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A rocket fuelled his lordship

` Science is declining in popularity in schools because the curriculum is too boring, according to Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society and Astronomer Royal. In a speech to fellow academics, he said that the Government needed to re-assess the curriculum to increase the numbers of pupils maintaining an interest in science.

He suggested that Sir Isaac Newton's neglected sculpture in Leicester Square risked symbolising Britain's future should the decline continue.

He said: "Newton's face is horribly disfigured after a disastrous attempt to clean it with hydrazine, a chemical compound used in rocket fuel, and his neck still bears the scars of an earlier decapitation. Will our education system come away any less unscathed - and more worryingly will it generate anyone who knows what 'hydrazine' is?"

Science education is not the only subject that Lord Rees is known to be pessimistic about. He believes there is a 50 per cent chance that humanity may not survive in its present form by the end of the century.

He placed a pound;1,000 bet that within the next 20 years, one million people will die as a result of a major man-made biological catastrophe.

"It's a bet that I very much hope to lose," he said.

His concerns about education are shared by some policy makers, who are keen to increase the numbers taking science subjects at university. National test statistics show children perform well in science at primary school but then achievement drops off during secondary education. Clair Rust, a science graduate and primary school teacher, has carried out years of research into the declining popularity of the subject.

"Much more can be done in the primary classroom," she said. "Science should be fun. It should encourage children to question the world, to devise their own experiments and to find answers, but the curriculum rarely allows this and does not even cover important facets of science. Natural sciences, one of the key areas the government is seeking to improve recruitment to, seems to be neglected."

Ms Rust suggested the government's focus on testing was partly to blame for the lack of creativity that teachers could bring to science lessons.

But Jim Knight, schools minister, insisted that increasing the number of would-be scientists was a priority. "We are already making significant progress on delivering the actions being called for," he said.


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