Education: Science and Mathematics

– in the House of Lords at 1:31 pm on 18 October 2007.

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Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 1:31, 18 October 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government how they propose to develop the teaching of science and mathematics in the United Kingdom so that future generations may be equipped to compete effectively in the emerging global marketplace.

My Lords, there is a group of individuals whose accomplishments are brought instantly to mind by the mere mention of their names—Isaac Newton, James Watt, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Alexander Fleming, Charles Darwin. I could go on and on. These are just some of the great physicists, engineers, biologists, chemists and mathematicians who have enriched and changed for ever the world we live in.

Just as it has in the fields of the arts and business, our small island has for centuries punched above its weight and produced many men and women who have led the world in ideas and technological advance. Today that tradition continues. Stephen Hawking has changed our understanding of the universe; Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet, has changed the way in which mankind will for ever learn and communicate; and my noble friend Lady Greenfield is leading the world in research into Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

These are just some of the great leaders of our scientific community. As I glance around the Chamber, I am humbled to be joined by some of our great educational leaders. My noble friend Lord Dearing is chancellor of Nottingham University and a champion of lifelong learning; my noble friend Lady Finlay is president of the Royal Society of Medicine; my noble friend Lord Rees, who is due to be with us, is Astronomer Royal, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and president of the Royal Society; the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, is chief executive of Universities UK; and the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, has served on the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee for a number of years. I am also grateful to those on the Front Benches—the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris of Bolton and Lady Sharp of Guildford, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, whose response to the debate I greatly look forward to hearing.

Like me, the Minister will have read the report Science Teaching in Schools, published a year ago by the Science and Technology Committee. Chaired by my noble friend Lord Broers—the former vice-chancellor of my alma mater, Cambridge—the committee observed that the number of young people opting for science subjects at the age of 16 has remained more or less flat and has in some cases declined over the past decade.

Startling evidence highlighted the fact that around a quarter of state school pupils aged 11 to 16 had no access to a qualified physics teacher, and 12 per cent had no access to a qualified chemistry teacher. Compounding this failure in human resources were shortages of physical resources. The report concluded that the Government had failed to deliver £200 million for school science laboratories promised before the 2005 election. Not surprisingly, half of all A grades achieved in physics were from candidates from independent schools—a sector that educates only 8 per cent of our young children but enjoys far superior facilities in the teaching of science.

Moreover, in the light of the publication just yesterday of the annual report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, which has ranked almost half of our schools as either satisfactory or, worse, inadequate, is it any wonder that just 200 of our independent schools account for 48 per cent of Oxbridge admissions, with 3,500 additional schools accounting for the balance of 52 per cent? Even more troubling are the findings in Ofsted's report that 200,000 of our teenagers remain outside education, training or employment. Like many in this House, I am eager to hear from the Minister what progress he believes has, and will be, made in the future.

As many noble Lords know, I was born and grew up in India, and I take great pride in India's emergence on to the world stage as a major economic power. India today has a middle class of 300 million people—a consuming class that has quadrupled in size over the past 25 years. To Indians, maths, science and engineering are priority subjects; they are tickets to go anywhere or do anything. In the past five years alone, the number of engineers graduating from India has more than doubled, while the figures for those studying the subject here in Britain have stagnated for some time.

On the other hand, more than 300 million people in India are living on less than a dollar a day in abject poverty. Even the poorest Indians realise that education is the passport to a better life but, sadly, for the vast majority of them, despite the Indian Government pledging to vastly increase education spending to 6 per cent of GDP, the prospects of a good education for poor Indians remains but a distant dream.

How, then, must these people view Britain? We are a hugely wealthy nation. We enjoy free healthcare, our welfare state cares for and houses millions of our citizens, and everyone has access to free schooling and subsidised universities. This country has opportunities for learning of which most Indians can only dream. Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, recorded in his excellent report on skills published a year ago, there is a shocking skills deficit in Britain today. The report revealed that 17 million adults in the UK have difficulty with numbers and that more than one in six young people leave school unable to read, write or add up properly. The Leitch report also said:

"The global economy is changing rapidly, with emerging economies such as India and China growing dramatically, altering UK competitiveness ... There is a direct correlation between skills, productivity and employment ... As a result of low skills, the UK risks increasing inequality, deprivation and child poverty, and risks a generation cut off permanently from labour market opportunity".

That threat is very real, but the qualities needed to meet the challenge of the modern economy are very much here in the UK. Let us take, for example, our high-tech manufacturing base. The UK exported more cars last year than at any time in our nation's history, and yet people say British manufacturing is dead. Furthermore, all the technology of Formula 1 racing—a global industry dependent on cutting-edge science—is developed right here in the UK. As my noble friend Lord Jones of Birmingham likes to remind people with his characteristic gusto, two-thirds of an Airbus with Rolls-Royce engines, although branded as European, is produced right here in Britain.

Feeding these industries are our universities—another prized asset of our nation, especially when one considers the resources at their disposal. For example, Cambridge's endowment is less than a third of that of universities such as Harvard in the United States, yet Cambridge has been ranked number one in the world for science and number two in world out of all universities.

I encourage all noble Lords to read the Universities UK report, Eureka UK, on the 100 great British innovations to have come out of British universities over the past 50 years. It is an inspirational document and shows just what world-changing innovations have been created at many of our universities here in Britain.

So we have excellence in our universities and industries but we are failing in our schools. The Government should be commended for making our country's fabulous museums, such as the Natural History Museum and Science Museum, free, but we need to institute many more such initiatives aimed at capturing the imagination of our children during their early years.

Industry has its part to play in inspiring our children. I have an example of that. I gave a speech at a school, as a result of which I started getting applications at my company for internships. In a year I have had several O-level and A-level students as interns, experiencing the sharp end of entrepreneurship in a company, and the word is spreading. How much more we can do. I mentioned Formula 1. How many young people realise and equate the glamour of that sport with the graft of learning maths or physics? Yet, if opportunities to experience careers that result from an education in these subjects were more heavily promoted, perhaps the stagnation we have seen in the number of young people studying these subjects would change. It is not only a matter of teaching science but how we teach the subject.

