New labs for old

It is not unusual for science laboratories to contain guinea pigs - but at 10 schools the labs will be the guinea pigs for the science teaching of the future.

Three teams of designers, educators and scientists are to work with the schools to create the new labs in an ambitious scheme dubbed "Project Faraday".

Michael Faraday (below) was one of England's most esteemed 19th-century chemists and physicists, who contributed to the study of electromagnetism, discovered benzene and invented an early form of Bunsen burner.

But now the Department for Education and Skills says it is time to abandon the 19th-century model of school labs.

So instead of Bunsen burners, the new labs could feature wall-to-wall plasma screens, interactive computer technology and video-conferencing facilities.

Work will start on a pound;250,000 prototype lab at King's school in Peterborough next month, while the Mary Webb school in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, will receive pound;460,000 for its concept lab.

Bideford College, in Devon, recently sent project team members to Australia to visit innovative school science labs there.

The practical science advisory service, Cleapps, has raised concern that the futuristic designs and hi-tech equipment may be more style than substance. Peter Borrows, a spokesman, said: "The longest guarantee you can get on a plasma screen is five years, but will the funding be there to replace it after that?"

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