Radical who shook up science teaching

Professor Dick West, a radical thinker and science education reformer, died on July 28 in York, aged 66. His rare vision and unconventional style transformed the teaching of science in the 1980s and helped establish it as a core subject.

Dick West (pictured right) began his career as a clerical assistant at the UK Atomic Energy Establishment at Harwell before entering teacher training in London at the College of St Mark and St John in Chelsea.

He began teaching science, first at a primary near Tower Bridge and then at Walworth comprehensive in the Old Kent Road, for 11 years, ending up as head of chemistry.

His burgeoning interest in the social and environmental context of science won him a research scholarship at Sussex University, which became the base for his research.

For most of Dick West's career the Association for Science Education was the vehicle for his ideas and it was in that forum that the debate on the merits of separate, single or integrated science took place. He became chairman of its educational research committee and then national chairman in 1977-78, putting the ASE at the forefront of new thinking about the curriculum and examinations.

In 1981 he got the chance to put his ideas into practice when he led the Secondary Science Curriculum Review, a Government-funded project backed by the Schools Council, a curriculum advisory body.

Five years of intense curriculum development followed, with projects all over the country. These included development of primary science, integrated science, environmental science, multi-cultural science, and "girl-friendly" science. All were aimed at pushing science from the margins to the mainstream of educational and social life.

Then, when the wind changed and teachers were no longer trusted with curriculum development, Dick West became science staff inspector at the Inner London Education Authority. There he saw many of his ideas put into practice.

When ILEA was abolished, he took his ideas to other fields including teacher training and the development of science education at the Open University, where he was the first National Power professor (a post he dubbed his "electric chair").

At his funeral last week, his old friend John Nellist, now director of education in Cumbria, saw the creation of a confident, committed national network of science teachers as Dick West's most enduring achievement. "He was one of a rare breed who shaped thinking and moved hearts and minds... Dick West would never have subscribed to conventional ideas of immortality. But he will live on - in constructs and concepts, papers and publications, and, above all, in people's memories and motivations."

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