In a strong case put forward by the Institute for the Future of the Mind, it was argued that education must provide our future workforce with not only the skills and abilities to work at the cutting edge of innovation, but to be flexible to change. To be educated in maths in my opinion is to have the strongest possible foundation in life in whatever career one chooses. Central to the debate on promoting science and maths in our schools is the Government's ability to find, retain and reward inspirational teachers. There is a shortage of qualified teachers of science and maths, and those currently teaching are, sadly, poorly paid. I ask the Minister to do everything in his power to offer greater incentives to people considering a career teaching science or maths, and to remove any barriers that currently stop those who wish to take up the vocation of teaching from doing so.

Britain has a proud tradition of being at the forefront of creativity and leading in innovation, with the rest of the world often following. A definition of serendipity is seeing what everyone else sees but thinking what no one else has thought. A friend of mine recently told me his definition of luck. He said that luck is when determination meets opportunity.

Time after time in our history, Britain has thought what no one else has thought. However, to stay ahead in today's increasingly competitive integrated global economy, Britain has to be determined. The opportunities exist, but unless we tackle maths and science we will not be equipped to grasp them. We must act now before it is too late.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench 1:42, 18 October 2007

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on introducing this immensely important issue.

The Prime Minister, in his Mansion House speech this summer, referred to an urgent need to review fundamentally the teaching of numeracy. It is fortunate, therefore, that Sir Peter Williams has been appointed to look at that issue at primary and pre-primary stages. I hope that he will be encouraged in his review to look at best practice not only abroad but in this country. I visited a school—in a mixed area—a couple of weeks ago where half the children are at level 5 in mathematics and a quarter at level 6 pre-GCSE. That is excellent.

The Prime Minster also referred in another speech to the value of setting and saying that that has to be the norm in key subjects. The first of those he mentioned is mathematics—a point that I hope Sir Peter will note. I should like to offer four—possibly five—points for consideration by Sir Peter in his review. The first is the imperative need to respond to the whole ability range. In saying that, I have in mind what Mr Cameron and the Prime Minister said about responding to the individual. Again, the two leaders seem to be on the same wavelength on the value of setting and putting children into a group in which they can feel at home and advance together according to their abilities.

The specialist maths schools have a very valuable role, particularly in stimulating and responding to the quality of our most apt learners of mathematics in primary and secondary schools. Since I have mentioned secondary schools, the handling of the migration from primary to secondary has caused me much concern for a least a decade and I commend it to Sir Peter for consideration. We do not do it well. In maths, there is a real danger that children go to be bored or left bemused. They need to go into sets. Above all, the secondary school needs to know what level the child has reached, as a basis for doing that kind of thing, and then be held accountable by Ofsted, through its inspections, for making use of that information. It is no good having it unless it is made use of. This is a key concern of teachers.

By the way, in an earlier debate, we talked about the problem of young people born in June, July and August—particularly boys, because they are not as precocious as young women. They constitute a particular difficulty because they span the whole ability range and cannot be treated as a group. But it must be recognised that they present a particular challenge, as I discovered the day before yesterday in speaking to one such.

I was amazed and delighted when the Prime Minister, in the speech to his party conference, referred to 300,000 tutors in mathematics, as well as English, for our youngsters. This is tremendous. I hope that the Government will think very carefully about how to make that an effective commitment, with people who know what style of teaching is going on in mathematics and who can help the teacher to offer that tutorial support.

A Minister in another place in July, referring to the size of classes—a relevant issue—said that at pre-primary and primary stage it was clear that the smaller class sizes helped in mathematics. Beyond that, however, for key stages 2 and 3, he said that the evidence was not there. I am surprised, because the distinctive characteristic of private schools is to have smaller classes. I can still think back to 70 years ago, when I was put with a few others into a small group in mathematics, and how it made quite a difference to us.

That is possibly quite enough of an agenda for Sir Peter from me; I think I got my five items. I move on, briefly, to science. We had a debate which involved many distinguished speakers of this House on 3 May. Will the Minister ensure that the things then said are regarded not as library material but as deserving reconsideration? I was struck by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Broers, who had chaired the committee—to which the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has already referred—regretting that the Government have not produced the £200 million they had promised before the 2005 election and wondering where it was. He said that this was a matter of particular concern because,

"the lack of motivating practical science has been a key factor in the loss of interest by students".

Again and again in that debate, reference was made to the need for students not to watch the teacher do demonstrations or to read about them, but to do experiments. For that they need suitable kit. In his reply, the Minister referred to the science and innovation framework for 2004-14. Can he say anything today, in the light of the spending review, about what is happening with that £200 million?

Reference was made to SATs killing interest in science. There is not time for me to go into that, but although Ofsted advised the Government that they are not, the views of those who spoke in this House from great knowledge and experience need to be taken into the reckoning.

Grading boundaries can influence the choices made by head teachers and pupils together on what subjects they should take. If they are set high in relation to other subjects, it is not surprising if they are a disincentive to heads and pupils who are looking for achievement where there are easier pickings. I raised this point 10 years ago in a report I did to the then Government in relation to the physical sciences. I understand that the Institute of Physics is raising it again now. This is a difficult issue. It is difficult to say that A is harder than B, but when it is being said over 10 years and when we have a dearth of students—particularly from the state sector, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said—in subjects that are an imperative national need, this issue needs to be resolved.

Finally, I was much encouraged by the speeches of the leaders of both the main parties at their party conferences and by their commitment to the education of every child and an education that is fit for purpose. I was particularly encouraged by the earlier commitment of the Prime Minister to lift the level of funding in state schools to that in the private sector. I assure the Minister that we will do everything we can to encourage him in the fulfilment of those policies.

Photo of Lord Taverne Lord Taverne Liberal Democrat 1:51, 18 October 2007

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on a most eloquent and effective speech. One of the key recommendations of the Science and Technology Committee report to which he referred was that the curriculum should have rather less early specialisation and should be more broadly based for those of 16 years and older. If there is one point that I would like to take some exception to in the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, it is that I do not think this is just a question of economics. It goes to the heart of the question of what constitutes a civilised society. I shall deal with this subject in a broad way.

