One-in-five drop out from science flagship

Schools are giving up on participation in the Creative Science and Technology scheme because it is too time- consuming, reports Diane Spencer. Reduced resources and the demands of the national curriculum have forced one in five schools to abandon one of the most prestigious science and technology schemes in Britain.

An evaluation report of CREST, Creative Science and Technology, founded 10 years ago to stimulate young people's interest in these areas through practical work and links with industry, revealed the downward trend.

The findings follow last summer's reports from examination boards of a 30 per cent drop - more than 100,000 entries - in the number of pupils taking GCSE technology.

Acccording to the 150 schools sampled, the amount of teacher time needed to run CREST is a disincentive to running the scheme given the changes to exams and the curriculum. The scheme demands about 10 hours of student time for the bronze award, 40 for the silver and 100 for the gold. Registrations for CREST are around 14,000, with girls gaining more bronze awards and boys more gold.

The report, by Oxford University's department of educational studies, says that the scheme is "a very impressive and important educational enterprise" and the quality of work is "remarkably high and rich in creativity". But keeping the scheme going demands considerable extra effort, vision and commitment from inspirational teachers and key people in industry.

A sister scheme, started three years ago to encourage girls to be involved in science and technology, GETSET (Girls Entering Tomorrow's Science and Technology), has been equally successful. According to one teacher: "I thought they enriched the curriculum immensely for the girls and the cost for a limited number was rewarded by their uptake of science subjects post-16."

CREST and GETSET should be disseminated more widely and funded on a more secure footing, says the report, adding that the bulk of the funding which comes from Government grants and sponsors should be guaranteed for three or five years rather than for a year.

A third of schools surveyed think that student registration fees, starting at Pounds 3.50 for the bronze award, rising to Pounds 11.75 for the gold, are prohibitive. Although the sums compare well with Pounds 50 for a pair of trainers or Pounds 10 for a music lesson, the evaluators recognise that it is a "significant problem" if a teacher wants to enter a whole year group of 180 for a bronze award at a cost of Pounds 630 when the science department's yearly budget is Pounds 650.

The report suggests that fee reduction could be made for bulk entries and payment made at bronze level only for those finishing their projects. It also says that examination boards should allow work for the top awards to be counted for exams and that a national database should be set up on school-industry collaborations.

Arrangements for the annual GETSET event, held for the three years in Imperial College, London, should be publicised six months in advance to allow schools to plan more effectively, the report says.

Enriching the Curriculum, University of Oxford Department of Educational Studies, 15 Norham Gardens, Oxford, OX2 6PY. Pounds 10

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