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Curriculum rules put girls off science

For some years, the statistics produced after GCSE results have shown not just a decline in the uptake of science A-levels but disparity between male and female achievement. I have always thought that the creativity apparent in the arts and humanities courses attracted the girls. To be attractive, science needs to be relevant to everyday life as well as creative.

Coursework (science attainment target 1) seemed suited to this aim offering the chance to produce well written and researched work. Integrated science courses aim to provide the three disciplines of physics, chemistry and biology in a double GCSE award.

Girls often seek to produce coursework from attainment target 2 (biology) but are unduly penalised as soon as the subjectivity and open ended nature of their experiments exposes the limitations of the national curriculum criteria. Although these have continually altered and are still being adapted, the strait-jacket of levelled statements relating to attainment target 1 forms an immovable set of rules which moderators and examiners dare not question.

How many of the professionals employed by examination boards are still in the classroom? The arduous nature of their work suggests many are out of touch with the silent evolution of skills that has taken place in the practical investigations we do in laboratories daily.

They maintain an impenetrable wall of simplistic criteria; a set of rules, which keeps us entering coursework which is simple to mark but monotonous and often unappealing to produce - especially to girls.

This year, using attainment target 2, Year 11 students planned experiments on transpiration suggested as higher level work published by Simon and Schuster - a well respected text book.

Also, one of our students achieved a Gold Crest award, nationally recognised by industry, for her work on enzymes. These investigations were criticised by Southern Examining Group and downgraded when entered as coursework.

Until this uniformity and total reliance on minimal criteria is relaxed, girls will continue to underachieve in science practical investigations and save their excellence for other subjects.

ROS OWEN Portchester Community School Fareham, Hampshire

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