Not for the first time the CBI has called for an improvement in school science education to ensure Britain's future business competitiveness.
Only 7% of British 16 year olds study biology, chemistry and physics as separate exam subjects, the majority following less specialized combined science courses. Richard Lamber the CBI's director general says that science graduates enjoy among the best starting salaries and are likely tobe in grear demand in future.
He was supported by James Smith the Chairman of Shell UK, Bob Taylor the Managing Director of generation for energy company E.On and Iam Coucher the Chief Executive of Network Rail, all of whom said that Britain would need large numbers of scientists and engineers to meet the energy, climate change and infrastructure challenges of the future. And for the larval scientists of today, that requires the more comprehensive start offered by 3 science GCSEs.
The CBI offers a five point plan to improve science teaching in schools:
The CBI's five-point proposal for science in schools:
1. Automatic opt in to Triple science. 40% of 14-year-olds automatically opted in to Triple science GCSE courses, which is the best preparation for further study. Just 7% of 16-year-olds currently take three science GCSEs.
2. Improve school buildings and science labs. Government has allocated £45 billion to improve school buildings including labs (Under Building Schools for Future - BSF) but must make the investment a reality. The programme is supposed to be over 20-25 years but the intial target of 100 BSF schools by 2009 is unlikely to be met as only 13 have opened so far.
3. Upgrade careers advice. £120m of new funding to pay for one-to-one careers advice at ages 14, 16 and 18, which will help challenge misperceptions about science and engineering degrees. The CBI says companies also need to take further steps to encourage young people into these careers.
4. Schools must prioritise science by timetabling specialist science teachers to deliver Triple science as soon as it is practical. Timetabling problems should not be difficult to overcome where schools have the necessary physics and chemistry specialists. The government's new £5,000 'golden hello' payments are also starting to increase the number of science graduates training as teachers.
5. Offer financial incentives. Give bursaries of £1,000 a year to STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) graduates to help pay tuition fees - at a total cost of around £200m a year - to reflect the importance of these skills to the UK economy.
To which I would add, the CBI could ask Shell and E.On to dob in £1 million each (any other CBI members interesting in promoting science education and science literacy will be welcome to contribute, too), and we'll put a new HMS Beagle at the disposal of the British scientific education community to help liven up science teaching.