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Improving Defra’s National Pollinator Strategy: Government Response

Back in March Defra released the draft National Pollinator Strategy for consultation. The broad aims of the strategy, to “safeguard pollinators and their essential pollination role, reflecting their importance and the many pressures they face”, were initially received as a welcome step in the right direction for the future protection of pollinators. However, in their report on 16 July, the Environmental Audit Committee highlighted a number of potential improvements to the strategy, including most notably a change in attitude of the Government. The Government has now published their response to the Committee’s report.

The Committee’s report, which provided a collection of very strong recommendations for Defra to work on, has been met by a resilient response from the Government which reaffirms their initial position on many aspects of the Strategy.

Much of the Committee’s criticism was directed at the government’s stance on neonicotinoid pesticides. In 2013 MPs memorably voted down proposals to ban three neonicotinoids despite a recommendation from the Committee for precautionary measures to do so while the full effects of the pesticides were investigated. The European Commission subsequently imposed a two-year ban on using the pesticides on bee-attracting crops, despite UK opposition. The Committee’s report called on Government to “draw a line under the neonicotinoid ban by making it clear that the UK accepts the European risk assessments underpinning the ban.”

However, in their response the Government state that they disagreed with the Committee’s conclusions about the rationale for a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides and rejected the call not to challenge the EU neonicotinoid ban when it is reviewed in 2015. The response states “we opposed these [EU] restrictions because our assessment was (and remains) that the evidence did not point to risks to pollinators that would justify the proposed restrictions.”

The Committee were also highly critical of Defra’s reliance on industry to fund vitally important research. They highlighted concerns that commercial industries were being empowered to generate research that is intended to contribute to a review of the ban on neonicotinoids. The Committee echoed the reservations of many witnesses, fearing that the research might be seen by the public as “biased”. The Committee called for the Government to ensure that independent controls are in place to monitor research and that the results are peer-reviewed and published without delay.

The Government’s response to this matter stated that they have emphasised the need for commercial industries to follow EU rules on research done for regulatory purposes and that they acknowledge the “value in having the key regulatory studies in the public domain” and are “considering how this could best be done”.

The Government has, however, stated that it agrees with the Committee’s call for the Strategy to set a baseline for monitoring the plight of pollinators, the need for clarity about Integrated Pest Management, and the importance of public engagement.

Yesterday a general debate on the National Pollinator Strategy took place in the House of Commons Chamber. The debate, which was scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee, was opened by Sarah Newton MP who stated that “there is absolutely no doubt of the need for a national pollinator strategy”. The Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth later said that she would like the government to ensure that they “do not override some decisions on the basis of a reliance on commercial rather than scientific research” and to also “put greater emphasis on taking pollinators into account in its planning guidance”.

Dr Alan Whithead, Labour MP for Southampton Test, urged “a rapid passage towards a final national pollinator strategy”.

Posted in Agriculture, Biodiversity, Conservation, Consultation, Defra, Ecology, Economics, Environment, Government, Parliament, Pollinators, Science Policy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making the UK “the best place to do science”


The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), of which the British Ecological Society is a member, has this week launched three policy briefings which together comprise a “toolkit” for government to achieve its aims of making the UK the “best place to do science”. Based on consultations across the breadth of the science and engineering community, the toolkit outlines key actions that could be taken over the course of the next Parliament to enable the sector to “operate at its full potential”. The toolkit consists of three policy briefings covering Science and Engineering Investment, Science and Engineering Education and Skills, and Science and Engineering in Government, outlining priority and supporting actions that could be taken in each area.

With respect to Science and Engineering Investment, the policy briefing centres around an overarching action of committing to a long-term investment strategy for science and engineering, constituting an “upward trajectory for government investment” that “exceeds predicted growth as part of a 10 year framework for investment”. UK government investment in science and engineering research and development is currently below the OECD average, and the briefing argues that raising investment to a level comparable with other nations within a stable framework will “enable the UK to reap the economic and societal rewards of its strength in science and engineering, driving UK innovation and creating skilled and valued jobs”.

The Science and Engineering Education and Skills briefing focuses on three main areas: 5-19 education, higher education and the STEM workforce. In terms of 5-19 education, the major priority identified is policy stability, enabling schools to focus on teaching young people rather than needing to adapt to complex system changes. Other priorities include the requirement for all primary schools to have science subject leaders, and the inclusion of practical skills across all secondary science curricula.

