Building a nation of biologists

Lauren MᶜLeod MRSB on the RSB’s priorities for improving biology teaching and learning at all levels over the next five years

20th February 2023 

The Society is committed to supporting and encouraging the study of biology at primary, secondary and tertiary levels across the UK, working in coordination with our Member Organisations and with the broader scientific community. Steered by our Education and Science Policy Committee, we aim to bring together the education and science communities, inform policymakers, provide impartial and evidence-based advice and be the leading voice for biology.

To support this work we have recently expanded the education policy team to include a new policy officer focused specifically on teacher training, recruitment, retention and continuing professional development. We have expanded an existing policy officer role to better cover the breadth of academic and technical bioscience qualifications at ages 14-19 across all four UK nations.

Policy priorities

We are also developing a set of education policy priorities for 2023-2028. These are intended not only to inform and drive forward our activity within the Society, but to promote excellent teaching and learning policies and standards as they are developed by policymakers, regulators, awarding organisations, schools, colleges and higher education institutions.

We believe young people should have an unbroken chain of experts teaching the science disciplines. Primary school teachers in particular report low confidence in their ability to teach STEM subjects, which can have negative implications for student performance and attitudes to STEM subjects.

The RSB will continue to work closely with partners in other science organisations to develop and support policy that addresses these concerns. This could be through targeted support to increase primary school teacher confidence in the sciences, subject-specific mentoring for all teachers, investment in subject-specific professional learning for teachers in all educational settings or mid-career support for experienced STEM teachers.

At school 

Teacher retention is also acknowledged by all UK governments as a national issue requiring a coordinated national solution. We aim to understand the STEM-specific issues and influence national programmes and debates aimed at valuing teachers and raising the status of the profession.

We want to ensure there is a coherent and coordinated strategy for recruiting and preparing the right people for roles in teaching the sciences in a discipline-specific way. To support excellent teaching and learning across all four nations, the regions within them, in different types of school and through varying levels of disadvantage, governments must recognise the importance of disciplinary expertise and embed subject-specific elements in policies and strategies for recruiting and retaining teachers in all STEM subjects.

All young people should experience curricula and assessments that prepare them to be scientifically literate, enable to make scientifically informed choices, and ready them for a diverse and evolving world of work. Curricula and specifications should be informed by best evidence, and enable all students to develop investigative and analytical skills in laboratory and field contexts.

In November 2021 the Society published Evolving 5-19 Biology, its recommendations and framework for biology curricula, and we will continue to push for curriculum reforms across the UK to be informed by our work. We seek to develop and support policy, curricula and programmes that ensure all students have equal opportunities to continue studying the sciences in technical and vocational qualifications or bioscience degrees.

We want to ensure that all young people are prepared to understand and tackle biological challenges and advances, to equip them for modern life. We also want them to seek careers in the biosciences and related fields.

Higher education 

We will continue to support recognition of excellent teaching and learning in the biosciences in higher education. The RSB promotes high standards in higher education through its degree accreditation and we support the major themes that accreditation recognises, such as employability, well-rounded knowledge, and skill sets and practical skills. Qualifications and qualification systems must be fit for purpose and reflect the changing job market.

Our education policy priorities were devised and developed following input from the Society’s Curriculum Committee, Biology Education Research Group, Education Policy Advisory Group, Accreditation Committee, Heads of University Biosciences and Education and Science Policy Committee. We will soon be presenting them to RSB Council and will publish a final list on in early spring.

If you are interested in contributing to the RSB’s education policy work, through providing views and evidence for consultation responses, or informing priority areas or programmes of work related to curriculum or teaching, please make sure you are signed up to receive our education newsletter and keep an eye on our jobs board for opportunities to join our education-focused committees.

See for more on Evolving 5–19 Biology

Lauren MᶜLeod MRSB is head of education policy at the RSB.