Don't change science too much, too fast, Government is warned

4th January 2008 at 00:00
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The Government is in danger of making too much change too quickly in the science curriculum, creating a large extra burden for schools, according to Professor Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society.

Previewing his talk to the Association for Science Education annual conference, he said that there was "only so much change" teachers could take and that they must be consulted.

Schools may struggle to prepare for the new key stage 3 curriculum because they did not yet know what the national tests would look like, he said.

The new curriculum is being launched for Year 7s in September.

Professor Reiss said: "We are positive about the KS3 changes, but if I was a teacher I would be reluctant to put in countless hours of work preparing for it without knowing the full details.

"A lot of work will be needed if the 11-year-olds starting school in September aren't simply to get the same sort of lessons they have already been getting."

This worry comes on top of the extra burden of introducing the new flexible GCSEs, the new A-level curriculum in September and the work-related 14-19 diploma in science, due to start in 2011.

Professor Reiss said: "Schools and colleges will need to be confident of a good uptake before investing in the diplomas, and it is still too early to say who the audience will be."

A spokesman for the National Assessment Agency said it would supply KS3 teachers with guidelines and materials in good time to prepare for the changes to science tests.

The ASE conference, held at Liverpool University, attracts around 3,000 delegates and up to 400 exhibitors for an annual science bonanza.

Teachers are treated to a three-day programme of workshops to inspire teaching practice, and leading scientists are given a chance to showcase their cutting-edge research.

Several key figures in science education were due to attend, including Professor John Holman, who leads the Government's Science Technology Engineering and Maths programme.

He will use the event to call for a nationwide campaign to highlight the variety of careers available to pupils studying these subjects.

"It needs to be right across the board," he said, "on TV, in films and on Facebook."

It should be the responsibility of everyone in schools - not just science, maths and technology teachers - to give careers advice, he said.

"The point is young people shouldn't feel that they have to be like their physics teacher if they study these subjects: they can go into advertising, law or the city," he said.

A website, Futuremorph, is being developed by the Science Council to help pupils, parents and teachers find out what careers are available to people with science qualifications.

It will go live in September and hopes to attract young people who might be put off by standard forms of science careers advice.

Mr Holman will also highlight the fact that although the UK produced the fifth largest number of graduates in science and maths subjects, industry is predicting future shortages of talent, especially in defence and pharmaceuticals.

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