Over 40 years ago, CP Snow wrote his famous essay about the two cultures. He complained that somebody could not be called civilised if he did not know the works of Shakespeare, but he could if he did not understand the second law of thermodynamics. I partly disagree with that because I do not think it is essential that people should know the second law of thermodynamics, but I do think it is essential that people should have some idea of how science works. They should understand the importance of the evidence-based approach and the tentative nature of scientific knowledge. There are examples of the ignorance about this all around us. Not long ago, I heard one of the most intelligent presenters of the "Today" programme—and they are all extremely intelligent—talk to a scientist and say, "You believe that". He had to be pulled up and it had to be explained that scientists do not base their opinions on belief—one belief among many systems of belief—but on the evidence. Later on, in the course of an interview on food additives after a study suggested that they have carcinogenic effects, the same interviewer said, "Do you not accept that it is now beyond doubt that these additives have a deleterious effect?". He should have been pulled up on that because the idea that scientific knowledge establishes facts beyond doubt is totally ignorant of the way in which science works. There are very few hypotheses that can be regarded as facts. It is true that some become so well established that they are accepted as facts. We accept as facts that the Earth goes round the Sun, the laws of gravity and the second law of thermodynamics. I would go further and say that evolution is no longer a hypothesis; it is so well established that it no longer has the status of just one of many hypotheses.

Unfortunately, there are other, much more serious signs that we do not necessarily accept and understand the basis of science. Many of the vice-chancellors of our universities clearly do not understand what science is and how it works, because 17 of our universities offer degrees in alternative medicine. They offer scientific degrees in courses that include homoeopathy, reflexology, aromatherapy and even Ayurveda. I am not sure that people quite understand what Ayurveda, for example, means. There is a very good book about bad medicine written by Christopher Wanjek, who writes:

"When you place your trust in a proponent of Ayurveda, you are also placing your trust in someone who likely claims to be able to levitate, read minds, foretell the future, reduce crime and end war through meditation, or heal with chanting, cow dung and spit".

Courses in Ayurveda are offered to qualify for a degree in science—so-called science.

Let us consider homoeopathy. The doctor of homoeopathy says that the more you dilute a substance, the more effective it becomes. When a substance is diluted, as is common, to the extent of 10 to the power of 30, nothing of the original substance is left. If you really argue that this can have a scientific effect, other than as a placebo, that is simply a belief in miracles. I know that a lot of people swear by it, but a lot of people used to swear by witchcraft and a lot of people swear by astrology. Why not have courses in astrology? Indeed, one eminent university has established a chair for the paranormal.

Representations made to the vice-chancellor have been ignored. These courses are justified and are said to be based on rigorous testing. What is the UUK doing about that? I hope that the chief executive of the UUK will look at that and take universities to task who offer pseudo-science and pretend that it is a degree in science. What is the Quality Assurance Agency doing about that, if it has any function whatever? Representations to it have been ignored or the indefensible has been defended.

In some respects, the Government are not much better in their support for a rigorous scientific approach. At a time when there is an enormous shortage of funds for the National Health Service, it still finances homoeopathic treatment, which cannot be shown to be effective, except as a placebo. The NHRA recently allowed efficacy to be claimed for a homoeopathic products simply on the basis of homoeopathic provings, totally disregarding the whole scientific base that it ought to be supporting.

Indeed, the Government still provide subsidy for conversion to organic farming, which is based on the totally untenable proposition that, somehow, synthetic chemicals are bad and natural chemicals are good. There is no scientific basis for that whatever. The director of the Soil Association, giving evidence to one committee of this House some years ago, explained that the merits of organic farming, which could not be proved scientifically, were beyond the present state of science to detect.

It is very important, therefore, that we should institute some recognition of what science is about and that our education system should recognise the importance of instilling at least some knowledge of how science works. That is not the case at the moment and it is high time that it was recognised by our official authorities.

Photo of Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Labour

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak in the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. There is a particular urgency in getting right the teaching of mathematics and technology if we are to enable future generations to compete in the emerging global market economy. I know that the noble Lord takes these issues very seriously, not least as a major employer in his own right, but also in his other role as chancellor of Thames Valley University.

I open my remarks on a consensual note this afternoon, although I do not intend to address the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. I believe that all the main political parties see the need to raise the status of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM subjects, as we have come to call them, in our society now. As noble Lords will know, the Government have committed themselves to the 10-year science and innovation framework and to the outcomes of the Sainsbury review about which I will say something a little later. I am pleased to see that the Conservative Party has created a STEM task force as part of its economic competitiveness review, which aims to use science to enhance the prospects of the UK becoming Europe's world-leading knowledge-based economy.

The Liberal Democrats have also shown how seriously they take these issues by establishing a sub-group on science and research as part of their higher and further education review. As part of this backdrop, universities have welcomed the Government's focus on improving the supply of people with STEM skills, as outlined in their recent science and innovation framework document Next Steps.

The Race to the Top, the report of the review conducted for the Treasury by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, whom I am delighted to see in his place today, was published last week. Its principal conclusion was that, although there is a reasonable supply of STEM graduates in the economy, there are potential problems ahead. For example, there are difficulties—these have been alluded to by almost all the speakers in the debate—in maintaining appropriate levels of demand in schools. Action is needed to ensure that the growing need for these skills in the UK economy is met. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, this is an area where our international competitors, China and India, are producing more graduates per year than all the European Union states combined. A significant proportion of those will be armed with qualifications in science, mathematics and information technology subjects.

Universities UK—I declare an interest as its chief executive—has endorsed the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, that there should be a major campaign to enhance the teaching of science and technology in schools by addressing these STEM issues. We welcome the plan to increase the number of qualified teachers. After all, universities play a vital role in not only educating students to become tomorrow's researchers, but in training the teachers of tomorrow. We will continue the drive to recruit more teachers in those subjects.

These actions in our schools and colleges will complement the measures taken by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to increase demand and maintain supply in strategic subjects in the higher education sector. The funding council has given substantial support, in collaboration with the learned societies and professional bodies, for pilot projects to stimulate student demand in physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer science. The chemistry project, for example, is a pilot that promotes the excitement of chemistry and the chemical sciences as a subject. It also aims to demonstrate the good career opportunities that exist in these subjects to those groups in schools and colleges who are under represented in higher education. It is operating in three regions; the East Midlands, the north-west and London, but a full national rollout is anticipated. Activities have included hands-on access to modern laboratories, demonstration lectures and taster days for potential higher education students. These measures will inevitably take time to have an effect on student demand and the funding council has provided some additional funding in the very high-cost science subjects to maintain provision in the mean time.

One measure that Universities UK itself has taken to promote the science and research agenda is the publication of Eureka UK, and I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, referred to it. It is a very colourful book, which highlights 100 major discoveries, developments and inventions made in UK universities during the past 50 years; namely, the ones that have had a major impact on the world. It was designed not only to promote the achievements of our researchers in our universities, but also to create a positive perception of science among all young people and to encourage the possibility of taking up a career in science. To that end, we sent the publication to all secondary schools in the United Kingdom.

