Half-baked,cold science

30th January 2004 at 00:00
National curriculum science has done much to raise the blood pressure of teachers, and no component more so than the practical investigation. This must have been dreamt up by a committee of classroom escapees who, impressed by the work done by academically-able groups of sixth-formers as part of their Nuffield courses, thought that the model could be transferred to Form 5C at Gas Street secondary. Teachers, grumbling but compliant, gave it their best shot.

Of course, 5C wanted to sequence the genome of the school gerbil, or build a weapon of mass destruction or send the deputy head (pastoral) into orbit.

They were therefore a little put out when we teachers sheepishly had to admit: "Sorry, but we've only got this bit of wire, some elastic bands, an egg box, oh yes, and possibly a potato; but we can investigate those, can't we?"

The whole exercise has become a travesty of sound education, resembling neither good teaching nor science as it is practised in the "real world", wherever that might be. I go as far as to say that children were taught far more interesting, stimulating practical science before this wretched business came into operation.

I could weep when I see earnest, hard-working youngsters, clutching their specifications, ticking off each assessment criterion and urgently pressing me: "Is this what I need to write to get me level 6(b) of Evaluation?" And who are we to deny them the opportunity of achieving a top grade by persuading them to opt for something a little more interesting than "resistance of wires", if there is the slightest danger that the moderator might mark down their efforts because they don't quite fit his mark scheme?

In the unlikely event that a person possessing both influence and a grain of common sense might be reading this, may I make so bold as to suggest the following. Do away with these half-baked practical investigations. Let the youngsters present a portfolio of practical work that would be undertaken as an integral part of the course. Without this portfolio the maximum grade awarded would be a "C"; but let the portfolio not contribute marks to the final grade: let it be assessed separately as simply "pass", "merit" or "distinction".

So Spriggs Minor could now be awarded grade A with a merit in the practical work, or even grade C with a distinction in the practical work. In the meantime, let all science teachers be in the New Year's Honours list for the innovation, perseverance and astonishing resilience that we have shown since this nonsense was inflicted on us.

John Anslow

Knot House

Walton-le-Dale, Lancashire

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