Science teaching in Scotland facing crisis

MSPs have heard that Scotland is facing a crisis in science teaching. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
MSPs have heard that Scotland is facing a crisis in science teaching. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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SCOTLAND’S schools face a looming crisis in science teaching, MSPs have been told.

Classrooms are facing a “perfect storm” with investment down, teacher shortages and falling numeracy levels, Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said.

It comes at a time when the Scottish Government is committed to getting more youngsters to take up science and engineering. However, spending on teaching science subjects in Scotland is significantly less than in English schools, a recent report by the Learned Societies Group, including the Royal Society of Edinburgh, found.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication by the pioneering Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell of his ground-breaking theory of his electromagnetism – but there are now doubts about whether future generations of young Scots could attain such heights.

Mr Gray said yesterday: “The Scottish Government’s own figures show a fall in numeracy levels at all levels, primary and secondary.

“This means science teaching in Scottish schools is facing a perfect storm – low investment, teacher shortages and falling numeracy levels. All are adding to concerns about the impact of the new curriculum on pupil numbers choosing science.

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“To make matters worse, much lower pass rates in the new National 4 examinations for maths and science than for other subjects are fuelling fears that this will discourage pupils from choosing to take these subjects in the first place.”

The achievements of Maxwell underpin much of “everyday technology today” and are just as important Albert Einstein’s E=mc2, Mr Gray added.

The former physics teacher warned: “The chances of today’s Scottish school students ever rising to those heights of scientific achievement again will be reduced significantly if the Scottish Government does not act now to invest in science education. Scottish science has a proud past but if it is to have a great future, SNP ministers need to wake up and take action now.”

Overall, teaching numbers have slumped to a ten-year low, official figures late last year revealed. This has resulted in rising class sizes, despite a flagship Scottish Government pledge to maintain numbers.

There are 254 fewer teachers in 2014 than last year and 3,425 more pupils, it emerged last month. This means there are 50,824 teachers in Scotland’s state schools – a fall of 4,275 since the SNP came to power in 2007.

Schools minister Dr Alasdair Allan said the picture for science qualifications in schools is “very positive”.

He added: “Last year we saw an increase in entries at Higher in all three of the main sciences – biology, chemistry and physics – with pass rates holding strong.”