UK launches public–private partnership to ‘INSPIRE’ science vocation in schools

18 December 2002 The Prime Minister, Tony Blair and Education and Skills Secretary, Estelle Morris have launched a new partnership between the Government, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the Technology Colleges Trust (TCT) and Imperial College London to boost science education in schools applying to become Science Colleges under the Government’s Specialist Schools Programme. (More)

GSK has committed up to £1 million over the next four years to funding the scheme, which will be known as INSPIRE (INnovative Scheme for Post-docs in Research and Education). Under the programme post-doctoral science researchers (post-docs) from Imperial College who have recently completed their PhDs will spend around half their time in selected specialist science or combined science and engineering schools. At the same time, they will study towards a post-graduate teaching qualification.

Speaking at the special launch of the programme at No.10, Downing Street last summer, Tony Blair gave his strong support to the specialist schools programme and welcomed the partnership of industry, government and higher education, ‘The Government is committed to excellence in science education and I am delighted that GlaxoSmithKline, one of our major science-based companies, and Imperial College are supporting this important initiative. This partnership programme will benefit not only the pupils in the new specialist science schools but also the pupils in their partner schools.

The children of today will be our teachers, our scientists and our doctors tomorrow – by investing in the education of our children now, we are investing in the future of our economy and society.

I would like to see many more specialist schools. We are expanding the number significantly up to 1000 by this September, and at least 1500 by 2005 – half of all secondary schools.

But 1500 is only a staging post. Once it has been achieved, we will advance decisively in extending the opportunity for more schools to achieve specialist status. We want to see all schools that are capable of becoming specialist doing so. We are also introducing new specialisms such as science and engineering. INSPIRE will give an enormous boost to the launch of these new specialisms."

The £1 million commitment from GSK will support an initial four-year pilot of INSPIRE. It is hoped that the project will involve up to 15 schools in and around the M25 area.

Education and Skills Secretary, Estelle Morris said ‘This is a major landmark in introducing a modern blend of practical and professional skills into the classroom. Pupils will benefit from new ways of teaching science and engineering through the cutting edge scientific knowledge that the post-docs will bring to their lessons and the post-docs will gain valuable practical experience on the road to a teaching qualification through working with high quality, experienced teachers. I believe the post-docs will be inspiring role models helping to spark interest in science as a career choice for pupils at the specialist schools and other schools in their communities.’

Also speaking today at the event Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial College London said, ‘INSPIRE offers a unique opportunity to create partnerships between industry, higher education and schools. I believe that the Imperial post-docs will act as excellent role models and stimulate broader enthusiasm for science. Britain has a successful high technology industry, which depends on the flow of well-qualified scientists and engineers. INSPIRE has been developed to increase the number of young people specialising in post-16 science courses enabling them to pursue degrees in chemistry, physics and engineering and ultimately a career in science.’

Jennie Younger, Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications and Community Partnerships at GSK commented, ‘GSK employs around 25,000 people in the UK and spends £2.6 billion each year on research and development worldwide. Encouraging young people to choose a career in science is fundamental to the continued success of our business.’

Chapter 2.4 of the Science Agenda is devoted to Science education. ‘Governments should accord the highest priority to improving science education at all levels’, the section begins, going on to say that ‘steps need to be taken to promote the professional development of teachers and educators in the face of change and special efforts should be made to address the lack of appropriately trained science teachers and educators.

The Science Agenda also encourages innovative approaches to stimulating a vocation in science and defining new public–private partnerships. Curricula relating to science and technology should encourage a scientific approach to problem-solving’, paragraph 37 recommends. ‘University–industry cooperation should be promoted to assist engineering education and continuing vocational education and to enhance responsiveness to the needs of industry and support from industry to the education sector.’

There are currently four categories of specialist school: Technology, Language, Arts and Sports Colleges. Four new specialisms became operational from September 2002: Science, Engineering, Business and Enterprise and Mathematics and Computing. Since October, it has also been possible for certain specialisms to be combined, for example Science and Engineering.

Specialist schools are maintained secondary schools that teach the full national curriculum but place a particular emphasis on teaching and learning in their chosen specialism within the Specialist Schools Programme. Specialist schools must raise £50,000 in private-sector sponsorship (approximately US$80,000) and draw up a four-year development plan to raise standards, increase provision and encourage take-up in their specialist subject(s).

They must also have a community development plan which shows how they will share the benefits of good practice, expertise and resources with other schools named in the plan and with identified groups within their wider community. The Government believes that widening schools’ options in this way will mean they are able to develop their individual strengths, promote innovation and spread good practice throughout the whole school system.

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