In higher education, the major action identified is a commitment to providing sufficient funding to meet the additional costs associated with science and engineering courses. A further priority is reform to postgraduate funding to ensure that the system is fair, accessible and conducive to producing a highly skilled workforce. In terms of the STEM workforce, the briefing outlines the need for a proactive commitment to ensuring diversity, including unconscious bias training for Research Councils UK grant awarding boards and panels, and immigration policy that supports science and innovation policy through enabling and encouraging highly skilled migration.

Finally, Science and Engineering in Government outlines a number of actions that could be taken to strengthen the use of an evidence-informed approach to policymaking across the whole of government. In order to embed independent scientific advice at the heart of policymaking, the briefing recommends that the Government Office for Science and the post of Government Chief Scientific Adviser are relocated to the Cabinet Office, and that all departments appoint their own Chief Scientific Adviser. The briefing also places an emphasis on transparency, asking that the government publish all responses to consultations to allow greater clarity in understanding how policy decisions have been reached, and also that all publicly-funded government research is made freely and easily accessible online.

The Campaign for Science and Engineering Toolkit will be sent to the leaders of all political parties represented in the House of Commons, asking them to set out their relevant manifesto commitments. The responses will be published on the CaSE website before the end of the year.

You can view the full toolkit on the CaSE website.

 

Posted in Education Policy, Government, Research and Development, Science, Science Funding, Science Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Protecting Scotland’s Biodiversity: Monitoring in Action

On 2nd and 3rd October, over 100 scientists, policymakers and conservationists gathered at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh for Protecting Scotland’s Biodiversity: Monitoring in Action, the second Scottish Biodiversity Conference. A joint meeting of the British Ecological Society, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management and the Science and Technical Group of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, co-sponsored by the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, this year’s conference focused on the technical and scientific challenges related to monitoring and data collection arising from the refresh of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.

Professor Bill Sutherland, President of the BES, set the scene on the Thursday evening with his introductory lecture: Conservation Scotland: New Problems and New Solutions. Central to Bill’s talk were two core themes that would re-emerge throughout the conference: the need to be able to put the evidence emerging from monitoring and ecological research to better use through making it more integrated, accessible and easy to interpret; and the opportunities afforded by new technologies, from drones to mobile apps, that enable greater citizen participation in monitoring, and offer new scope for filling gaps in our knowledge.

The first session of 3rd October set out to “demystify monitoring”: why do we need it, and what happens to all that data? Ed Mackey, of Scottish Natural Heritage, outlined the cross-agency Scottish Environmental Monitoring Strategy, which aims to improve coordination and prioritisation in order to more effectively address gaps in monitoring effort and inform policy. Ed and his SNH colleague Paul Watkinson then highlighted two ways in which monitoring data is being put to use: to draw conclusions as to the state of the environment in Scotland through the collation of biodiversity indicators to asses ecosystem health, and through the innovative new Natural Capital Asset Index, which provides a simple way of communicating the state of Scotland’s natural capital.

Collecting and curating the data is vital, but how does this effect on biodiversity conservation on the ground? The next session explored this question through three case studies. Mark Eaton, of the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science demonstrated how monitoring has enabled the RSPB to set conservation priorities, test and refine solutions and evaluate effectiveness, with examples of species success stories including the corncrake and red kite. However he also highlighted the ongoing gaps in data that hinder assessments of progress towards conservation goals, as illustrated in last year’s State of Nature report.

 

 

One potential way of filling in these gaps was showcased by Rob Ogden of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, who outlined the potential of eDNA techniques to revolutionise monitoring by extracting and identifying DNA samples from the environment, and thus decreasing our reliance on a diminishing supply of identification expertise. Finally Andrew Bachell of SNH raised some of the problems with current metrics and methods for monitoring and assessing favourable conservation status, arguing that the current system tells us little about species and habitats outside of protected areas, and does not align with landscape and ecosystem scale policy priorities.

 

 

After workshops exploring key topics in more detail, the final plenary session of the day returned to the question of the exciting new frontiers in monitoring opened up by digital technologies, and set a hopeful tone for the end of the conference. Tom August for the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology examined the pros and cons of citizen science, which while offering huge benefits in terms increased amounts of data and public engagement, also carries with it difficulties in terms of data verification and biases. Tools to cope with these challenges are being developed by the Digital Conservation strand of the dot.rural project, including the use of automated systems for verification and participant feedback, highlighted by Danny Heptinstall. Finally Scott Newey of the James Hutton Institute presented a timely reminder of the pitfalls of relying on technology, outlining some of the limitations of camera trap methods.

