Cause and effect of double science;Letter

28th May 1999 at 01:00
MICHAEL Brimicombe (TES, Friday magazine, May 7) usefully traces the recent history of the secondary science curriculum and concludes that dual award science is deterring recruits to teaching. This may be the case, but there are more serious issues at stake.

There is growing evidence that children are becoming demotivated, and some high-flying pupils who would have opted for A-level sciences 10 years ago, now prefer geography, economics or even maths. There are despairing cries about the poor take-up of post-16 and university science courses, fewer scientists are deciding to become teachers, and the case is made by some for a return to separate sciences at GCSE.

There are dangers in looking backwards for solutions and it is perhaps more instructive to consider what is happening:

* primary science is having an impact on standards which is not recognised by secondary teachers;

* too many pupils are demotivated by the age of 14;

* departments fail to make key stage 3 science challenging.

Whatever the reason dual award science, is under threat.

While most heads, governors and many parents accept that science should be a core subject to the age of 16, they are sceptical about whether 20 per cent of curriculum time can be justified. It means that pupils cannot follow, say, a second foreign language, art, drama or music . And for some pupils gaining competency in core skills such as literacy and numeracy is more important. For a headteacher who has to recruit and retain science teachers, and maintain laboratories at the expense of computers or books, there are attractions in reducing time for double science.

The concentration on GCSE has diverted creative teachers away from radical thinking about how the curriculum might change. Many pupils, perhaps more than we think, could achieve higher standards by the end of key stage 3, and then we could reduce the amount of time devoted to GCSE. Perhaps single science might become the norm, or perhaps some pupils need to take GCSE at times other than age 16.

We should be arguing less about the time devoted to science and whether the dual award is adequate preparation for A-level, and more about whether dual award science at key stage 4 can justify its existence. What does it contribute to key skills? Does it take sufficient account of prior learning and experience? Does it leave pupils with an understanding about the impact of science on their lives?

The most important challenge facing us now is adapting the secondary science curriculum to meet the changing needs of pupils.

Martin Baxter, Senior adviser, London borough of Hillingdon, Uxbridge, Middlesex

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