Universities believe that these actions should be reinforced by effective co-ordination of the work of the two relevant departments—the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. There is also a requirement for rationalisation and better integration of the various STEM initiatives within the education system. This includes the need for close working with schools, further education bodies and the Teacher Development Agency in order to produce the required result. We also believe that greater employer input is a necessity if further significant progress is to be made. The involvement of employers in the development and delivery of the STEM curriculum is absolutely essential.

The need to improve the level of career advice given to young people is an important recommendation of the review by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury. The noble Lord's report refers to a number of actions that have recently been taken to improve young people's awareness of the opportunities that are open to them if they do science and technology. Clearly, more needs to be done, as all speakers have indicated. Greater support from employers and professional bodies is required for career guidance across schools and universities. Employers should emphasise the career benefits of STEM subjects, alongside further action to promote the attractiveness of STEM careers to secondary school students. The proposed new advisory group on graduate supply and demand, which the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, recommends, builds on the work of an existing funding council group. In the form envisaged in the report, it should enable a valuable strategic focus to future work in this area. The regular monitoring of the number of students graduating in particular subjects and their employment prospects will provide useful evidence to inform funding council policy and institutional decision making.

The group will also look at areas where industry foresees shortages of graduates arising. It will be important to avoid any notion of manpower planning, but as a foresight exercise it should provide a valuable resource, not least for universities. Of course, as autonomous institutions, they will need to be able to make the final decisions about the provision they make available in response to changing student demand.

The proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, to strengthen the position of strategic subjects in schools can serve only to underpin demand in those subjects in universities and provide the skills that the modern economy needs. I have no hesitation in welcoming these proposals. They have the support of the universities and we look forward to seeing them come to fruition.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Crossbench 2:07, 18 October 2007

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Bilimoria for this debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, I congratulate him on introducing it so comprehensively, because it goes to the heart of our economic future. In the short time available I shall focus my remarks on the role of schools in educating girls and young women to play an equal role in society, in particular the influence of schools in encouraging girls and young women to pursue careers in science and maths. We are all aware that girls are now outperforming boys in exam results throughout their school years and make up the majority of university entrants. But evidence in the UK shows that detrimental stereotyping still has a major impact between the ages of 11 and 16.

I must declare an interest. As a former head girl of Wimbledon High School, I am fortunate enough to have enjoyed the benefits of a Girls' Day School Trust education. I believe that a number of noble Baronesses in this House also had such benefits. I am now an associate of the Girls' Day School Trust. My teachers were determined that my classmates and I would achieve in life all that we could and be able to take advantage of opportunities and choices that they never had—all in the face of bias and discrimination that, thankfully, is unimaginable today.

The fact that greater choice is embedded in GDST schools is reflected in the range of non-typical subjects selected for study by its pupils. These girls are more likely to choose subjects in which there are currently acute shortages of graduates when they go on to study at university. Leading UK industry organisations are concerned about the UK's lack of young people with the right skills and qualifications in sciences. Furthermore, national statistics show that girls not in GDST schools are getting a raw deal in school sciences, and that that carries on right through into higher education. For instance, if as high a proportion of girls in the country studied A-level chemistry as they do in GDST schools, there would be a total of 19,000 more female students studying this subject post-16. Similarly, if a large percentage of girls in the country studied A-level physics, there would be about 8,000 more female students studying it post-16. It is vital to kindle an interest in science early. It can lead to a lifelong passion that sees women enjoy interesting and challenging work in this field. It is an education that opens an almost infinite number of doors. The problem is that young girls at school, particularly as they leave the primary years, often just do not see it.

A recent survey of former students and current sixth-formers at GDST senior schools who had chosen to do science at A-level showed the importance of this encouragement of interest at a young age. When asked to choose two particular encouragements to study science at A-level, a third specifically mentioned the influence of their teachers and their schools. Among those who took science A-levels at school, 88 per cent went on to study science or a related subject at university, and over half went on to a career in science, of whom roughly two-thirds are still continuing in science. They do not drop off after leaving school, rather they are taking their scientific foundation on for the rest of their careers.

This non-stereotypical choice does not apply only to GDST schools. A recent cohort study by the Institute of Education found that women who went to girls' schools were more likely than co-educated women to gain qualifications at university in subjects typically dominated by men. So the flame of passion for science and maths has to be lit early. Figures show that girls are more likely to take up hard sciences and maths in a single-sex environment. They know that they can do these subjects and they believe that they can be good in them, and when they learn that they are good, there is positive feedback. They are not put down by their peers.

A 1998 Ofsted summary of research on gender and educational performance showed that girls from same-sex schools were more likely to study maths or the physical sciences at A-level than those from co-educational schools. Also, studies show that girls perform better in hard sciences in the single-sex environment. This has been demonstrated in a study by the Department for Education and Skills which shows that A grades achieved at A-level in all-girl independent schools are 10 per cent higher than those for girls in co-educational independent schools. Reports also note that girls in same-sex schools stand a much better chance of being entered for higher-tier papers in maths and science—up to 40 per cent more in many cases.

Among first-year full-time degree students studying physics, only one in five is a woman, which is proportional to the number of female students taking physics at A-level. That clearly indicates that whatever discourages girls from doing physics has already taken place before the A-level choice was made, because the numbers are the same when carried on through. Research conducted by Andrew Stables in 1990 indicated that girls aged 13 to 14 in same-sex schools are more likely to express an interest in maths and science than their peers in co-educational schools.

Increasing the number of people studying science post-16 is seen as key and is a welcome initiative in the Government's action plan to tackle the shortage of specialist science teachers. In the Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004 to 2014, the Government state that they aim to increase the number of physics A-level entries by 44 per cent and chemistry A-level by 11 per cent by 2014. These are indeed ambitious targets, and I hope that the Government and school inspectors do not underestimate the challenge for those teaching science in schools in areas of deprivation where home and peer pressures militate against taking these subjects as a route to an exciting and fulfilling future. After all, "Doctor Who", that well-known Welsh personality on television, is a scientist. I just wish that there were more science programmes and more science heroes on the programmes that youngsters are watching.

I know that the Minister recently visited Belvedere school, which has just moved from being a fee-paying GDST school to becoming an academy. I hope he enjoyed the visit and that more and more pupils at that school will benefit from its strong traditions in music and in science.