So what next for biodiversity monitoring in Scotland? The monitoring challenges are legion: the gaps in our knowledge and the limited resources available to fill them, the pressure to make data more accessible and able to inform policy, and the need to more effectively integrate existing monitoring schemes to better track change across the environment. Yet where there are challenges, there are also solutions. Running throughout the conference was a palpable sense that through an increasing openness to collaboration and dialogue, and the embrace of innovative new methods and technologies, Scotland is increasingly equipped to rise to the monitoring challenge.

If you are interested in engaging with biodiversity policy in Scotland, why not join the BES Scottish Policy Group?

Posted in Biodiversity, Biodiversity Strategy, Conference, Ecology, Environmental Monitoring, Scotland, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Who, the What, and the How of Policymaking in Scotland: Reflections on the Introduction to Policy in Scotland Workshop

What exactly do we mean by “policy”? What role does science play in its formulation? How can scientists effectively communicate with policymakers? What do policymakers want from scientists? And does this work the same way in Holyrood as it does in Westminster?

All of these questions and more were answered – some with more difficulty than others – during the BES Scottish Policy Group’s inaugural “Introduction to Policy in Scotland” workshop held in the stunning surroundings of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland on 2October 2014. Resisting the temptation to spend the whole day panda-watching (that’s what coffee breaks are for….), over thirty ecologists, working in both research and practice, but predominantly in the early stages of their careers, gathered for an eye-opening insight into the world of policy.

The morning saw our panel of expert speakers offer a suite of unique perspectives based on their considerable experience working in policy: Graeme Cook, Head of Research and Enquiries at the Scottish Parliament Information Centre; Neil Ritchie of the Scottish Government; Maggie Gill, Professor of Integrated Land Use at the University of Aberdeen and former Chief Scientific Adviser for Rural Affairs and the Environment to the Scottish Government; Ian Bainbridge, Head of Science at Scottish Natural Heritage; and Andy Myles, Parliamentary Officer at Scottish Environment Link. While each offered different insights into the policy process, a number of common threads ran through their insights.

Front and centre throughout the day was an emphasis on communication. If cutting-edge research or crucial evidence is not communicated in an effective and appropriate way, it will fall on deaf ears. For ecologists engaging with policymakers, this means mastering the art of simplifying complexity. Policymakers neither want nor need extensively detailed information. They want digestible, bite-sized chunks that summarise the most important information in a short, accessible manner – a two-page briefing, not a two-hour scientific lecture. They need conclusions, not a lengthy methodological treatise.

Second, it is vital that scientists spend some time familiarising themselves with how policy works. An awareness of the differences between government (developing and implementing policy) and parliament (legislating and scrutinising the work of government) is vital, as is knowledge of the different political processes and the appropriate channels to engage with. In Scotland, environmental policy is largely devolved to Holyrood, where parliamentary committees are strong and offer an accessible means of engagement. On occasions, engaging directly with parliament or government may not be the most effective way to influence; working with learned societies or NGOs can provide another route.

However, it is important to recognise that science is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to policymaking. It is not simply the case that communicating the evidence effectively and finding the right route in will lead to a change of course. Science is a key part of the policy-development process, but so are ethics, political philosophy, societal values and political judgement. As such, engagement between scientists and policymakers cannot be a one-way process, and creating fora for genuine knowledge exchange, where the two groups can build relationships and learn to see the world from one another’s perspective is crucial. Science advisers in particular can play an important role in bridging the gap between scientists and policymakers.

Post-lunch, and post-pandas, participants reconvened to think about how they might put these lessons into practice, working on a group exercise to develop the outlines of a policy briefing for MSPs on the topic of synthetic biology and then reflecting on their own personal action plans and areas for development, with additional inspiration from two BES  members who have seized the opportunities available for engaging with policy: Rob Brooker, Chair of the BES Scottish Policy Group, and Danny Heptinstall, the most recent recipient of the BES POST (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology) Fellowship. The attendees left enthused and inspired, with a sense that engaging with policymakers is both possible and achievable.

