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ASE reaction to Government response to commons report

1 December 2011

THE Association for Science Education (ASE) is disappointed the Government has not shown stronger commitment to ensuring the quality of practical and outdoor work in school science lessons is improved.

The comment comes in reaction to this week’s Government response to the Science and Technology Committee report into Practical experiments in school science lessons and science field trips, to which the ASE contributed evidence.

The committee report issued in September found concerns “that students are not receiving the practical science education necessary to produce the next generation of scientists.”

In reaction to this week’s Government response:

ASE President Professor Steve Jones said:

“From James Watson, Nobel Prize-Winner and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, to Paul Nurse, Nobel Prize Winner and President of the Royal Society, hundreds of biologists, including myself, acknowledge that their careers began with a school field trip or a science lesson in the open air. The same is true for many of the professionals of physics, geology and astronomy. Over the past couple of decades, though, science in the field has faded. As a result, school students have become detached from nature except through the television screen. To bring open air science back to life would be an enormous benefit to science, to education, to health, and in the end to the economy. For all these reasons, the Select Committee’s thoughtful report should have been welcomed.  As someone involved in education I am depressed, but not surprised.”

ASE’s Chief Executive Annette Smith said:

“ASE has been energetic this year in promoting excellence in practical and outdoor science, along with our many collaborators. We therefore share the disappointment of the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Andrew Miller MP, in the Government’s response to its report. But we do welcome the recognition from Government that ‘practical lessons, field work and field trips are essential contributors to good quality science education’. We are disappointed that in several areas, more overt support for enabling effective practical work and fieldwork has not been explored.”

She added: “We are pleased to note the government’s comments that ‘It is important that pupils are taught the essential knowledge and theories of science and also the techniques of science. The new National Curriculum for science will reflect the importance we place on both these aspects of science’ but we are extremely disappointed they did not take the opportunity to further recognise the vital importance of practical, real life and outdoor contexts for science which enable the links between classroom science and the real world, increasing motivation and interest and embedding learning.”

Professor Steve Jones will join MP Andrew Miller on a panel discussion on the The Future for Fieldwork in Science Education at the ASE Annual Conference in January in Liverpool on Thursday 5 January from 16.00 to 17.00 in Room B of Building ULR.

The committee’s recommendations reflected the ASE evidence, informed by its membership and Outdoor Science Working Group. This included the recommendation that all trainee teachers should be expected to prepare and lead at least one fieldwork session themselves and take part in a trip.

Chief Executive Annette Smith said: “We can see from the Government’s response to the Committee that ASE’s work on practical and outdoor science will continue to be highly significant in supporting teachers, teacher educators, advisors, researchers and laboratory technicians in pushing for excellence in this vital aspect of learning in science.”

She added: “We will work in the new Initial Teacher Education landscape, to ensure that opportunities are provided for all trainee teachers to prepare and lead at least one fieldwork session and take part in a fieldwork trip. And also, that a mechanism for monitoring this provision is put in place.”


Information for Editors

Practical experiments and field trips in school science lessons has been a major concern for ASE and led to the establishment of the Outdoor Science Working Group in 2004. The group continues to meet, and involves bodies such as the British Ecological Society, King’s College London, the Earth Science Education Unit, Science and Plants for Schools, the Field Studies Council, Institute of Physics and others.

Outdoor Science Working Group - Mission statement and aims: To encourage and support outdoor science education, as an essential component of science education, by seeking more regular and high quality experiences in a wide range of urban and rural learning environments.

  • To make outdoor science education a valued teaching and learning contribution to the science curriculum
  • To engage more science teachers and trainee teachers in delivering high quality outdoor science as part of the science curriculum; and to have their contributions recognised
  • To encourage head teachers, senior management and governors to facilitate regular outdoor science educational opportunities
  • To gain further policy level support for outdoor science education in schools.

Read more about the ASE’s Outdoor Science Working Group’s aims online.