On Tuesday 12 December, the House of Lords ‘Education for 11-16-year olds’ committee launched a report highlighting issues with secondary education in England and calling for urgent change. The report, titled ‘Requires improvement: urgent change for 11–16 education covers curriculum, assessment, and school performance measures. 

The British Science Association (BSA) submitted evidence to the inquiry in summer 2023 and were interested to see the committee’s call for a broader, more balanced curriculum.  

Our evidence submission contributed to two conclusions reached in the report:

  • There is too much content in the 11-to-16 curriculum, and this has a particular impact on students at Key Stage 3.
  • Secondary education must support young people to develop the knowledge, skills and agency they will need to live in a world affected by the impacts of climate change.

The evidence submission referenced two Future Forum reports. The first was our climate education work, in partnership with Professor Alison Anderson at the University of Plymouth. We found that students think the education they receive is too focused on passing exams and doesn’t provide them with the skills needed to tackle the climate crisis.

Most students also only receive teaching about climate change as part of GCSE science and geography courses which is likely causing inequality in climate literacy. What is taught tends to focus on the theory and effects of climate change rather than solutions.

Find out more about what young people think of climate change education

The BSA also included findings from another Future Forum report, supported by UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, revealing that secondary school students think that the separation of STEM and Arts subjects within the education system is problematic. This approach, they say, forces them to follow either a ‘creative’ or ‘technical’ pathway which then continues in the careers advice they receive. Cross-curricular learning, enabling pupils to utilise “creative” and “technical” skills across subjects, should be a key principle in future curricula.

In addition to Future Forum, the BSA’s evidence covered the importance of project work, issues with the ‘dual route’ structure of GCSE science, and issues with the de-prioritisation of Key Stage 3 teaching caused by an overloaded GCSE curriculum.

We welcome the publication of the report and its calls for reform of secondary education in England.

Clio Heslop, Head of Policy, Partnerships & Impact at the BSA says:

“We are pleased to read the recommendations made in the latest report from the House of Lords ‘Education for 11-16 year olds’ committee.

“In particular, we advocate for a curriculum encouraging ‘a broader set of knowledge, skills and behaviours’. We are aware, from our own research, that young people aged 14 to 18 want their education on climate change to have relevance to their lives and empower them to tackle the issues they’ll face in their future careers.

"We welcome the report’s proposals to reduce the amount of content in the 11-16 curriculum and increase opportunities for young people to experience more practical, applied forms of learning that bring together both skills and knowledge.  

“We look forward to hearing the Government’s response to the report and to working with government and other stakeholders to ensure our science education system is inclusive, serves young people’s needs and equips them with the skills they need to thrive.”

Read the BSA’s evidence submission in full