The BES Policy Team offers a number of ways for BES members and other ecologists to engage with policy. You could join our Scottish Policy Group, add your details to our expertise database, apply to one of our training schemes or just get in touch to find out more. You can download the presentations from the workshop here.

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“Bridging the Knowing-Doing Gap”: Lessons for Engaging with Policymakers

The thorny challenge of addressing the mismatch between the ecological knowledge generated by scientific researchers and that applied by practitioners – be they conservation organisations, policymakers or businesses – has been widely recognised, but remains a work in progress. How do we bridge the knowing-doing gap?

A new special profile in the Journal of Applied Ecology seeks to advance this debate through a series of papers first presented last year at the British Ecological Society’s centenary celebrations at INTECOL, in a symposium entitled “Putting applied ecology into practice: knowledge and needs for the 21st century”. The symposium sought to provide a platform for practitioners to share their insights into what they require from applied ecological science and to highlight successful examples of its practical application.

In his editorial, Philip Hulme outlines some of the barriers to effective knowledge exchange and the limitations of current approaches. He emphasises the need for a genuinely two-way process, not merely a case of translating and transferring the “explicit knowledge” contained within scientific papers and other research outputs, but also of understanding the “tacit knowledge” – local, first-hand and individual – possessed by practitioners.

What does this mean for ecologists – and other scientists – seeking to engage with policymakers? Ian Bainbridge, Head of Science at Scottish Natural Heritage, further explores this question in his paper based on insight and examples from the devolved administration in Scotland. Bainbridge suggests that while it is frequently acknowledged that scientific papers are a poor method for communicating successfully with policy makers, scientists are often given little guidance or training as to how this could be achieved.

Whilst policymakers are increasingly citing the need for an evidence-based approach, providing useful evidence in practice requires an understanding of their needs and perspective. Bainbridge outlines nine key elements that policymakers look for in scientific evidence and advice:

  • Understanding: an appreciation of their policy needs and direction and an understanding of what is politically possible.
  • Familiarity: a good understanding of how government works.
  • Relevance: evidence focused on the questions the policymakers are seeking to address.
  • Summary: evidence provided in plain English and summarised in two sides of A4.
  • Simplicity: if in doubt simplify; most policy makers do not have scientific backgrounds.
  • Brevity: keep points focused and meetings short, not a two-hour lecture.
  • Certainty: include levels of certainty and probability.
  • Timeliness: the ability to work to shorter political timescales measured in hours or days
  • Credibility: knowing that evidence is reliable and credible through knowledge of scientific standing and publication record.

The paper concludes that it is crucial for ecologists to engage early with policymakers, and to build long-term relationships through engaging in fora which enable dialogue with all of the parties interested in an issue.

This week’s BES Introduction to Policy in Scotland workshop, organised by the Scottish Policy Group offers one such opportunity for researchers to understand the needs of policymakers, to be followed by Protecting Scotland’s Biodiversity, a conference bringing together scientists, policymakers and practitioners. To contribute to and follow the discussions on 2 and 3 October, follow the Twitter hashtag #scotbio14.


Posted in BES, Ecology, Journals, Research, Science Policy, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Environmental Audit Committee shows the “red card” for environmental protection

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has delivered a strong critique of the Coalition Government’s environmental record, with Wednesday’s “environmental scorecard” report concluding that the Government has failed to make satisfactory progress in any of the ten policy areas identified.

Three policy areas were identified as giving the most cause for concern, with biodiversity, air pollution, and flooding and coastal protection all given a “red” rating, representing either a deterioration since 2010, or progress at a pace unlikely to lead to a satisfactory outcome by 2020. Seven other areas – emissions and climate change, forests, soils, resource efficiency and waste, freshwater environment, water availability, and marine environment – were rated “amber”, indicating unsatisfactory progress.

Focusing on England only, the report seeks to establish a clearer picture of the state of the environment, and the progress made in its protection since 2010. It draws on a briefing produced by the National Audit Office in June, written and oral evidence from environmental NGOs and government, and previous EAC reports.

Biodiversity is highlighted as an area of particular concern, with progress towards the Government’s Biodiversity 2020 indicators identified as unsatisfactory, and bird populations – used in the Sustainable Development Indicators as a litmus test for wildlife – deteriorating in three out of four cases. The continued impact of invasive species, and the lack of pollinator-specific measures in the implementation of the 2014 – 2020 Common Agricultural Programme were also viewed as key risks in this area.

