Exploding custard still on the menu

14th November 2008 at 00:00

Mike Kent's article "Chemistry used to be such a blast" (TES, October 17) alluded to the commonly held misconception within our profession that teachers can only do limited practical experiments - especially in chemistry - because of health and safety rules.

Before I became a school improvement officer, I taught secondary chemistry. I had no qualms about blasts or bangs. A few years on, I find health and safety concerns complicate the issue. As Dr Colin Osborne of the Royal Society of Chemistry says: "Unfounded concerns over health and safety are hampering practical science teaching in schools."

By 2005, the society had become so concerned that it commissioned the Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of School Science Services to investigate the myths surrounding chemicals and procedures thought to be banned in schools. The outcome was a report called "Surely that's banned?" Every science teacher should have a copy, and it can be downloaded from the RSC website.

In the authority I work for, we positively encourage practical experiments that enhance learning and increase students' enjoyment of science - exploding custard powder continues to be a show-stopper.

So, please, let's have a pragmatic approach to this issue.


Lynne Horton, School improvement officer with responsibility for science, Northumberland.

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