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Science minister seeks a school catalyst

THE Scottish Executive's science strategy review group has posed the big questions about the problems with science in schools - and invited others to provide the answers.

It picks up where HM Inspectors left off in last year's major report on science teaching, highlighting the drop in interest and attainment at upper primary and early secondary, along with the low levels of scientific training and therefore confidence among primary teachers.

It also emphasises the need for continuing professional development of science teachers and the poor state of labs and equipment.

The review group was set up last September by Henry McLeish, Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Education, to boost the science base in Scotland. Chaired by Eddie Frizzell, head of the minister's department, its first task was a "scoping study" to identify the questions that need to be asked.

A key section on the link between science and education stresses that schools have a role in providing the "seedcorn for the next generation of developers of the science base". Scotland has le the way in terms of curriculum innovation, and in levels of pupil participation and attainment in science courses, but key issues remain, the group states.

Its challenge follows HMI findings in a Standards and Quality report covering 1995-98 that pupil attainment in science was unsatisfactory or had important weaknesses in 49 per cent of primaries and 37 per cent of secondaries in S1 S2.

The inspectors found that teaching was not well planned or designed to develop scientific awareness, there were few opportunities for pupils to develop scientific skills, work in class was often undemanding and repetitive, and topics rarely related to pupils' experience of science outside school, including what they watched on television.

The science review group accepts its education colleagues in the Executive are already addressing the major concerns but still views science education as vital to the overall plan for science.

Any answers to the science review group's seven questions on schools should be submitted to the Scottish Executive by June 30.

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