Malcolm continues to press for more and better rentable housing in Edinburgh & Leith
Improving council housing in Edinburgh and Leith Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
Science is the key to Scotland's future prosperity, central to our understanding of the world, the gateway to many employment opportunities and endlessly fascinating and exciting yet, for many, it is a closed book and an unknown world. Some people were perhaps turned off science at school, whereas others may be stuck in a two-cultures time warp, precisely 50 years after C P Snow's landmark lecture. Whatever the reason, science should be for all and for life. Of course, not everyone will be a scientist, but everyone should have a basic understanding of science and should be able to engage as a stakeholder in the many science-related issues and debates that confront us all.

The key to all that is, of course, what happens at school. I welcome the marketing strategy that the cabinet secretary launched at Trinity academy in my constituency a few weeks ago. However, I am sure that she will agree that the curriculum and the teachers are central. Science, in addition to literacy and numeracy, should have core status in the curriculum, as it has in England. It should be far more prominent in primary schools and it must be central to the secondary school curriculum. We should all be concerned by the findings of the recent trends in international mathematics and science study—TIMSS—report that Scotland is falling behind, particularly in the primary 5 to secondary 2 age bracket.

One reason for that is that very few primary teachers have a science background. Action is already being taken at some schools in my constituency to deal with that by linking primary schools with secondary school science teachers. The Government should consider seriously the suggestions by the former assistant chief inspector of education Jack Jackson that we need a new cohort of science teachers working across the primary-secondary interface. He has also floated the idea of a quota whereby 20 per cent of primary teachers in training would have science degrees, as well as the idea that primary teachers should be taught science as part of their university training. Those suggestions must be considered seriously.

Fiona Hyslop (The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning):
The member might be interested to know that Professor Jack Jackson inspired me, as he was my biology teacher at school, and that he has provided great advice on the science education summit that we will hold in May, when some of those views can perhaps be developed.

Malcolm Chisholm:
I thank the cabinet secretary for that welcome information.

As other members have said, good-quality CPD in science is crucial for primary as well as secondary teachers. Good programmes are available from the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre. CPD for secondary teachers is particularly urgent because of the curriculum for excellence. One factor in the genesis of the curriculum for excellence was the need to do something about science in secondary 1 and 2, but there is a big concern, most clearly articulated a few months ago by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, about the science part of the curriculum for excellence.

I know that the situation has moved on since then, but it would be good to hear from the cabinet secretary where that debate has got to. In summary, the Royal Society of Edinburgh was positive about the underlying principles of the curriculum for excellence and broadly supportive of its defined learning outcomes, but it was very concerned that, in the rush to cross-disciplinary working, insufficient attention would be paid to the building blocks of the individual subject disciplines. The society also indicated that, without a common understanding of the structure of the curriculum, there was a danger of different agendas developing across Scotland. I would welcome the cabinet secretary's comments on the situation following her discussions with the society.

What happens in higher education is equally important; when it comes to making or exploiting leading-edge innovation, it is more important than what happens in schools. The big worry is how Scotland can match the increasing resources that are coming to English universities for scientific research and other areas. As our amendment indicates, UK-level integration and UK research council funding are important, and the strategy should address how we maximise the benefit of that. However, there is still the wider issue of university funding. Sooner or later, the Scottish Government will have to initiate a major review of the issue, as called for again by Dr Brian Lang at last week's meeting of the proposed cross-party group on the Scottish universities.

An equally important and related issue is the effect of science on the wider economy. The cabinet secretary flagged up some of the problems—for example, when she pointed out the low level of business expenditure on R and D. Central to the science framework are those pages that list the many actions that are being taken in the area, mainly by Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, such as supporting science-based business innovation. I hope that those actions will be implemented with great urgency.

We should not get too depressed and should recognise the progress that has been made in connecting the universities with businesses—an issue that was highlighted by Linda Fabiani. We should also recognise the great successes that have been achieved in recent years, especially in the life sciences. What we need to do, especially in these difficult economic times, is to build on the solid foundations that have been laid. Dundee's success is often cited, but Edinburgh has also made great strides. Further development of the life sciences may be particularly important for Edinburgh now that financial services are under such pressure.

In conclusion, I welcome the summit that is shortly to take place on the issue. I welcome the fact that Jack Jackson will be present and hope that the summit will be as inclusive as possible. I do not know whether Opposition spokespeople have been invited, but I suggest that they ought to be.
March 19th 2009, (Column 16043-5)