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Practicals forced out of science lessons

Pupils 'should tackle issues such as BSE' so they can distinguish scientific fact from fiction. Sarah Cassidy reports.

SCIENCE experiments have been squeezed out of the GCSE curriculum because of pressure to complete a content-heavy course, according to a new study of pupils, parents and teachers.

Too much time is spent copying notes from the blackboard rather than doing experiments, according to the 16-year-olds who took part in the research for King's College, London.

They complained that they were often bored by repeating the same topics during their 11 years of compulsory science lessons.

The study, carried out by Dr Jonathan Osborne and Dr Sue Collins, argues that GCSE courses must be redesigned to allow more choice for pupils to follow their scientific interests.

Science lessons should tackle issues such as BSE so that young people can become discriminating consumers of government rhetoric and media coverage, they said.

Dr Osborne said: "Pupils' dissatisfactions are the product of a curriculum that is content-dominated, assessment driven and too homogeneous. The reslt is that teachers rush their pupils across the scientific landscape and offer an unvarying experience from the latter stages of primary school to secondary school.

"They often repeat material and eliminate any time-consuming act-ivities such as practical work or discussion of contemporary science."

Teachers in the survey acknowledged that much of their pupils' dissatisfaction was legitimate but felt it was the consequence of an over-loaded curriculum.

Chemistry was pupils' least popular science subject, the survey found. Pupils said chemistry was "abstruse and irrelevant" to their life although they enjoyed experiments which involved mixing chemicals. Biology was the most popular science subject, the two-year study found.

The report recommends that the post-14 curriculum should consist of a core course containing elements of physics, chemistry, biology, earth sciences and astronomy plus optional modules which would allow pupils to specialise in subjects that interested them.

The survey included 45 focus groups consisting of 144 pupils, 117 parents and 27 teachers.

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