I feel strongly that I must respond to Dr Poole's condemnation of the new science syllabi. Far from being "a disgrace", one of them, at least, I can say with confidence is the most exciting and stimulating thing that has happened in science education since I started my science teaching career in 1972.
I have been fortunate to have been involved with the pilot of OCR's (Oxford Cambridge and RSAExaminations) Twenty First Century Science, developed by the University of York science education group and the Nuffield curriculum centre, since it started in 2003. This experience has been incredibly rewarding for students and staff and has, for the first time, engaged all students. There are different courses on offer, which show different ways of thinking about science:
* GCSE science is a course for all young people. It equips them with the knowledge and skills they require to explore science issues they are likely to face, now or in the future. It develops students' understanding of science as a way thinking and learning about the world they live in, for example, an appreciation of data and its limitations, and the role of peer review in assessing new scientific explanations.
* GCSE additional science is a course tailored for future scientists. The science is taught in an up-to-date way, and emphasises concepts and models, for example, chemical patterns in the Periodic Table.
* GCSE additional applied science develops science knowledge and skills pertinent to a wide selection of workplace contexts, for example, the module "life care" looks at sport and fitness training, hospital emergency care, and antenatal care.
Each of these courses has different assessment tasks, which reinforce its approach. In GCSE science, students develop a case study, evaluating different views in a controversy that involves science. In additional science, they carry out a scientific investigation, freed from (current Sc1) marking criteria, which were pointless and soul-destroying. In GCSE additional applied science, students find out whether a material (or procedure or device) is suitable for a particular job.
By combining these courses in different ways, Twenty First Century Science caters for all abilities and aptitudes. To suggest that it is only for "weaker candidates who want a feel for the subject" is incorrect. GCSE science plus GCSE additional science stretches the student as much, if not more, than any previous science GCSE course. Together these two courses provide a solid foundation for progression to A-level science subjects.
This is certainly the case for my present AS group.
From 2006 it will be possible to study for separate science GCSEs. The extension material looks really challenging. It will allow high-achieving students to really push their understanding of the subject to the limit.
Something desperately needed to be done about the drab, uninspiring syllabuses that went before with their boringly repetitive investigations and the random conglomeration of crammed facts. Is it any wonder that science in higher education has seen a downturn in applications, when so many pupils have been turned off science?
At my school we no longer hear disenchanted youths asking "What are we doing this for?" Our students are enthused by science and take a keen interest in scientific issues. We are now producing stimulated students who are scientifically literate and able to progress along a differentiated GCSE route which truly reflects their interests and abilities.
Madeleine Walton is leading teacher for Twenty First Century Science in County Durham