Science teaching in Scotland facing “perfect storm”

SCOTLAND’S schools are facing a looming crisis in science teaching, MSPs have been told.

Picture: PA
Picture: PA

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

It comes at a time when the Scottish Government is committed to get more youngsters taking up science and engineering subjects.

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.

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Teaching cuts leading to poor discipline - EIS

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This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication by the great Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell of his ground-breaking theory of his Electromagnetism - but there are now doubts about whether the future generation young Scottish scientists could achieve such heights.

“The Scottish Government’s own figures show a fall in numeracy levels at all levels, primary and secondary,” Mr Gray said, himself a former physics teacher.

“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.”

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

But he 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.

“Real concerns are being expressed by science teachers and bodies like the RSE but they are falling on deaf ears. 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.”

Teaching numbers have slumped to a ten-year low, official figures late last year revealed.

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Class sizes

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 yesterday.

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.

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A flagship report by oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood last year on Scotland’s future workforce said there was a need increase the amount of young people taking up science, technology, engineering and mathematics - the so called STEM subjects - in Scotland’s schools.

Larry Flanagan, General Secretary of teaching union the EIS said attracting highly qualified graduates, including those from STEM subjects, will always be “a challenge” for the education system.

“While financial rewards are usually far down the list of priorities for those entering teaching, the fact that Scotland’s teachers have suffered significant real-terms pay cuts over the past decade cannot be ignored,” he said.

“The pay of Scotland’s teachers has declined, both relative to teachers’ pay in other countries and compared to other graduate professions. This is an issue that must be addressed if we are to continue to recruit the best graduates, from all subject areas, into the teaching profession. Another

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significant factor is the lack of resources due to budget cuts leading to a decline in the number of practical experiments in science classes, which had previously acted as a significant point of interest to many pupils.”