Vision at the ASE Annual Conference 2015

ASE pictureTeachers were always intended to be a key audience for our Vision report (published last June), so the Association for Science Education (ASE) annual conference, was an excellent opportunity for us to hear their views.

It turns out the Vision has slowly been weaving its way through the teaching community, with pockets of awareness growing and spreading. This is likely to be in no small part due to the enthusiastic, wholehearted support of the NUT. Max Hyde, NUT’s President, was a speaker on our ASE panel discussion and teachers attending the event had a lot to say! We were ready to listen.

Life has been rather hectic of late in the teaching world; however there appeared to be a refreshingly clear sense of optimism underpinning the discussion. Our Vision report was described as ‘a concise and sensible document’, outlining the changes required and, to some extent, how these changes might be achieved.

The Royal Society’s event aimed to find out what teachers thought of our Vision – an aim that was very much achieved. While one blog post cannot do justice to what was an exceedingly thought-provoking discussion, I will attempt to summarise the main themes:

‘Improving people’s lives through science’

A recurring theme throughout the ASE discussion was that most of the UK population will not become Royal Society Fellows or NASA employees, and the scientific curriculum within schools should be equipped to deliver a good level of ‘science literacy’ to the general population. The aim of science education should be to “improve people’s lives through science” as one audience member nicely suggested.

Teachers need more time!

Teacher workload was a huge point, and somewhat dominated the discussion (this is timely, given Nicky Morgan’s recent “workload challenge” initiative). The impression was that, of course teachers want to do a good job, engage in professional development and plan excellent and inspiring science lessons, however without more ‘non-teaching’ time many of these aims are simply impossible.

More headteachers and more politicians with science and maths specialist knowledge

A key recommendation of our Vision report is a ‘strong supply of science and maths teachers’. However our ASE audience went one step further, stating that not only do we need more science and maths specialist teachers, but we need more science specialist headteachers, to prioritise the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in schools.

In a similar vein, there is a startling lack of scientific and mathematical expertise among politicians. Max Hyde asked, “Who is advising the government on science education? Because it is certainly not scientists!” It seems clear that if we are to prioritise science education in order to achieve a more scientifically skilled workforce by 2030, then we need to begin to divert resources now, and this relies on a good political understanding of these issues.

Is the answer to encourage more science graduates to consider careers outside of the traditional academic route, controversial as it may be?  It is already the case that most PhD graduates pursue careers outside of academia, and the Royal Society has begun to consider this (see our recent statement on ‘Doctoral Students Career Expectations’).

Our ASE audience certainly felt subtly nudging scientists in the teaching or politics direction wouldn’t go amiss.

 

We will continue to listen to teacher comments throughout 2015 as part of our Vision report engagement. Next up, the maths conferences. Find us at the ATM conference on 31 March, followed closely by the MA conference on 8 April.

 

If you would like to suggest a panel speaker for either of these events please email sarah.giles@royalsociety.org