If our pupils leave school with a grounding in science and maths they will be able to understand their world better. They will be able to understand risk assessments in health, manage their finances and understand how things around them work. They will then be better prepared to adapt to the rapidly changing world that they face. I know that the Minister has a deep commitment to improving education in science and maths and I, like many in this House, look forward to hearing his concluding remarks.

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Labour 2:15, 18 October 2007

My Lords, I welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has introduced this enormously important debate.

I should like quickly to make two points. First, it is important that debates such as this one on science education should be based on a clear assessment of the position in our schools today, so that policy initiatives are directed at the right problems and not simply scattered around. The situation in our schools on A-levels is not too bad, with the major exception of A-level physics in which there has been a 20-year decline. However, the Government have already taken action in the past two years in this area, particularly in dealing with the main problem in physics, which is the lack of qualified teachers. They have also taken action on the other major problem, the need for triple science. The tendency in double science has been for physics to be pushed out of the curriculum, and that is a problem.

The Government are beginning to make a real change in careers advice. That is important because children will understand the point of studying these subjects only if they see that they are critical for their future careers. In the report that I recently produced for the Prime Minister we suggested further action in this area which should turn the situation around. Where action has been taken—for example, in further mathematics—there has been a dramatic improvement in the situation. In 1996-1997, fewer than 5,000 people were studying further mathematics. The numbers had dropped because the subject simply was not available in many schools. Now, however, it is available through an online system, and in the past year well over 6,500 people were studying further mathematics. So you can turn these situations around if you tackle the basic problems.

Secondly, perhaps I may indulge in a little marketing of the report that I produced for the Prime Minister which is entitled The Race to the Top. It covers in grim detail, in more than 100 pages, all these issues and gives facts and figures. It shows that, both on the educational side and in our country's performance in innovation, we are much better than is commonly thought. Other countries go in for the denial of bad news; in England we particularly go in for the denial of good news. Our performance is rather better than we might think.

We are now at a point where we can realistically aspire to be a global leader in science and innovation, but we need to do more. There are some very simple and clear things that we need to do. If we do those things, we can be a global leader in science and innovation. We should put those initiatives in an ambitious framework and not spend all our time beating ourselves up on the basis that we are not doing very well. If you do that, if you make a bad assessment of a current position, it will lead to bad initiatives and discourage young people from coming into science and engineering. We need to show young people that, in today's society and economy, it is extremely exciting to be a scientist or engineer in the UK and that it can lead to rewarding and exciting jobs. That is the message that we need to convey to them.

Photo of Lord Rees of Ludlow Lord Rees of Ludlow Crossbench 2:20, 18 October 2007

My Lords, I crave your Lordships' indulgence for arriving too late for my proper slot. The recent report of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, on innovation is entitled Race to the Top. His theme is that the UK can never compete on costs, but only by heading the race towards greater sophistication—higher value added. The bedrock issue here is the quality of education and training and the need for enhanced and more widespread skills in science and engineering. We should acknowledge and welcome the green shoots already apparent in government initiatives.

The Royal Society has become more engaged with school-level education. We have convened the main learning societies into a group chaired by Sir Alan Wilson to co-ordinate views, thereby, we hope, making us more effective in our advice to Ministers. Although we have severe concerns, we should not indulge too much in breast-beating as other countries face similar problems. It is a widespread trend that, during their school careers, pupils in most countries lose interest in chemistry and physics and that girls' attitudes to those subjects are more negative than those of boys. Another trend is that the more technically advanced societies—Japan, the US and Europe—have lower interest among students in school science than in, for instance, India and Malaysia. There are reasons for that, but I do not have time to go into them now. Scientific careers are not seen as adequately alluring in advanced countries, particularly teaching careers.

For us in this country, the age range of 14 to 16 is especially crucial. In our specialised education system, those who drop science at that age foreclose the option of many scientific careers. One reason why many pupils are turned off is that too many never encounter an enthusiastic science teacher. The Royal Society will be publishing a report on the teaching workforce in the UK in a couple of months. We need to reverse the under-recruitment to PGCE courses in science and maths, and we must do more to keep well qualified teachers in the profession. At the moment, the dropout rate in the STEM subjects is dismaying: about one-third never go on to teach at all, and half drop out within five years. That bodes ill for the goal of achieving a high-value-added economy.

To meet the Government's next-step targets, recruiting physics graduates will not in itself be enough. We need the conversion of some teachers from biology to physics. We need mature professionals to move into teaching from research, industry or the Armed Forces. More could be done to encourage scientists based in universities to spend time in schools, and vice versa. It is good that the DCFS will continue to fund the science learning centres. Continuing professional development is provided for more than 12,000 teachers per year in the maintained sector. It would be good if the Government did more to incentivise teachers to take up CPD; for instance, by making it a requirement for continuing in the profession or by financial incentives.

The curriculum is another issue. We are fortunate in this country to have a strong tradition of laboratory work, but the hard-hitting recent report of the House of Lords Select Committee highlighted that the reality was still far from our aspirations. There is a disjunction between what is done in a lab and what is done in the real world, and it would be good if scientists and science pupils had more chances to undertake investigations and fieldwork.

Science must attract the talented young and our schools must teach well, but we should not focus only on the education of would-be professionals. We should be concerned about the overall education level of the majority, especially of the currently disadvantaged. The low skill levels of too many young people—and, even worse, their low ambitions—are matters for concern. Recent OECD international comparisons on all this were depressing. Today's young people live in a world empowered by ever more elaborate technology. For an informed public debate, they all need at least some feel for science and some engagement with its concepts. That is why we should welcome the Government's concern and this debate.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords, Innovation, Universities and Skills 2:25, 18 October 2007

My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on promoting this important and timely short debate. It is timely because there has been published during the past couple of weeks the report of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, about which several people, including him, have spoken. It is an important report, which, as he rightly said, shows that we face many opportunities as well as many challenges.

Last year, the Select Committee on Science and Technology, on which I sat, published a report on the teaching of science in schools. It made a number of recommendations to which we were encouraged by the Government's positive response. There was perhaps a number of issues, however, on which we would have liked a slightly more positive response—I shall mention one or two of them today.

