Decline in science experiments 'due to exam pressure'

17th June 2011 at 01:00

Science experiments in schools and field trips are in decline because of the pressure on teachers to boost exam results, teachers and union leaders have told MPs.

A focus on teaching to the test, rather than fostering a love of the subject, has led to fewer practicals and outdoor education opportunities, members of the Common's science and technology select committee heard.

Greg Jones, a science teacher from Leicestershire, said pupils now just want to be "told the answer" rather than finding evidence themselves.

"But that's the kind of work which makes them a good scientist, and in schools we've moved away from producing those," he told MPs. "The reduced amount of coursework in science courses has also meant fewer field trips. This has meant there are fewer science outdoor learning centres. The decline is not because teachers don't want to do this work.

"Practicals are just not valued by exam boards and teachers are getting less confident in holding them."

Mr Jones said schools were also spending less on science technicians, which made it harder for teachers to run experiments.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT, said the "focus on results" in schools had meant a decline in the number of experiments.

"Good exam grades are obviously a valuable desire of teachers and pupils, but an unintended consequence of this is a squeeze on the number of trips and practicals," Mr Courtney said.

"It's easier to get children a good exam mark than to get them enthused by science. The other problem we have is most money was spent on outdoor education by local authorities, rather than schools. As more academies are set up will they have the funding to continue to do this?"

Chris King, a teacher trainer at Keele University and member of the Earth Science Teachers' Association, said: "Schools are good at getting children to pass exams; they are not so good at producing good scientists."

The select committee was taking evidence as part of its new inquiry into the state of science lessons and field trips run in schools.

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