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Sexed-up GCSE was 'trivial' and 'easy'

Attempts to make GCSE science courses more lively by introducing questions about the history of scientific ideas have backfired say teachers.

The launch of an "Ideas and Evidence" strand in last year's exams was bungled as irrelevant questions were foisted on youngsters and teachers were asked to teach the new subject without proper training.

That was the verdict at a workshop at the ASE annual meeting in Reading last week.

The strand, which has been introduced at key stage 2, 3 and GCSE, teaches pupils how certain theories developed, and the power and limitations of scientific knowledge. It is taught as part of the science GCSE. Peter Ellis, a part-time physics teacher and member of the British Society for the History of Science, said he and his colleagues had been discouraged when they looked at specimen papers.

He said: "The questions were at best trivial and at worst were wrong. All were nonsense. We were hoping the GCSEs set last summer would be different.

"I had a brief look at the GCSE papers and I could not see how they were relevant to the four statements which appear in the AQA specification pack. The questions were trivial."

One chemistry teacher said papers which tackled ideas and evidence had used easy questions. Another said: "I tell my pupils if you see a scientist's name don't panic as it will have no relevance to the question."

Many teachers said they were given little or no training and were ill-prepared to teach the history of science. One said: "I'm not an expert on history and I know many of my colleagues aren't either." Another admitted: "We found it difficult preparing to teach it. We did teach it but we didn't do it with much grace."

Ideas and Evidence was allocated just 5 per cent of the overall marks, which Mr Ellis said was disappointing in itself. He said he hoped last year's exams can be put down to teething problems which examining boards will overcome.

A spokesman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said it was "slightly disappointed" by the feedback, but that further development work would take place on Ideas and Evidence before revamped science GCSEs were introduced in 2006.

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