Press release

Prime Minister Tony Blair opens pioneering National Science Learning Centre in York

Prime Minister Tony Blair opened the Wellcome Trust National Science Learning Centre in York today (Friday 17 March 2006). The National Science Learning Centre serves as the hub for a new £51 million national network of Centres dedicated to revitalising science teaching in schools.

Science teachers face the challenge of training the next generation of scientists and also equipping non-specialists with the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to thrive in a technologically advanced society. They need to stay up to speed with a rapidly developing subject and maintain their enthusiasm so they can inspire their pupils.

Thousands of science teachers, technicians and teaching assistants will attend residential courses at the Centre where they can learn the latest teaching techniques, experiment with classroom equipment and keep abreast of the new technologies that can invigorate their science teaching.

The network was set up in response to reports from the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee (2001) and the Council of Science and Technology (2000) that identified a need for subject specific continuing professional development for science teachers. The Wellcome Trust has provided £25 million to fund the National Science Learning Centre, and the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has provided £26 million to fund the nine regional Centres.

The Prime Minister who took the opportunity to gain first hand experience of scientific experiments at the Centre, said:

"I've seen many good ways of teaching science today. This Centre shows a great vision of how science can be taught. At school we all knew that the one thing that made a difference was if the teacher felt personal enthusiasm for their subject, then it was communicated to their students."

He added that science was vital to provide future skills for the nation to compete in the global economy.

John Holman, Director of the National Science Learning Centre, said:

"The National Science Learning Centre has been created with ambitious goals in mind; not least to help British teachers, technicians and classroom assistants to lead the world in science education by 2015. The Centre offers a fantastic opportunity to reconnect science teachers to the frontiers of science as well as showing them new ways of teaching science in an engaging way.We hope that a visit to the National Science Learning Centre will be a defining moment in the career of every attendee."

Clare Matterson, Director of Wellcome Trust's Medicine, Society and History Division said:

"The Centre is about the future of science. It will help the UK to nurture promising young minds and inspire them to become scientists. But it will also improve science teaching for all young people who will grow up surrounded by science and technology. The initiative is designed to inspire their teachers to teach them the most interesting, relevant and thought-provoking science that will stay with them for the rest of their lives."

In the first year 1000 teachers and technicians are expected to attend courses at the National Science Learning Centre in York. This is expected to double in the second year, rising to over 5000 teachers every year from 2013.

The purpose-built Centre is well-equipped with laboratories, an ICT suite where science teachers can experiment with and create their own multi-media classroom material and a Resource Centre with the latest educational tools, books, journals, gadgets and electronic resources on hand to try out. Course participants stay in Franklin House, the 64 bedroom residential accommodation next door. The building has first class green credentials with geothermal heating and cooling, a sophisticated building management system and a living sedum roof.

The National Science Learning Centre is operated by the White Rose University Consortium, comprising the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York together with Sheffield Hallam University.

In addition to the purpose-built Centre in York, nine regional Centres offer teachers the opportunity to attend courses nearer to home. The network of Centres is open to those involved in all elements of science education in schools and colleges, including information and communications technology and citizenship lessons dealing with ethical issues. The Centres will also offer courses for people from science and industry to train them to work more effectively with schools.

Teachers, technicians, students, subject heads and head teachers will be asked to take part in an evaluation of the effect the work of the Centres is having in schools. The aim is to ensure they have met their objectives in increasing teachers' confidence in their knowledge of the subject and in helping them make a lasting personal impact, both in their own school and in their wider educational community.