Parliamentary Debate on the importance of Science and Discovery Centres in supporting science education & broadening access to STEM careers
We were delighted that following discussions with ASDC,Dr Ben Spencer MP was able to secure a debate in Parliament on 24 March 2021 celebrating the importance of Science and Discovery Centres in supporting education in science, and broadening access to future careers in STEM.
Dr Ben Spencer opened with an excellent speech covering all the main points. ASDC had asked all the Science Centres to speak with their MPs and invite them to represent their local Science Centres, which they did brilliantly. ASDC had also briefed the Parliamentarians with the accompanying briefing sheets, map and other information, much of which is now on the House of Commons website.
List of MPs speaking in Parliament about Science Centres
Science and Discovery Centre employees, trustees and STEM professionals around the UK watched the debate as MPs celebrated the work of UK science centres, including highlighting their vital strategic importance in STEM learning and the education recovery.
The following MPs contributed to the debate, championing the role their local Science Centre plays in STEM education, STEM careers and science engagement and community engagement more widely:
Derek Twigg MP representingCatalyst Science and Discovery Centre "Catalyst is a brilliant interactive museum and science centre. It is vital to our heritage and to encouraging future generations of our young people to take up careers in science, research and engineering, and we need to support it." Excerpt from Derek Twigg's speech at the debate
Chris Skidmore MP representingWe The Curious Science Centre in Bristol "I say to the Minister that this is the year of COP26 and this is the generation that is going to actually deliver on net zero. I have young children—a five-year-old and a six-year-old—and they have talked about the coronavirus and are acutely aware of science on the back of the pandemic. We have an opportunity to train the next generation of scientists. Science and discovery centres must play a key role in that, but they cannot do so when they are on their knees. The Government need to support these centres." Excerpt from Chris Skidmore's speech at the debate
Holly Lynch MP representingEureka! National Children's Museum in Halifax " science and discovery centres play a crucial role in inspiring the next generation of scientists and researchers, as well as in broadening access to STEM subjects by making them more accessible. That is absolutely essential for people from disadvantaged backgrounds and more marginalised communities. If it was not already obvious, the past year has shown just how crucial it is to nurture the next generation of scientists and big thinkers. Without them, the covid vaccine would simply not have been possible." Excerpt from Holly Lynch's speech at the debate
Paul Howell MP representingCentre For Life in Newcastle "I am absolutely convinced that it is through the stimulus of places such as the Life centre that young local minds can be open to considering careers in such exciting areas as research and innovation or engineering and science. We have all seen, in recent months, the difference that scientists can make to our life on this planet. The more young minds we can encourage, the better off we will be. It is through places such as the Life centre that seeds are planted to grow our scientists, engineers and mathematicians. I cannot overstate my desire that we support their efforts. " Excerpt from Paul Howell's speech at the debate
Catherine West MP "Due to covid-19, science centres have mainly been closed since March and have had to make 50% to 80% of their education teams redundant in order to protect the long-term survival of their charities. These closures and redundancies have come when we most need our regional science centres to help with the educational recovery, to reduce inequality, to inspire young people from our most disadvantaged communities into science, and to encourage our young people into science and technology careers to support our industry and our learning." Excerpt from Catherine West's speech at the debate
Sarah Atherton MP representingXplore! Science Centre in Wrexham "The science centres are more important now than ever. Not only should we be using them to promote STEM; we should also be using them as a key component for educational recovery post Covid. The majority of children have had a limiting year learning at home. Within our collective aim to build back better, there must be an element of recapturing the lost hands-on education. For those children who are tactile learners, home schooling is hugely detrimental and utilising the centres for educational recovery will be vital.
With science and discovery centres having the potential to be such crucial players in the Covid recovery education system, their funding model needs to reflect that importance." Excerpt from Sarah Atherton's speech at the debate
Rachael Maskell MP "Imagine stepping out of the science and discovery centre and walking into an engineering company. That is what we should be striving for: not just investing in science and discovery centres, which are desperately needed now, but building science and discovery communities and consolidating engineering, with young residents, museums, schools, universities and industry all working together to create a pathway into engineering.
Will the Minister commit to working towards building science and discovery communities and providing seed funding for that work, so that we can build for our future? If we are serious about investing in science and discovery centres, and about growing our economy with the necessary skills, the Government have to get serious about growing the whole pathway, from Wonderlab to wonderful global engineers." Excerpt from Rachael Maskell's speech at the debate
Steve Brine MP representingWinchester Science Centre " Winchester Science Centre charity, however, has been excluded from applying for additional Government support—namely, the culture recovery fund, which I have spent a lot of time scrutinising as a member of the DCMS Committee. Other organisations in the local area that do similar activities have received large grants, which has created an uneven playing field. ...
The truth is that, whatever the restrictions say, the school trips are not coming back any time soon, possibly not even in September—no matter my view on the over-caution that that would represent—so I would like the Minister, when she sums up, and colleagues across Government and at the Department for Education, to make the positive case for school trips later this year, and to give school leaders the confidence to get back out there.
