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New GCSEs aim to enliven science

More than half of teenagers find science lessons boring, confusing or difficult, says a report published this week by exam board OCR.

Nearly one in six pupils would drop science at 14 if given the chance and more than a third say that they hate or "really do not like" the subject, according to the survey published at the launch of new GCSEs designed to attract pupils to the subject.

The report, based on responses from almost 1,000 13 to 16-year-olds, found that they were able to name Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein when asked to think of a famous scientist. But more than a quarter who named Einstein did not know what he was famous for.

Almost three-quarters (70 per cent) said they would be reluctant to pursue a career that involved testing on animals, almost half (48 per cent) did not agree with cloning humans or animals and close to a third (30 per cent) were against working in the genetically modified food industry. Thirty-nine per cent were opposed to a career making weapons.

From September 2006, all science GCSEs will have to conform to new guidelines issued by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

The new syllabuses - dubbed "21st century" science - put less emphasis on rote learning and more on teaching pupils how science works, including understanding the use of evidence, ethical issues and the nature of risk.

OCR is replacing double science with two separate awards - GCSE science and GCSE additional science. Both aim to make school science more relevant to everyday life.

Students wanting to study science at A-level will have to study both or take GCSEs in the individual sciences such as physics, chemistry and biology.

But critics, including leading scientists and private schools, have claimed the new courses will lead to dumbing down.

Speaking at the launch, Professor Robert Winston said: "Courses need to be more relevant to the interests of young people. This will be the most effective way to restore public interest in science."

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