Science subjects crisis 'due to pay'

6th January 2006 at 00:00
Chemistry and physics urgently need help, delegates told. Jon Slater reports

Physical sciences in schools remain in crisis because the Westminster government has failed to boost teachers' pay, the Association for Science Education annual conference will be told today.

Sir Gareth Roberts, president of the Science Council, will call for urgent action to prevent the UK from losing its status as a leading scientific nation.

Schools should use science undergraduates to help teach pupils, he said.

"They would provide an enthusiastic face for pupils rather than someone who has been teaching the same subject for years."

Nearly four years ago he produced a report for the Treasury which said that schools could not compete with the rewards that industry offered science graduates. The report said that science graduates who opted to teach would be pound;350,000 worse off by the time they retired.

Sir Gareth, who becomes ASE president today, will praise universities for implementing his recommendations which were designed to increase the number of UK-trained scientists. His proposals included higher pay for postgraduate students.

But Sir Gareth, who is also president of Wolfson college, Oxford, will say that schools have not changed sufficiently to safeguard the future of physical sciences, which include physics and chemistry as well as more specialist subjects such as astonomy and geology.

A report published last month by Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson, of Buckingham university, found a shortage of specialist teachers has put the future of state school physics at risk.

Sir Gareth's comments will increase the pressure on ministers to do more to improve physics and chemistry in schools.

He will argue that overall healthy recruitment figures for science hide the fact that while there are plenty of good-quality biology recruits, there are too few new teachers specialising in physical sciences.

Writing in The TES in October, John Holman, director of the National Science Learning Centre, called for higher pay for science teachers to ease recruitment difficulties.

But Westminster has so far refused to increase the pay of science teachers, opting instead for training salaries of pound;6,000 and pound;4,000 "golden hellos" to boost recruitment.

The latest report of the School Teachers' Review Body, which advises ministers on teachers' pay and conditions, once again rejected higher salaries for maths and science advanced skills teachers.

Sir Gareth will also call for improved careers advice for teenagers who are considering pursuing science, and for better co-ordination of efforts to boost science in schools.

A network of regional hubs based around regional science learning centres and regional directors of SETNET, the science, engineering and mathematics network, should provide one-stop shops where science teachers can receive support. These would ensure that schemes make a coherent package Almost 3,000 teachers and scientists were expected at the ASE, a four-day conference in Reading, which finishes tomorrow.

Delegates were expected from across the UK and from other countries including Finland, New Zealand and Nigeria.

A series of lectures on the latest developments in science, given by Reading university staff, will look at issues ranging from climate change to paternity testing.

Events include an astronomy and space day - with sessions on "life beyond the solar system" and robotic telescopes - a "biology in the real world"

day, and several sessions on outdoor science.

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