MPs blast science lessons

SECONDARY science teaching is tedious, pointless, and threatens to kill interest in the subject, say MPs in a hard-hitting report.

The damning criticism was made as Education Secretary Estelle Morris announced that Science Year would be extended until July 2003. The Commons'

science and technology select committee is highly critical of science education for 14 to 16-year-olds and calls for a restructuring of the curriculum.

Dr Ian Gibson, the committee chairman, said: "School science can be so boring it puts young people off science for life."

The committee says GCSE courses have "boring and pointless" coursework and "stultifying" assessment arrangements. It adds: "It kills the interest which may have been kindled at primary school."

The report is highly critical of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. It says: "The QCA's lack of direction has allowed assessment of GCSE science to stagnate."

But the QCA's chairman Sir William Stubbs said: "We consider that the report paints an incomplete picture. Opportunities do exist at the moment for teachers to make science lessons exciting, challenging and up-to-date.

"A revised science curriculum was introduced in both primary and secondary schools in September 2000 and thousands of pupils are already seeing the benefit.

"From September 2003, a new GCSE science pilot begins. Exciting modern-day issues will be at the heart of the new qualification which has been shaped by leaders in scientific thinking from business, industry and universities."

The MPs' report also blames awarding bodies for the excessive factual content of courses. It says: "We are amazed that the awarding bodies take so little responsibility for finding solutions to problems with GCSE science that they themselves have caused."

At least pound;120 million should be put aside to improve school laboratories and prep rooms, the report says, with the money being allocated direct to education authorities. The report also attacks the "appalling pay and conditions" of science technicians.

The committee said pupils should continue to spend 20 per cent of their time on science, but that the national curriculum at key stage 4 should be restructured to allow a range of science GCSEs.

"This should enable pupils to choose courses that complement their abilities and interests," it says.

Coursework remains important to assess practical skills at GCSE, "but there is no point in continuing with coursework arrangements that have little educational value," it adds.

Science Year was launched last September to raise the profile of the subject, increase the take-up of science post-16 and improve student performance in the subject. It has been extended to build on its success. Mike Tomlinson, former chief inspector and education director of Hackney, took charge of the campaign earlier this year from Nigel Paine, past chief executive of the Technology Colleges Trust.

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