I went down to Cardiff today for the Science in the Assembly meeting. It’s an event where the science and engineering bodies try and foster better links between themselves and the Welsh Government. This year was the 9th meeting. I found it quite strange hearing how much some people and some organisations had done, because I can’t honestly say I see a lot happening on the ground in Wales. Despite devolution and having a socialist government in power for years we still don’t appear to have an education system that is improving. It seems to me that we peaked some years ago and now things are in decline. Anyway, one thing that caught my attention today was Wendy Sadler talking about what needs to happen. She mentioned the Stimulating Physics Network (SPN) and the Teacher Network and the mythical Brian Cox Effect.
SPN consists of a number of strands, global support for those teaching physics, this bit is my bit, the Teacher Network. There’s also the partner schools which opt in to get more targeted support for their non-physics background teachers now teaching physics. There’s also mentoring, on-line social networking and lots of other bits.
Now England has seen a rise in numbers doing A-level physics of around 6%, which is great. This has been attributed to Brian Cox, but if that was the case it would be across all areas and sectors. Wales has had a much smaller increase and in the state sector the increase is very large with only a tiny increase in the independent sector. The partner schools of SPN are state only so that’s a big hint at what’s going on, and it isn’t Brian. Though I must add I do think it’s vital that he carries on doing his thang.
But another question came at the end about fees, it was proposed that fee increases at university might be driving the change. When mom and dad have to fork out they want careers options that really will be an investment. Now I doubt very much whether that’s really going to be the case in terms of A-levels as that’s a way down the food chain. It might explain the results but I doubt it. However, it did make me think. What if it were true? What if the only way we could increase the numbers doing such an important subject as physics was to make it highly valued by making it expensive? Would that be a price you’d be willing to pay?