beginning will make a real difference."

The national centre is expected to open in 2005 and the regional centres by late 2004.

Hundreds of science teachers and technicians are attending the three-day ASE annual meeting at Birmingham University. Workshops and lectures will cover a host of subjects from transition between key stages to thinking skills.

Tomorrow's primary day will include workshops on how to use digital microscopes. Teaching the subject at foundation stage will be covered by "Messy science". Teachers will also learn about science in science fiction, robots and artificial intelligence.

Mike Tomlinson, director of Planet Science, the successor to Science Year, will introduce the Little book of Experiments, a new, free resource.

For more information on the national centre

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