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Royal Society laments dreary science

Boring experiments and rote learning for exams are killing pupils'

enthusiasm for science, the Royal Society said this week.

The society said too much time was spent on simplistic, predictable experiments and that pupils did not do enough proper investigation.

The distinguished body, which draws its members from the nation's top scientists, said 14 to 19-year-olds were tested on too narrow a range of skills and that analytical skills demanded by employers and universities were being neglected.

Professor Mick Brown, chairman of the society's steering group, which assessed school science, said: "Getting pupils to learn to conduct overtly simplistic practical scientific experiments, which never go wrong, does not give them a sense of the dynamism of real scientific research. We need a system of assessment that fuels pupils' enthusiasm... by opening up this exciting world of problem-solving, discovery and innovation while at the same time supporting their factual learning."

The society urged the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and exam boards to back assessment of a wider range of skills.

Its report came as the Office for Standards in Education began a project to monitor how much use science teachers make of "assessment for learning" techniques.

Jane McCluskey, head of science at Ringmer community college in Lewes, East Sussex, was one of 31 teachers who last week attended an Ofsted conference on assessment for learning, which seeks to boost attainment by, for example, giving pupils feedback and allowing them more involvement in their assessment.

She said problems started with restraints placed on teaching by the national curriculum and added: "It is also because schools are pushing to climb the league tables through exam results and very academic pupils are not offered the same breadth they would have been."

The Ofsted conference for key stage 2 and 3 science teachers was set up after inspectors said assessment to develop learning was not fully established in schools.

Teachers were given tuition in assessment for learning techniques. One, devised by Andrew Grevatt, an advanced skills teacher at Uckfield community technology college, East Sussex, set pupils tasks and allowed them to see what criteria they would need for each national test level.

After its introduction the proportion of pupils getting expected levels in KS3 science at the school rose from 74 to 89 per cent.

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