As we have heard today, science centres will benefit from that because their main customer base is back, but the country will also benefit because of their obvious support for education and careers in STEM subjects—and boy, has the past 12 months shown how much we need them." Excerpt from Steve Brine's speech at the debate
Carol Monaghan MP " The Scottish Government are determined to improve the take-up of STEM subjects in schools and to encourage diversity in STEM careers, and we are making progress on that. Compared with 2007, we now have 20% more female undergraduates and 36% more female postgraduates in STEM courses. However, a 2017 survey commissioned by the Scottish Government found that young people from the most deprived areas were 20% less likely than those in the least deprived areas to choose to study STEM courses. There is a continuing need to reach out to young people in whatever way we can, with a focus on girls, black, Asian and minority ethnic students and those from deprived backgrounds.
... The Scottish Government have continued to support the work of science centres throughout the pandemic. Scottish science centres have received £2 million in emergency funding from the Scottish Government in addition to their usual contributions. To see centres in England excluded from the arts and heritage rescue package is concerning. We hear that 96% of science and discovery centres say they will not be able to cover costs when they reopen, and the Science Centres for Our Future campaign warns that the sector is at “imminent risk”." Excerpt from Carol Monaghan's speech at the debate
Matt Western MP and Shadow Universities Minister "...having places to observe and appreciate the physical and scientific world is so important, and that is why the value of centres of science and discovery cannot be overestimated. Some 15 years ago, I visited the discovery centre—that was how it was known —in Bristol. It was a triumph, appealing to young and old minds and demonstrating the fascination of physics and the workings of the natural world. ...If we are to meet the challenges of the future, it is vital that we excite our young people in science and encourage them to be inventive in every sense." Excerpt from Matt Western's speech at the debate
The Minister for Universities Michelle Donelan responded to the debate, setting out the Government's position. Some quotes from what she covered is below. The full speech is on Hansard.
"In my constituency we are not lucky enough to have a science centre, but I encourage constituents to visit those in neighbouring areas, including the fantastic We The Curious science museum in Bristol, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) rightly spoke extremely highly of."
"It is absolutely imperative that we challenge the negative stereotypes that some young people might associate with STEM, including any notion that these should be male-dominated careers. Some of the centres even have programmes to do just that, including the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre in the constituency of the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), which holds free careers events for years 8 and 9 to inspire the next generation."
"We recognise the value and importance of working in partnership with communities and our treasured community assets, especially science discovery centres."
" My hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge and others pointed out how much of a role the science discovery centres play in that objective, especially in encouraging those from disadvantaged backgrounds to discover a love of science and STEM more broadly. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) put it correctly when he said that they can be a catalyst for aspiration. They not only bring science alive, but make it accessible for all. When I was at school, I had several trips to the Eureka! centre. I completely agree with the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) on how amazing and inspirational that is."
" That is why the Government supported all the science centres, which are accredited museums, that applied for funding in England through the culture recovery fund. The £1.57 billion support package is the largest ever one-off investment in UK culture, and we have continued to support national museums and galleries with £100 million of targeted support for national cultural institutions."
"Visitor attractions, which are not categorised as museums, will continue to benefit from the reduced rate of VAT, which the Government have temporarily applied to visitor attractions, as well as the pan-economic measures such as the coronavirus job retention scheme, Government-backed loans and business rate deferrals."
"I will end by urging all parents and schools to consider visiting their nearest centre, when restrictions allow. Many are free and, as detailed by hon. Members today, they can bring science to life in innovative and exciting ways."
Read the full transcript of the debate in Hansardhere.
Research Briefing on Science & Discovery Centres from the House of Commons Library
The House of Commons Library published the following research briefing on UK Science and Discovery Centres and their support for education in science and careers in STEM subjects on Monday, 22 March, 2021. This was in part from briefings from ASDC and includes a full debate pack written by Parliament and a downloadable report which covers all areas of STEM education, workforce and diversity in STEM.
It also contains the Open letter from ASDC with 150 signatories, and a data sheet from ASDC from June 2020, and October 2020.
The debate was a Westminster Hall debate held in the Boothroyd Room frp, 2.30pm to 4pm on March 24th 2021. Due to Covid restrictions there could only be 4 – 6 MPs present in person and all other MP’s on Zoom. Here is the link on the Parliamentary Website
The formal title of the debate was: ‘That this house has considered the importance of Science and Discovery Centres in supporting education in science and broadening access to future careers in STEM subjects.’ Department of Education responding.
The event used the following hashtags #sciencediscovery #recovery #WestminsterHall ASDC Twitter account is@sciencecentres Dr Ben Spencer is on Twitter@DrBenSpencer
On behalf of The UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres and our members, we would like to thank Dr Ben Spencer and his team and the MPs who took part, for all his work in securing this debate This is the link to the debate on his website.