Today my ex-employer the Royal Society, the UK Academy of Sciences, published its long-awaited report on a vision for the science and mathematics education of the future.
I co-launched the project back in January 2012, having been involved with scoping it over the previous six months or so.
My impressions of the end product?
As with all things produced by the Royal Society, it is extremely thorough and reflects considerable investment of time and resource, to a high standard. My particular area of interest is about teachers, having undertaken work in this area over the last year or so. Not just any teachers, but those who specialise in core curriculum subjects such as those within the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) disciplines covered by the report.
Why are these teachers so critical to the success of education systems?
The Society’s report (Part 5 starting on page 83) makes clear that teachers “have the privilege and responsibility of developing young people and preparing them for their future lives.” I like the term ‘privilege’ as this implies that being a teacher is something that everyone should aspire to – we know this is not so in many countries, sadly. In fact yesterday’s publication of a report on a global survey of teachers by the OECD (TALIS 2013) made clear that there are major issues around the self-perception of teachers – only a third of those surveyed thought that teaching is a valued profession in their country. This is already starting off with a significant handicap …
The Royal Society report covers all the key issues around the importance of an adequate supply of professionally-trained subject-specialist teachers (in science and mathematics) and mechanisms currently in place that could either be extended more widely or even just sustained for longer – we continue to live in difficult financial times. There is an interesting example on page 90 (Box 16) of generic principles for effective initial teacher education, which I wouldn’t disagree with, though perhaps it needs to show subject-specific exemplars to be of real merit. A strong case is made for the importance of collaborative professional (enhancement) activities within the STEM community that embrace the key role of teachers, as preparers of future scientists and engineers, and indeed of all who need to have scientific and mathematical core knowledge in their lives or jobs. This is all great stuff, echoing the key collaborative engagement messages of the TALIS 2013 report – and the value of continued investment by Governments and others in high quality global education for all can never be under-emphasised.
I suppose the big question for me is: “How do we make the vision a reality?”
This is not really answered in detail by the report and perhaps this was too much of an ask given its very broad coverage of major education policy issues, including curriculum, assessment and accountability – one of the main messages from it is about the need for a baccalaureate-style approach to post16 education across the UK – this is why I am following the HTRT English Baccalaureate Pathfinder with interest.
I’ve certainly thought a lot about how to increase the impact of ‘good’ education policy over the last couple of years which have paralleled the gestation of the report. It’s not straight forward. There are intensive discussions via social media and online forums that try to grapple with this. The Vision report does make a strong case for an evidence-informed approach to education policy, one assumes as opposed to ‘back-of-the-envelope’ national initiatives endorsed by some senior politicians, and hints at the need for teachers to be a part of this process. The connection is with their professional development and the real possibility in the UK of an independent Royal College of Teaching that would incentivise this and link it to policy in a neutral way that avoids accusations of overt political bias.
The Royal Society’s Vision report is an excellent summary of the key issues that need tackling to ensure we move towards an aspirational science and mathematics education system of the future – but the real benefits of the project will only be seen when those key stakeholders who need to take this agenda forward do so in a strategically collaborative way and with teachers closely involved in the process.