The British science curriculum is unnecessarily dull and should be scrapped, according to the author of a major new research project sponsored by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Professor Paul Black from King's College London, one of the original architects of the national curriculum, calls for a move away from school science as training for the academics of tomorrow, and towards a new, broader set of aims calculated to motivate pupils.
This, he says, is in line with the controversial technology curriculum which, despite widespread criticism, he believes offers the best way forward.
Britain is not alone. Professor Black has co-authored a study of science and technology teaching across 13 different countries and found widespread dissatisfaction. Published in book form at the end of this month, it calls for a major shift away from "dull and overformalised" methods.
"Schools should be helping students to understand and make decisions about those issues in their personal life and in society which they see as interesting and important," said Professor Black. There is widespread concern that school science and technology is not doing this - so that many students see schoolwork as irrelevant."
In a lecture at King's College to mark the start of the National Science, Engineering and Technology Week, Professor Black said: "We really need quite a big change. We need to throw away the present science agenda which is . . . the son of GCSE, which is the son of O-level."
He called for a much looser national curriculum giving teachers freedom to meet a broad series of aims. The result, he said, would look like the British technology curriculum. "The Government should set out a broad curriculum and perhaps provide support materials, but let teachers dictate what makes particular sense to them." He said his research showed this approach to be successful abroad.
"We've never thought through what it means to have mass education and to have every student know this complex subject. People have not been able to get away from the idea of specialist preparation for the specialist person."
However the technology curriculum, which attempts to embody this level of flexibility, has run into major trouble, with allegations that the subject lacks conceptual clarity. The present version is the sixth rewrite.
Last week the National Association of Headteachers wrote to Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, claiming that schools were unable to implement the technology curriculum. "Secondary school heads have been placed in an impossible position," it said. "There is a lack of qualified teachers, suitable rooms and equipment. Never before have curriculum planners been so unclear about what to offer their pupils."