Back to Fifties as who dares wins

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
Could you make it fizz, bang, or even wallop? TV needs risk-takers, reports Michael Shaw

Eccentric science teachers with a love of explosions are being sought for a reality television programme which will send pupils back to the Fifties.

The third series of That'll Teach 'Em, which will be filmed this summer, will focus on the divide between boys' and girls' results and the difficulties of making science seem exciting.

The Channel 4 programme, which gives modern pupils an old-fashioned education, is returning to the setting of its first series, a Fifties grammar school, after switching last year to a Sixties secondary modern.

Teachers who take part will be expected to spend four weeks living without modern comforts and eating traditional school dinners of Spam fritters and tapioca as they help to prepare 30 teenagers to sit O-levels.

Makers of the series are advertising for a charismatic headteacher and "firm, inspirational and flexible" teachers of English, mathematics, languages, music, art and sport.

However, they will be paying particular attention to finding passionate physics, chemistry and biology teachers who are eager to teach lessons involving dissections and explosions.

The number of dissections carried out by pupils has fallen dramatically since the Fifties, partly because of pressure from animal rights groups.

Simon Rockell, executive producer, said science was topical because of the closure of university chemistry departments and the decline in numbers studying the subject at A-level.

"So we are going to be looking at how we can get pupils back into science," he said. "The bangs and smells and dissections that had such appeal don't seem to be part of the subject any more. They have been driven out by the national curriculum and myths about health and safety. "I don't mean this disrespectfully to science teachers, but you don't seem to get as many of those characters who would spend their weekends trying to blow up their garden shed."

The series will also explore whether educating pupils in single-sex groups can improve their results. All pupils are expected to come from mixed schools. They will take part in the programme after finishing their GCSEs and be tested at the start of the series and again at the end.

Mr Rockell, who taught history at Camden school for girls before working in television, said he had been struck by how differently pupils behaved in single-sex environments, with girls more likely to opt for science if there were no boys around.

The programme-makers decided to return to the Fifties because many grammar schools in that decade had been single-sex. But Mr Rockell said they were considering making a series in a Seventies or Eighties comprehensive. "It could be the real Grange Hill or Please, Sir," he said.

The new series follows calls by Sir Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector and president of the Association for Science Education, for schools to bring creativity and risk-taking back into science lessons.

Teachers can apply to take part at www.twentytwenty.tv

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

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