We were given very short notice of this debate—we knew on Tuesday that it was going to take place. On Tuesday, I attended two seminars which were relevant to it. The first was a breakfast seminar run by the pharmaceutical industry on the teaching of science and mathematics. Among those present was Professor John Holman from the National Science Learning Centre at York. The pharmaceutical industry had arranged the seminar because it is extremely worried about the difficulty of recruiting scientists of the quality that they need, both at the research level from universities and at technician level. It said that it could fill its vacancies without difficulty because it was recruiting from other countries, particularly from eastern Europe, India and China. That is representative of what is happening to British science: we have now to look elsewhere.

Professor Holman began by talking to us about a survey that he had done of first-year chemistry students at York, whom he also teaches. He had asked them: "Since we are trying to encourage more of you, why have you decided to come and study chemistry?". Sixty per cent of them said that they were studying chemistry because they were inspired by their teachers at school. Thirty per cent said that they were motivated by career prospects. That illustrates well the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rees, about the quality of our teachers. How can we attract really high-quality people into the teaching profession? The report of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, points out that if we were to succeed in fulfilling the targets for the recruitment of specialists to the profession, we would need to take one in five physics graduates and one in five chemistry graduates. If one considers the number of people who gain degrees in those subjects and the competing careers on offer to them, it would be optimistic of us to think that we could do that. The noble Lord's report points out also that if we take from a broader base of science training—for example, those trained in biology or psychology—and offer specialist conversion courses, we need take only 3 per cent of those graduates instead of 20 per cent. One area we need to look at, therefore, is how far we can recruit more widely, but offer specialist training, because pupils need the specialist teacher as distinct from the broad, generalised teacher. They respond to the specialist teacher; those are the ones who really stimulate them. Also mentioned in the noble Lord's report is Teach First, which is a splendid initiative which has brought some extremely good graduates into teaching.

The report indicates that we need also to think about the continuing professional development of teachers, which was emphasised, too, by Professor Holman. There is a huge drop-out rate: 50 per cent of physics teachers drop out in the first five years. So we are not only not recruiting vast numbers of teachers but we are losing them much too fast.

One thing that Professor Holman talked about was the need to provide mentoring and help in those early years of teaching, which is where CPD—continuous professional development—can help quite a lot. There is also a need to update teachers. The difficulty faced by many teachers is, first, that their head teacher is often not keen to see them go. The difficulty of doing CPD, particularly in term time, is in finding cover; it is extremely difficult to find cover for science teachers in secondary schools, so there is a need to have a sympathetic head teacher who is prepared to try to find cover for them. Secondly, there is the very real problem of funding some of those courses, as those at York cost the schools money and many schools are reluctant to pay the cost. For the first few years the Wellcome Foundation subsided the costs—but it is important that we look at who pays the costs for those courses and that there should be some subsidisation.

In addition, it is not unreasonable to expect teachers to use perhaps part of their holidays to go on such courses, but it is important that they gain qualifications from them that perhaps can go towards a masters degree, or something like that. There is a need for modular qualifications that they can build upon.

The second point—on how students are influenced by careers—emphasises another point that has been mentioned by many people in this debate, which is the importance of advice to young people about the real prospects for careers in science and how exciting some of them can be. As your Lordships know, we in many senses lament the number of science graduates who are taken up by the City, because the City badly needs those who can produce obscure models based on differential equations, in which those based in science and particularly in engineering are well versed. It is good that at long last there are people in the City who understand science and technology but, equally, they are losses to the other aspects of the economy. It is vital that careers advisers know what the opportunities are and make them known and that we get to the young people not at 16, when they have made their GCSE choices, but at 13 and 14 when they are making their crucial choices.

Universities need to think very carefully in this regard. The main employers of our science graduates are the universities, through PhDs and post-docs. In spite of improvements, the form of contract for post-doc researchers means, very often, that they have short-term positions and have to move from one post to another. That is extremely disturbing for those who have done a lengthy period of training—as are the rates of pay. Although there have been improvements, universities still need to look at how attractive that makes a career in science.

The second seminar that I went to was one about science and society, at which one of the speakers was Frances Cairncross. She talked about mathematics in particular and lamented—on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay—that of those who enter Oxford and Cambridge these days, 48 per cent come from the top 200 schools. There is a danger that our state school pupils are not getting the same support as our independent school pupils. The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, referred to the success of the Further Mathematics Network, which has been great; mathematics is the language of science, and it is vital that we do not see a further deterioration in the subject. It is coming up but only very slowly. In the mid-1990s, 56,000 a year took basic mathematics at A-level; that has dropped to about 49,000—but I remind noble Lords that in 1989 some 70,000 young people took mathematics at A-level. There has been a very significant drop over those years.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Shadow Minister, Children, Schools and Families 2:34, 18 October 2007

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for tabling this Question for Short Debate, which addresses such a serious and important issue. Given today's expert cast list, it is hardly surprising that we have enjoyed a thoughtful and stimulating debate.

The importance of good quality and high standards in teaching of science and mathematics in our schools cannot be underestimated. It will play a decisive role in our future because, in an increasingly competitive and globalised marketplace, skills in science and mathematics will be of paramount importance in ensuring the UK's competitive position, especially in relation to the rapid rate of industrialisation in China and India which, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, are producing more graduates per year than the whole European Union. No doubt they are the recruits into the pharmaceutical industry to which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, referred.

And yet, we lag behind in so many ways. As we learned from the Leitch report, over one-third of adults of working age do not have a basic school-leaving qualification. Five million adults have no qualification at all, one in six adults does not have the literacy skills expected of an 11 year-old and half do not have levels of functional numeracy. Science and mathematics form the backbone of the skills set that will be necessary for tackling the unique challenges facing the next generation. An education in science and mathematics is confined not simply to the production of specialist scientists but to society at large, which must work together to combat some of the enormous scientific challenges that lie ahead. The electorate, too, is facing more and more political decisions concerning scientific matters, such as stem cell research, nuclear power, and vaccines, which increasingly demand a more scientifically literate voting public. I mention that to illustrate just some of the wide-ranging reasons that underscore the importance of science education.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, reminded us in his excellent speech, the figures show that the study of science is in decline. Since 2001, the number of pupils sitting GCSE physics has fallen by more that 10 per cent. At the same time, the number of students enrolling for physics courses at university fell by 7 per cent between 1996 and 2006. That is a worrying trend, and one that was acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Turville. To equip our workforce to meet the technological challenges at home and abroad, we need rigorous teaching of science and mathematics. Yet education in those subjects is not simply about learning different facts that might be useful later; it is, if done properly, an initiation into a way of thinking about the world analytically and with a regard for evidence. It is a mode of thought or of experience—the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, spoke about civilisation in that regard. It is this way of understanding the world that will produce the greatest benefit for the 21st century, although my noble friend Lady Verma and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, might take up the issue of ayurvedic medicine with him.