Aside from the specific policy themes, an overarching problem raised throughout the report is the insufficient availability and quality of data to allow the state of environmental protection to be assessed effectively, pointing to the importance of accessible ecological evidence in informing decision-making. The report recommends that the Natural Capital Committee established by the government is put on a permanent footing and given a mandate to co-ordinate a programme to improve environmental monitoring data.

The integration of a natural capital approach across all areas of government policy is a key part of the EAC’s recommendations for a new “environmental strategy” – rendering the Natural Capital Initiative’s forthcoming summit even more timely. This strategy would guide the action required to improve the quality of environmental protection in the short to medium term, working across all levels of government, addressing gaps in evidence and assessment and mapping appropriate policy levers. A strengthened Natural Capital Committee, or new independent “office for environmental responsibility”, is recommended to review and audit this strategy, and advise government on appropriate targets and resources.

The timing of the report, released as the main political parties prepare for their manifesto setting conferences ahead of the next general election, sends a strong message affirming the importance of effective environmental protection and outlines an ambitious approach to securing the sustainability of our natural capital.


Posted in Biodiversity, Common Agricultural Policy, England, Environmental Monitoring, Government | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The shape of the next European Commission: what does it mean for environmental policy?

On 10th September, President-elect of the European Commission (EC), Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker, announced his new team of commissioners-designate, accompanied by a significant restructuring of the Commission. This reorganisation includes a number of changes to the way that European environmental policy is framed and delivered.

Juncker’s intention is to streamline the Commission around five priority areas responding to Europe’s biggest political challenges: “getting people back to work in decent jobs, triggering more investment, making sure banks lend to the real economy again, creating a connected digital market, a credible foreign policy and ensuring Europe stands on its own feet when it comes to energy security”.  Six vice-Presidents have been appointed to lead “project teams” for each of these themes.

What does this mean for environmental policy? For the first time in twenty-five years, there will not be a European Commissioner for whom the environment is their sole responsibility. Rather, the new Commissioner-designate, Karmenu Vella of Malta, will assume responsibility for the twin portfolios of Environment and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. The EC explains this decision as reflecting “the twin logic of “Blue” and “Green” growth” and the integrated role that environment and maritime policies can play in “creating jobs, preserving resources, stimulating growth and encouraging investment.”

This emphasis on the economic dimensions of environmental policy is underlined in President Juncker’s “mission letter” to Commissioner Vella, which outlines that he will liaise most closely with the new Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, and affirms the position that “protecting the environment and maintaining our competitiveness can go hand-in-hand, and environment policy also plays a key role in creating jobs and stimulating investment.” Other significant priorities include an in-depth review of the Birds and Habitats Directives with a view to reform, as well as the implementation of the recently agreed reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.

A number of environmental NGOs have responded critically to Juncker’s proposals, with Green 10, a pan-European alliance including Birdlife Europe and WWF, articulating a number of concerns. Primarily, they consider that the move to combine the Environment and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries portfolios represents a “downgrading” of the EU’s environmental commitments. Similarly, the European Environmental Bureau has expressed “deep concern” at an agenda they perceive to be focused too heavily on deregulation and economic growth. In the UK, both the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts have highlighted the risks of unnecessary reform to the Birds and Habitats Directives.

Certainly, President Juncker’s promises of reform mean that we are likely to see significant changes in environmental policy during the term of the next European Commission. Gaining a better understanding of the links between the environment and the economy, as exemplified by the Natural Capital Initiative, will be crucial. Similarly, dialogue at a European level both between scientists and with policy makers, as highlighted by the British Ecological Society’s forthcoming joint annual meeting with the Société Française d’Ecologie, appears increasingly important.

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Seminar 28 October: National Pollinator Strategy

Several members of the British Ecological Society will speak at a seminar in Parliament on 28th October, on the National Pollinator Strategy. This event is being organised by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) and takes place from 16.00-18.00 in the Jubilee Room, Palace of Westminster.

Contact postevents@parliament.uk to attend

Food security and environmental resilience are threatened by the decline of pollinator species, such as bees. This seminar considers the evidence base for Defra’s approach to the problem: the National Pollinator Strategy.

