LSG: Resourcing in schools science in Scotland
The Learned Societies’ Group on Scottish Science Education (LSG) was established in 2012. Its remit includes identifying and promoting priorities for school science education in Scotland; monitoring and responding to school science education initiatives and developments; and stimulating debate relating to these issues in Scotland. The group comprises representatives from the: Association for Science Education, British Computer Society, Engineering Policy Group in Scotland, Institute of Physics, Royal Society of Chemistry, Royal Society of Edinburgh and Society of Biology.
In its 2012 report, Supporting Scotland’s STEM Education and Culture, the Science and Engineering Education Advisory Group (SEEAG) recommended that schools and local authorities should ensure that
pupils are provided with quality learning experiences where they can develop the skills of practical investigation and problem solving. The report recognised that this can only be done when there is
sufficient equipment for hands-on learner practical work. Moreover, it recommended that schools must be provided with adequate funds to provide and maintain sufficient equipment for effective hands-on
experiences. In responding to the SEEAG Report, the Scottish Government stated that learners need to continue to have the opportunity to study a range of inspiring, up-to-date science within the Curriculum
for Excellence, with opportunities to experience practical science.
Recognising that more than 10 years have passed since data were gathered about the funding of science practical equipment in Scottish schools, the LSG determined that it should investigate the current resource allocated for delivering science education in Scottish schools. A further impetus to gather up-to-date information in Scotland was the work undertaken by the Science Community Representing Education (SCORE) on the resourcing of practical science at primary and secondary school levels in England. The research highlighted an acute shortage in schools and sixth form colleges of essential equipment and consumables for practical work in science. There were concerns the situation may be similar in Scotland.
In 2014 a survey was commissioned by the Learned Societies’ Group into the resourcing of science in a sample of schools in Scotland. There were responses from 39 individual primary schools and 46 individual
secondary schools. Results indicate that science resourcing levels are not sufficient to fully and effectively meet the requirements of the curriculum. The main areas of concern picked up from the survey were:
1. Equipment and consumable provision is not sufficient
58% feel they do not have sufficient equipment
Less than half feel they have enough of specific listed equipment in working order.
57% feel they do not have sufficient equipment and consumables.
82% are not confident in sufficient resourcing for practical work over the next two years.
Schools have problems providing sufficient equipment to support the new Curriculum for Excellence courses that require more up-to-date equipment (e.g. only 22%reported having sufficient data loggers).
2. Funding allocated to science resourcing in budgets is not sufficient
The reported average annual spend per pupil on science in primary (£1.62) and secondary (£7.33) schools is lower than funding levels reported in comparative research conducted in England.
44% are dissatisfied with funding for science practical work.
98% draw on additional funding sources for practical activities with parental sources being most common for extra-curricular activities.
80% are dissatisfied with funding for science
38% of total science spend is on reprographics, with only 17% on equipment.
98% draw on additional funding sources for
practical activities, with teachers themselves
being the most frequent contributors of the
additional funds required for normal curricular activities.
3. Teacher confidence is low in primary schools and teacher support is low at all levels.
52% are not satisfied with the access to training
on equipment and consumables.
45% reported no access to safety equipment or
an appropriate resources area.
44% are not satisfied with the levels of technician
46% are not satisfied with preparation time in
laboratories to carry out practical work.
The survey evidence provides the Learned Societies’ Group with a starting point to engage with local and national government, their agencies and partners, head teachers, parents and industry to raise awareness about science resourcing issues in schools with a view to working towards the provision of better overall arrangements. Given the national policy drivers for enhancing and making the most of Scotland’s science base, it will be important to ensure that analogous priority is given to STEM education at school.