The Government's substitution of less rigorous science courses, such as the combined science GCSE, in lieu of allowing all students to be taught those subjects individually, clearly demonstrates that they have yet to appreciate the urgency and seriousness of the state of scientific and mathematical education from primary school to university. That is precisely why we on these Benches have always been in favour of a more robust programme of teaching the sciences individually and practically at GCSE, so that pupils will engage with the subjects in a way that is appropriate to their discipline. That calls into question what sort of result we hope for when we speak of developing science and mathematics teaching. The Government's combined science course at GCSE fits in with what we have come to expect from this Government; placing the emphasis on improving statistics instead of addressing the more fundamental problems.

The Minister has in the past agreed about the value of teaching the sciences individually. Yet all the intellectual agreement in the world does not make up for the fact that after 10 years, this Government have still not grasped the difference between throwing money at a problem and prioritising resources. A more rigorous programme is an absolute necessity, and it needs to be more widely available. The new science GCSE has come under heavy criticism from educators. Dr Martin Stephen, the High Master of St Paul's, warned that attempts to make GCSEs in the subject relevant to pupils had left them, "unchallenging and uninspiring". He went on to say:

"The new GCSE specifications look likely to be a lethal injection for science, not a stimulant. They will have a dire effect on A-level and post-16 studies, and hence on recruitment to science courses at university ... The new GCSEs are to real science what baby food is to steak and chips. They will bore the pants off many students, not inflame them with a new love of science".

Even those who do develop a love of science with the new GCSE find they are unprepared for A-level and so drop the subject. How then does the Minister expect students to be prepared for science at university? The lack of mathematical skill that results from the lack of exposure to serious science earlier on means that universities have to spend valuable time running remedial classes in maths. Does he agree that this is a serious and costly issue that urgently needs addressing?

The Government's focus on statistical targets at the expense of educational priorities is quite simply the wrong way of doing things. Yet, the most damning irony is that even by their own targets the Government are failing. One of the most discouraging statistics that I have read is that the percentage of pupils achieving level 3 or above in key stage maths has decreased year on year since 2002 from 31 per cent to 20 per cent in 2007. In the past five years of this Government we have seen an 11 per cent decline in the performance of young people at perhaps the most crucial time in their education. Does the Minister share our concern that once these pupils have fallen behind, they will not be able to catch up?

Perhaps the Minister could explain how he will address this decline. Between 2001 and 2007, the number of pupils sitting GCSE maths has steadily fallen from 60,533 to 54,833. Much of the modern maths curriculum requires good reading skills, yet too many of our children cannot read and thereby fall behind in maths. We have had to wait 10 years before the Government announced a review of how maths is taught. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that Sir Peter looks at best practice here and abroad; and I say, "hear, hear" to setting. Perhaps one of the greatest concerns is the shortage of well qualified maths and science teachers in many of our schools. Fewer than half of the maths teachers in our schools have a maths degree.

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a young, vivacious Muslim student on the train. She was so excited because it was Eid and she was very chatty. She explained that she was in her third year of studying maths at Manchester University. I asked what she was hoping to do when she graduated. She said that she would like to teach but that everyone she spoke to said she should not, because she could get a better job with her qualifications. They obviously thought maths teaching is not alluring enough—a problem highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow. She had an obvious feel for her subject and had spent some time helping in a school, which she had really enjoyed. I encouraged her to pursue teaching and I hope that she does, because she had exactly the personality and love of maths that would make a real difference. The vital ingredient for fostering a love of numbers and a curiosity for scientific discovery is a committed teacher who is passionate about their subject and qualified in that subject. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, rightly said, that would encourage each pupil to achieve all that they possibly can.

It is clear what kind of future awaits the country if our declining science and mathematics base is allowed to continue. It is a future where this country slips even further in the world economic tables—where great British innovation, competitiveness and advancement disappear. While Her Majesty's Government admit that there is a problem, it is abundantly clear that they have failed to implement the change that Britain needs.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners) 2:44, 18 October 2007

My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for raising this important subject today and for doing so in an extremely eloquent speech. The noble Lord is one of this country's outstanding entrepreneurs. Indeed, many of us have benefited from his products—almost, but not quite, day by day. He is a strong advocate of the promotion of entrepreneurship and the enterprise culture and he is right to emphasise the huge importance of mathematics and science education to our economic and social prosperity in the next generation.

We have heard a succession of excellent speeches, leading up to the unusually partisan speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. I will respond later to the points that she made. However, I was in wholehearted agreement with most of what was said in the rest of the speeches. I was particularly glad that the debate gave the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, an opportunity to promote the themes of his highly stimulating book on science and society, from which he quoted. It also gave the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, an opportunity to sing the praises of the Girls' Day School Trust, which is, as she said, an excellent organisation. Only a fortnight ago, it opened its new state academy in Liverpool, the Belvedere Academy; I was glad to be present for that. The academy will do a great deal to promote girls' science education, not least in the city of Liverpool.

A number of noble Lords have today mentioned my noble friend Lord Sainsbury's excellent review of science and innovation, The Race to the Top. I was glad that he had a chance to speak to some of the main points in his remarks today. His report, which followed a huge piece of work by him and his team to get to the roots of the challenge facing us in science and mathematics education, is an important part of the Government's answer to the question before us today, so let me start there.

My noble friend examined how science and innovation will help to ensure that the UK remains competitive. China and India now produce more science and engineering graduates every year than the whole of the EU, America and Japan together. For example, Microsoft Research Asia became Microsoft's most productive research area in just two years. As my noble friend put it:

"The challenge is not to hide behind trade barriers or engage in a 'race to the bottom' but to invest in the future in areas such as knowledge generation, innovation, education, re-training, and technological infrastructure. Twenty-five years ago it would not have been possible to imagine the UK as a global leader in science and innovation in the world economy, but today it looks like an attainable goal".

We agree with that analysis. The Government have accepted my noble friend's recommendations, which are entirely supportive of and build on our existing science and innovation investment framework. I am glad that they do, as the framework was largely formed by my noble friend in the first place.