In England, there are approximately 1,500 insect species that pollinate food crops and wild plants, including bees, hoverflies, wasps, flies, butterflies, beetles and moths. Many of these are declining from multiple pressures, such as the intensification of land-use and habitat loss. England’s National Pollinator Strategy aims to address these and other pressures by providing advice on pollinator conservation, improving the evidence base for conservation and implementing a monitoring scheme. The draft Strategy has been assessed by the Environmental Audit Committee, which has suggested that to be effective, it needs further clarity in the approach to Integrated Pest Management, greater integration with the Common Agricultural Policy, and transparency of research into pesticide impacts. A delivery plan is due to be published within six months of the Strategy. This seminar considers the evidence used to inform measures likely to be set out in the delivery plan.

 Programme

4.00pm Sarah Newton MP, Chair’s Welcome

4.10pm Presentations
Prof. Simon Potts, Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, The University of Reading
Dr. Christopher Connolly, Reader in Neuroscience, University of Dundee
Prof. Jane Memmott, Professor of Ecology, University of Bristol
Dr. Adam Vanbergen, Invertebrate Ecologist, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

5.10pm Discussion

5.40pm Chair’s closing remarks

5.45pm Refreshments

6.00pm Close

Further information.

Posted in Event, Parliament, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, Pollinators | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NERC Policy Placements at the Environment Agency

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Environment Agency (EA) are seeking to appoint a policy placement fellow in each of the following areas:

  •  Impact of atmospheric pollutants on the current and future status of protected habitats;
  • Nitrate from agriculture: moving from uncertain data to operational responses;
  • Predicting and mitigating environmental impacts from low head Hydropower schemes.

This is an exciting opportunity for environmental science researchers to work closely with policymakers. Applications are invited from early and mid-career researchers, with 2-5 years post-PhD experience.  The awards will be jointly funded by NERC and the Environment Agency for a period of one year, on a full-time basis (although part time working will be considered). The placements will be based at the Environment Agency’s Bristol office or an alternative  EA office subject to agreement. Ideally, successful applicants should be in place by December 2014.

The awards are managed under the NERC Policy Placement Scheme which aims to promote knowledge exchange between research organisations and public sector, increase the uptake of NERC research and provide partner organisations with research-informed evidence to develop and review policy, and offer researchers skills and career opportunities.

Further details on the policy placement opportunity and application process are available at the NERC website.

Deadline of application:  14 October 2014

Interviews: week commencing 20th October 2014

Posted in Agriculture, NERC, Research Councils, Science Policy, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The A-level and GCSE results are in …

The long awaited month which is August brought in variable results for A-level and GCSE students across the UK.  The results verify the impact of this year’s notable changes in education policy and implicate what is to come over the next few years as more changes are set to take place.

A-levels:

The overall A-level pass rate dropped this year for the first time in 30 years. Many claim this is a direct consequence of the removal of the January exams. Only 26% A-level students in England and Wales attained A*-C, falling short of the average of their counterparts in Northern Ireland who achieved 30% of these grades. However, despite the drop in A-level results, UCAS reported that universities continued to accept students, reaching a record number of 500, 0000 places. UCAS also reported an 8% increase in the number of students accepted into universities from disadvantaged areas.

This year Maths overtook English as the most popular A-level. There was a considerable shift in more students taking Maths, Chemistry and Physics, which exam board officials attribute to students trying to secure places at top universities that strongly favour traditional subjects. The number of pupils taking STEM subjects rose for the fifth year in a row, with the number of students taking Maths increasing from 1% to 1.5% – a trend welcomed by government officials and business leaders alike.

As the gender gap remains and women continue to outperform men, it also appears that more women are taking STEM subjects than ever before. However, although Biology is still the third most popular A-level, and there was a 3% increase in students taking Chemistry and Physics A-levels, key stakeholders from the STEM community emphasised that more work is needed to harness this interest from A-level to university and beyond, for both men and women.

GCSEs:

This year the proportion of students achieving A*-C rose to 68.8% from 68.1% in 2013. However, the overall, A*-G pass rate fell to 98.5% from 98.8%, marking another year of a declining pass rateThis year saw a higher number of boys achieving A*grades over girls. However, the gender gap remains and similar to A-levels, girls continue to outperform boys – the female A*- C rate was 73.1% compared to boys who achieved 64.3%. Interestingly, boys continue to outperform girls at Biology and Chemistry, whereas girls continue to outperform boys in Physics as the gap increased by 0.1%.

Posted in Education, Education Policy, England, Government, Northern Ireland, UK, Wales | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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