Note: this chapter is largely based on the research conducted by Dr Saskia Murk Jansen for Sir Cyril Taylor when she worked as his policy adviser. In the nineteenth century, Britain was the world’s leading exporter of manufactured
goods. We had many of the best inventors in the world, including Isambard Kingdom Brunel, James Watt, George Stephenson, Henry Bessemer, Michael Faraday, and Charles Babbage. Aside from the competition from lower labour cost countries such as India and China,
one of the main reasons for the current decline of Britain’s position in manufacturing and engineering has been the decline in the teaching of physics, chemistry, biology and advanced maths in our schools, often because of a lack of specialist teachers in these subjects. One of the causes of this decline was the introduction in the 1990s of the double-
science GCSE award in schools at age 16, which was supposed to give equal attention to the teaching of both physics, chemistry and biology and to encourage greater numbers of pupils to take up science at A-level. Already in the 1994 report to the Engineering Council, Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson1 remark: ‘The introduction of national curriculum science and the double science GCSE have been a great success in increasing participation in science to age 16 and in improving the gender balance, but the apparent failure to lift A-level entries is a mystery.’ Frequently, double science is taught by teachers with only a biology qualiﬁcation.
The Confederation of British Industry, in its evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, said that only 19 per cent of school science teachers are physics specialists, and of those teaching GCSE science, 3 per cent of them do not even have an A-level in the subject.2 Not surprisingly, ambitious 16 year-olds wanting to get into a good university do not believe that their double-science GCSE course has prepared them suﬃciently well in physics and chemistry to get a good grade in those subjects at A-level. Recent research by the Centre for Evaluation and Management at the University of Durham has conﬁrmed that good grades are signiﬁcantly harder to obtain in science than in other subjects.3