Press release

Young people recognise the value of science for their future

School pupils are interested in science at school and recognize that studying science could lead to a better career, according to a new report from the Wellcome Trust. In the wake of record results for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects in this year’s A-level and GCSE exams, the findings confirm the view that young people value science.

The report, however, also highlights several areas - such as careers guidance and exam culture - that must be addressed if this apparent increased appetite for science is to be sustained.

The research, commissioned by the Wellcome Trust and conducted by NFER, surveyed 240 pupils from 20 schools around England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and a further 20 recent school leavers.

Almost two-thirds of participants said that they find science lessons "fairly" or "very" interesting, and a staggering 90 per cent felt that compulsory teaching of science in school up to the age of 16 is important.

The research builds on earlier findings from the 2009 Wellcome Trust Monitor, where 81 per cent of the pupils surveyed expressed a keen interest in science as a school subject.

In the new study, around 80 per cent felt that having a good understanding of science would improve their career prospects; however, many students did not have clear ideas of what a science career constitutes beyond 'doctor', 'engineer' or 'vet'. A need for better careers guidance was identified to ensure that young people are equipped with all of the options available to them for a career in, or from, science.

Clare Matterson, Director of Medical Humanities and Engagement at the Wellcome Trust, commented: "The results are extremely encouraging, but we must not rest on our laurels. With the rising personal cost of higher education, it is ever important to ensure that young people are educated about the broad value and benefits that careers from science can offer."

Another clear finding from the report is that pupils want their science lessons to be more relevant to the real world. Almost 40 per cent of those surveyed had difficulties in making direct links between what they learn in the classroom and how they apply this to everyday situations. Many felt that they were learning science solely to pass an exam and identified this as being a demotivating factor in their engagement with the subject.

Hilary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning at the Wellcome Trust, said: "Effective and inspiring teaching requires teachers to understand their subject in greater depth than the level they are teaching at. The government clearly recognises the need for teachers specialised in science at both primary and secondary level. It's so important to continue to enable teachers to expand their subject knowledge with high-quality professional development, through initiatives such as the Science Learning Centres, to ensure that they can keep up with the fast pace of scientific breakthrough and keep classroom science exciting and relevant."

'Exploring young people's views on science education' is published on the Wellcome Trust's website today, along with a short summary of the report.