Current education systems will not be fit for purpose in 20 years

26 June 2014

All students should study science and mathematics until age 18 as part of a new baccalaureate according a report, Vision for science and mathematics education, published by the Royal Society today.

The Government should create new baccalaureate-style frameworks that place emphasis on vocational and academic learning across a broad range of subjects to 18 according to a report published by the Royal Society. The report sets out a roadmap for radically transforming our education systems, with particular focus on mathematics and science, over the next 20 years.

The report, which has been written by a committee including scientists, education experts, teachers and a former Secretary of State for Education, also calls for:

  • The status of teaching to be raised and increased support for the professionalism of teachers through subject-specific professional development, which should be a requirement for career progression. 
  • Rigorous new post-16 courses and qualifications in mathematics, science, engineering and technology to engage students who are studying arts and humanities subjects. 
  • New, independent, expert bodies in England and Wales to set curriculum and assessment, providing stability, increasing innovation and bringing to an end the turmoil that teachers currently suffer as a result of constant changes. 

The Royal Society says that the science, mathematics and engineering professional bodies, such as the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, London Mathematical Society, Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Biology and any of the 36 engineering institutions registered with the Engineering Council, must play a central role in supporting mathematics and science education as part of the new baccalaureate. This includes providing expertise to help shape curriculum and assessment and expanding their role in recognising professionalism in teaching.

Sir Martin Taylor FRS, chair of the Royal Society’s Vision Committee, says:

“Science and mathematics are at the absolute heart of modern life. They are essential to our understanding of the world, whether that is knowing where the energy that powers our homes comes from or making sense of the public debate on the latest evidence on climate change. Science and mathematics also provide the foundations for the UK’s future economic prosperity.

Too many people in the UK are mathematically and scientifically illiterate. Our Vision aims to raise the general level of mathematical and scientific knowledge and confidence in the population.

We want to link people’s learning and skills to the current and future needs of the economy. We know the analytical and problem-solving skills acquired by studying mathematics and science are greatly prized by many employers. What we need now is a stable education system that is properly designed to meet this need.”

According to the report’s authors, teachers waste precious time dealing with the constant changes to the curriculum and exam syllabuses which take place in the current education system. This time could be better spent on professional development and planning innovative lessons, including essential practical work and problem solving. The independent bodies proposed would bring stability to the curriculum on a longer term basis than the political cycle and ensure subject-specific expertise reflected the dynamic nature of science and technology.

The Royal Society calls for a long-term commitment to invest in the independent bodies in England and Wales to enable scientists, mathematicians and engineer , to contribute their knowledge and experience. It says that existing structures in Northern Ireland and Scotland should be supported and enhanced.

The report firmly states that all school and college teachers should be required to work towards a suitable teaching qualification to ensure they are experts in teaching as well as their specialist subject. It adds that every primary school should have, or have access to, at least one subject specialist teacher in both science and mathematics and that all post-primary science and mathematics lessons should be taught by suitably qualified subject specialists.

Dame Alison Peacock, Head teacher at The Wroxham School in Hertfordshire and a member of the Vision Committee, said:

“Teaching is a chronically undervalued profession in the UK. Our country’s future prosperity rests in teachers’ ability to inspire and guide our young people yet we don’t currently adequately recognise or reward them. More must be done to enhance the appeal of the profession to prospective teachers and support the important work of those already teaching.

Professor Dame Julia Higgins FRS FREng, Vice Chair of the Vision Committee, added:

“Our Vision takes the long view but recognises that there is both urgency and great opportunity for Government to act now. Estimates suggest that one million new science, technology and engineering professionals will be required in the UK by 2020 and yet there is a persistent dearth of young people taking these qualifications after the age of 16. If the UK is to remain globally competitive and if we are to develop a more equitable and informed society, Government and the wider education community must take the Royal Society’s recommendations seriously.”