Let me take the eight main Sainsbury recommendations that refer to schools and explain the Government's proposed actions. First, the report recommends new incentives to encourage general science teachers and biology specialists to take accredited physics and chemistry courses to improve their teaching range and depth, an issue that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Subject to final spending review decisions, we expect to pay a £5,000 incentive to teachers who gain such accreditation. The noble Baroness referred to supply cover. We are also proposing to pay the costs of supply cover for the first year of the pilot course that is being developed by the science learning centres.

Secondly, the Sainsbury report recommends changing the self-evaluation form that schools complete before Ofsted inspections to highlight recruitment and retention issues in relation to science and maths teachers. From this autumn, the form will prompt schools to set out the difficulties that they are having in recruiting science and mathematics teachers, in very much the way that my noble friend suggested.

Thirdly, the report recommends long-term government funding for the 10 new science learning centres, which the noble Lord, Lord Rees, mentioned, with special support to enable teachers from schools with a shortage of science teachers to attend. The Government will continue to fund the regional science learning centres and we will subsidise the costs for the schools that need it most.

Fourthly, my noble friend's report recommends expanding the network of science and engineering clubs attached to schools, which are particularly geared to 11 to 14 year-olds who show interest and promise in science. The Government plan to double the number to 500 by 2010, so there will be a significant expansion.

Fifthly, the report recommends giving all pupils who would benefit the chance to study the new further mathematics GCSE. The current pilot of this new GCSE is looking at what support and encouragement schools need to ensure the highest possible take-up. We stand ready to make an appropriate investment in this area in due course.

Sixthly, the report recommends improving science and mathematics-related careers advice. This will start from next year, when we award a contract for the specific provision of such advice to schools.

Seventhly, the report recommends annual monitoring of our progress towards our physics, chemistry and mathematics teacher targets. We are already undertaking this and I assure the House that we will continue to do so.

Eighthly, the report recommends continuing to expand the opportunity for pupils to study separate physics, chemistry and biology GCSEs, a theme taken up by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. We will do this—it is a key government priority. From next September, all science specialist schools, of which there are 310, will offer triple science. Also from next September, all higher achieving pupils reaching level 6 or above in the science key stage 3 tests taken by all 14 year-olds will have an entitlement to study triple science at GCSE, irrespective of the schools that they attend.

In all these areas, I believe that we have a good story to tell and my noble friend's recommendations will help us improve the situation further.

Let me respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. I was amazed by her remarks about double science. I remind the House that the double science GCSE was introduced by the previous Government when the GCSE was introduced, in 1988. It was a core part of the GCSE scheme, as introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, who is not in his place today. It was introduced because of the very poor take-up of triple science—indeed, even double science—in schools before then. Too many students were studying only a single science at school; this was a particular issue with girls, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. So while I am keen to see an increase in the proportion of pupils studying individual sciences, the introduction of triple science was a huge step forward for science education in our schools. It had nothing whatever to do with the meeting of targets, unless that was a gleam in the eye of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, at the time. The noble Baroness does us a disservice in blaming on us any ill effects there might be from reforms that were introduced by her Government 20 years ago.

It is also not the case that key stage 3 mathematics performance has been declining, as I took her to suggest. The proportion of pupils reaching level 5, which is the level expected of 14 year-olds in the key stage 3 mathematics test, has risen from 60 per cent to 76 per cent since 1997, a significant increase over that period. As for the GCSE mathematics, the proportion of students achieving a C grade or better in GCSE mathematics has increased from 43 per cent in 1997 to 55 per cent this year. So I do not think that the noble Baroness's remarks were to the point. There has been steady improvement since 1997. I am the last person to be complacent—there is a need for substantial further improvement still, but it is not the case that there has been a decline in standards.

The same is true in science. In 1997, 44 per cent of pupils got at least one good GCSE pass in science; this year that proportion rose to 51 per cent. The uptake on A-levels is also improving this year on last year, although I fully accept, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, pointed out, that this is reversing previous declines and we need to see continuing increases in future.

The increased uptake in science as AS and A-level is feeding through to greater success at further and higher education level. Latest UCAS figures show large increases in applications to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This year acceptances on such courses in England are up by 6.4 per cent; subject acceptances in the UK as a whole are up by 10.3 per cent for physics, 8.8 per cent for chemistry and 9.2 per cent for mathematics, while combined mathematics and computer science is up by 16.5 per cent. Again, the progress is in the right direction.

My noble friend Lady Warwick represented the views of the university sector in this area. I am glad to say that university science is stronger than ever, not only in terms of the uptake of science courses, to which I have just referred, but also public spending on science which, under the stewardship of my noble friend Lord Sainsbury, has doubled under this Government and will continue to rise in real terms between now and 2011. With 1 per cent of the world's population, the UK is responsible for 5 per cent of the world's science and the proportion of our young people graduating in science subjects is still far greater than in China or India. Again, although there is much to be done, much is being achieved and we should not, as my noble friend said, sell ourselves short.

I have very little time left and should like to concentrate on science teaching. As noble Lords said, we will achieve nothing in our schools unless we have effective science teaching. Over the past few years, we have seen a significant increase in the number of teachers being recruited in the science and technology area, thanks to a series of government policies which have helped to promote the recruitment of science teachers. They include golden hellos, which offer an incentive to train to a level over and above that at which the normal salary is paid; the introduction of bursaries for GCSE students; the introduction and expansion of the graduate teacher programme, which enables career switchers to train on the job and be paid a salary while they do so—something that was not available previously; and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned, the introduction of the Teach First programme, which is attracting into teaching many of our most talented graduates who might otherwise have been destined for a career in commerce or business. They undertake to teach for at least two years but, in practice, more than half stay thereafter. As a result, we have seen a substantial increase in the number of maths and science teachers going into our schools, and the introduction of more inspirational school teachers will do more than anything to see that the uptake of science at A-level and higher levels continues to increase in the years ahead.

To recap, we are not complacent about the need for further measures in this area. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, was right to point to the importance of getting the basics right in primary schools so that everything thereafter improves too. We did not only start to do this suddenly with Sir Peter Williams's report; in 1998, we introduced the national numeracy strategy, which put an emphasis on the systematic teaching of numeracy, primary school by primary school, and, at the same time, we introduced the national literacy strategy. As a result, there has been a substantial rise in performance levels in both numeracy and literacy in our primary schools. However, more needs to be done and we are on the case. The report by my noble friend Lord Sainsbury has helped us to enhance our policies in this area, and I undertake to keep the House informed of progress in the future.

House adjourned at 2.57 pm.