Top minds tackle maths and science problem

27th January 2012 at 00:00
Review aims to produce a `vision' for world-class teaching

The remit cannot be accused of lacking ambition; its aim is for some of the country's finest minds to develop a vision for the future. A brace of former education secretaries, two scientists-turned-media stars and a Nobel Prize-winning academic are among those who have gathered to search for a solution to the problem of how to improve science and maths education in schools and increase uptake of the subjects.

The expert panel of teachers, heads and educationalists was brought together by the prestigious Royal Society to work on the review. They will spend the next three years developing potential reforms to education, the curriculum, school leadership and the classroom workforce.

Formally launched today, the group has immediately called for evidence from teachers on the best way to create a "world-class, high-performing education system for science and mathematics".

Committee members include former education secretaries Charles Clarke and Gillian Shephard and science broadcasters and professors Jim Al-Khalili and Robert Winston. The panel also includes headteachers Joan Sjovoll from Framwellgate School in Durham, Michael Gernon from the RSA Academy in Tipton, West Midlands, and Linda-May Bingham from Britannia Village Primary School in east London.

The science and maths community is represented by eminent professors including Ray Dolan, director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, David Phillips, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Tim Hunt.

The review will be chaired by Professor Sir Martin Taylor, warden of Merton College, Oxford, and former vice-president of the Royal Society.

"I feel that we have a real opportunity here to stand back and cast a big vision for how maths and science teaching should be in the future," Sir Martin told TES. "We hope that this report will inform debate and education policy. We are starting with a blank sheet and we want to think radically, not just incremental thoughts but bigger discussions - for example, what the best things in the world are.

"We recognise how far the education system has come: some parts are very good indeed, others are weaker. There are good schools where teachers work at their optimum capacity and we want to see how we can get that everywhere."

Eventually, the group claims, it will come up with a new way of educating children aged 5-19 in science and maths. But to begin with, its work will revolve around assessing if English schools can learn from others around the world, how and where teachers should be trained, and the best way of testing the suitability of those hoping to enter teaching. The group want to find out how to attract the best entrants to science and maths teacher training.

For the first year, members of the review team will look at how to improve leadership and ethos in schools and how to increase the professionalism of teachers.

"As a nation, we live by our knowledge rather than manufacturing. We are facing a hard economic future and we've got to be sure that we've got scientific and mathematically literate people so that we can compete with others around the world," Sir Martin said. "Science constantly presents new frontiers for teachers, yet their take-up of continuing professional development is limited. I want us to look at the quality of courses on offer.

"I also want to look at how teaching can have the same high social status as it does in other countries such as Finland. I want to find what works around the world and what we can take from it.

"Some initiatives have already caught my eye. For example, in New Zealand, teachers have the chance to take a sabbatical so that they have time to refresh their skills. I'm very impressed by that. It's a good step in the greater professionalism of teaching."

The panel is seeking the views of teachers and children, as well as academics and employers. It has already met twice and the first part of its research will be published in early 2013.


What is good about UK science and maths education?

What aspects of UK science and maths education need changing and how may they be improved to meet the challenges of the 21st century?

How can a science and maths education system best meet the needs of employers and higher education?

How long should training courses be for primary and secondary science or maths teachers to be fully qualified?

What kinds of leadership skills should science and maths teachers be able to acquire?

Name three countries anywhere in the world where you feel there is "high- quality" science and maths education. What are the hallmarks of this education?

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