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Speak up, Earthman

He may be a rocket scientist, but he was no match for primary pupils' space probe

Before the pioneering Beagle 2 space probe went missing on its way to Mars, its creator Colin Pillinger showed it off to primary schools. That was a mission from which he nearly did not return.

He said: "The kids would stand round and grill us until we felt pretty well cooked because they wanted to know things. We found it almost impossible to get out."

So the thirst for scientific knowledge is out there: one in five primary teachers polled by The TES would like the chance to nurture it further by being able to spend more time teaching the subject.

Professor Pillinger, the British scientist behind Beagle 2, the country's first interplanetary spacecraft, added: "I'm pleased they want to teach science. That is half the battle. The sooner you start, the better.

Learning science is like learning a language. It is a very cumulative subject. It is so easy when they want to know if it is the biggest, the smallest, the fastest."

The Beagle 2 mission was launched in June 2003, but the probe vanished on Christmas day as it approached Mars.

The TES poll found although some primary teachers felt core subjects took up too much time, few were willing to suggest spending less time on any specific one.

Four per cent thought maths needed more time, and 7 per cent thought English needed longer. But A total of 84 per cent thought the time spent on English was about right, compared to 91 per cent for maths and 74 per cent for science. Nine per cent thought English should get less lesson time, compared to 5 per cent for maths and 4 per cent for science.

Derek Bell, chief executive of the Association for Science Education, said the time available for science had been squeezed by the introduction of the numeracy and literacy strategies and tests.

As a result, fewer children were doing experiments for themselves, their teachers telling them instead about the processes involved.

Dr Bell said: "Teachers have not got the time they want, and it is nice that they are coming out and saying so. There is an awful lot of anecdotal evidence that children have been forced to revise for Sats in Year 6, so a lot of investigative stuff gets lost. However, if you allow children to do the investigations, their Sats performance will improve because you have got them engaged and thinking."

Dr Bell said he was encouraged that teachers wanted to teach more science as there had been a perception that they found it difficult because many of them do not have science backgrounds.

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