Scrap A-levels and teach science up to 18, Royal Society says


Sarah Cassidy
Thursday 26 June 2014 00:08
A million more science, technology and engineering professionals will be needed by 2020
A million more science, technology and engineering professionals will be needed by 2020

A-levels should be scrapped and replaced with a new baccalaureate-style qualification with compulsory maths and science up to the age of 18, a report by science and education experts warns today.

Too many people in the UK are “mathematically and scientifically illiterate”, according to the report published by the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science.

It warns that there is persistent shortfall of youngsters taking science and maths-based courses after the age of 16 in the UK.

A million more science, technology and engineering professionals will be needed by 2020, but the UK is currently falling 40,000 short of this target every year, said Sir Martin Taylor, chair of the Royal Society's vision committee.

The major new report, drawn up by a committee of leading scientists and mathematicians, calls for a radical overhaul of the UK's education system.

Sir Martin said: "The current education system will not meet the needs of the UK over the next 15 to 20 years, so we need to start building a stable education system that produces scientifically literate citizens now, before it is too late."

"We all know that we have significant problems with the demand for science, mathematics and engineering skills and their supply. Employers tell us this. We know that only one in eight 16-year-olds goes on to do A-level mathematics. That's just not enough for a vibrant knowledge economy."

The report sets out a "road map for radically transforming our education system" which would put a much greater focus on maths and science over the next 20 years.

It calls for the creation of tough new courses and qualifications for sixth-formers in science, maths, engineering and technology (STEM) that will interest teenagers who want to study arts and humanities subjects as well as youngsters who have opted for vocational training in the workplace.

A-levels should be ditched in favour of a "baccalaureate" system including compulsory science and maths, it suggests.

Under the current system, sixth-formers taking A-levels choose to study three or four subjects. A baccalaureate system, such as the International Baccalaureate, tends to be broader - typically involving studying around six subjects from different areas.

Sir Martin said: "All students should study mathematics and science to the age of 18 alongside the arts and humanities as part of a new baccalaureate that provides a broad education for all.

"We believe that this means changing our current educational framework, gradually replacing the current A-level system with a broader framework that places emphasis both on vocational and academic learning."

The committee's vice-chair, Professor Dame Julia Higgins, said: "Eventually, we believe that there should not be A-levels, there will be something like a baccalaureate. What we're looking at is a broad exam framework, with specialist subjects."

The report calls for every primary school to have access to at least one specialist teacher in both maths and science, and argues that all secondary school lessons in these subjects should be taught by suitably qualified specialists.

It also calls for all school and college teachers to be required to work towards a teaching qualification arguing that they must be “experts in teaching as well as their specialist subject”.

The report comes amid major reform of A-levels as part of a bid by ministers to toughen up the qualifications, and continuing moves by Government to encourage youngsters to continue studying maths and science past GCSE.

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