Analyse this

6th January 2006 at 00:00
What do you think of the new key stage 4 specifications? The TES asked four experts

The new science syllabuses are a disgrace. I became a teacher out of choice. I wanted to guide young people into a better life. I wanted to open up a vista of beauty, of taste, and of happiness. I'm told that physics teachers are hard to find. In future, they will be even scarcer; who needs physics graduates when the new syllabus can be taught by anyone with a passing knowledge of the old GCSE?

As it is, the present academic level of the A-level is already beyond many candidates. If the ne-style GCSE reduces further the need to study the underlying foundations of science or to develop the required skills, how will the pupil of the future undertake an A-level? Presumably, A-levels will then be simplified in turn, with consequent effect on university admissions and courses: most courses may then end up with a foundation year merely to replicate the depth an average 18-year-old currently possesses.

In the 1960s, one commonly needed six O-levels to enter the sixth form. If you had five you were shown the door: no chance of changing things if parents complained to the head. Compare this with the modern student, practically begged to stay on at aged 16 regardless of indolence. Where, then, is any pressure to study diligently?

It is telling that most of the independent sector has opted for the new iGCSE (offered by Cambridge) which retains rigour. It is obvious that theirs will be the students who will be able to tackle A-level and, consequently, these will be our future doctors, engineers and electronic specialists. The state system will be left with a qualification regarded much as the CSE used to be - something for the weaker candidates who merely want a "feel" for the subject. Is this the intention of the Government?

We are told that India and China are becoming our main competitors in international trade. Are they intending to introduce such a watered-down education system for their children? My wife and I support a school in Hyderabad, India. All the children learn at least three languages, each with a different alphabet. They often walk a long way to school, having to leave home before dawn. These children and their parents want to learn, and know that learning requires hard work and a lot of effort. Their reward, and India's, is that they are slowly and surely taking the reins of international trade away from the idle and indifferent UK.

So how does a government raise standards? The first step would be to recruit more teachers by making teaching a wholesome occupation where teachers are respected. No one wants to suffer constant low-level abuse in the classroom and public and parental ridicule. Then, give heads the right to remove the idle and disruptive from their schools. If some do not wish to learn, then prevent them stopping others. Ignorance leads to fear, and fear leads to violence: social disorder instead of progress.

Giving people everything they want is seldom sensible. A first-rate education cannot be achieved if pupils cannot or will not make a sustained effort to understand the subject, whether that be the beauties of literature or the marvels of the physical world. A generation who put watching soaps, gossiping on their mobiles and reading about the lives of "celebs" ahead of learning will not achieve anything. We are becoming soft, brainless consumers of someone else's labours. Meantime, in Asia, pupils work hard and achieve great results.

This is a disaster in the making for young people and our society.

Dr Ian Poole is head of physics at the Belevedere school, Liverpool

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