Science Year must get results

31st August 2001 at 01:00
This pound;8m drive is starting with an earth-shaking leap and aims to have a seismic effect on student attitudes. Julie Henry reports.

SCIENCE Year, which launches with a giant leap by hundreds of thousands of children throughout the UK next week, will be judged on much tougher targets than its reading and maths predecessors.

The high-profile campaign has twice as much Government funding as the two previous "years". The children's jump - whose effect will be measured on seismometers - will be followed by a series of events costing pound;8 million to stage. Private sponsors are also expected to spend millions during the year.

Both the National Year of Reading in 1998 and Maths Year 2000 got about pound;4m from the state - roughly the annual budget of two secondary schools. Deals with newspapers, supermarkets and banks, such as the free books for schools drive, raised millions more. In the case of Maths Year the estimate is another pound;25m.

Hundreds of initiatives were inspired by the maths and reading campaigns which libraries, schools and councils say inspired people to think about maths in a different way and engaged new readers. Some programmes continue with the support of Read On and Count On, downsized sequels to the two campaigns.

However, the published objectives of both campaigns were vague and open-ended. For instance, the reading year aimed to get more people talking about what they read.

A government evaluation admits it was difficult to measure the impact of the campaign, partly because it was impossible to quantify the level of reading across the community.

Science Year, by contrast, has more specific aims. As well as raising the profile of science, stimulating creativity and celebrating the achievements of women and ethnic minorities, the campaign has to increase the take-up rate of science in further study. It is also charged with improving performance in the subject by increasing pupils' interest and strengthening links between schools, universities and industry.

Nigel Paine, Science Year director, said the Government wanted to see results. "Science Year has to be about the legacy we leave, not just a series of interesting events," he said.

The tough objectives could explain why three partners are involved in the drive, unlike the maths and reading years, which were run by single organisations.

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts won the Government contract to lead the campaign, but the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association for Science Education are also heavily involved. "Science year would not make sense without all three," said Mr Paine, who is employed by NESTA.

The number of entries for science GCSE rose this summer but entries at A-level dropped.

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