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The Council for Science and Technology (CST) has sent a letter to education secretary Michael Gove proposing learned societies should act as mediators in the Government's move to increase the influence of universities on science A levels.

The letter was signed by CST's co-chairs Sir Mark Walport and Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell who is also President of the Society of Biology.

The letter welcomes Gove's intentions to transfer more control of the content and assessment of A levels to universities, but expresses concerns that the plans for how to achieve this are 'unclear'.

Dr Mark Downs, chief executive of the Society of Biology, says: "We are keen to play a leading role in developing the new A level curriculum and in ensuring that the move towards using universities in A level assessment is effective. The letter is a welcome endorsement of proposals we have been offering for nearly 18 months, along with the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry."

The letter was accompanied by a briefing note, written by the Wellcome Trust and the Gatsby Foundation, recommending that no science GCSEs or A levels should be awarded 'without evidence that students have developed hands-on practical scientific skills'.

Gemma Garrett, head of education at the Society of Biology, says: "Practical work is vital for a rounded science education, and should be used to develop students' technical skills and understanding of scientific enquiry, as well as to further the pupils' scientific knowledge.

"It is essential that appropriate means of assessing practical work in the sciences are developed, and that schools are adequately resourced to support practical activity in the classroom.

"Earlier this year we worked with SCORE to launch a report reviewing the state of practical science teaching in our schools. The results are a damming indictment of the inadequate provision of equipment and materials to allow young people to experience and learn about hands-on science in our schools."

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