Health and safety fears prevent experiments

6th January 2006 at 00:00
Pupils are being turned off science because teachers misunderstand health and safety rules and use them as an excuse to avoid carrying out experiments, the Association for Science Education has warned.

Derek Bell, ASE chief executive, said that many schools do not demonstrate exciting experiments because they wrongly believe them to be banned.

"There are a number of myths that have been perpetuated," he said. "We have to realise there is a lot more freedom for teachers to do things than they are led to believe.

"Most experiments are not banned. People use it as an excuse and say you can't do it because of health and safety."

Dr Bell's comments follow a report last year by the Royal Society of Chemistry which showed that 70 per cent of schools have the incorrect belief that it is illegal for pupils to sample their own blood and 32 per cent thought pupils' own saliva samples were banned.

Other common misconceptions included the belief that the keeping of giant African land snails was banned, as was the ammonium dichromate volcano experiment and demonstrations of protactinium generators which are used to measure the half-life of radioactive materials.

The ASE has asked Sir Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector who has led two major government inquiries, to head an investigation into school science. Sir Mike is the ASE's outgoing president.

Teachers will be asked how the subject can be made more interesting, following repeated claims that science teaching is often seen as boring by pupils.

The investigation began before Christmas but was unveiled at the ASE annual conference.

It will focus on the difficulties of creating lively lessons and how to react to teachers' reluctance to carry out experiments. The ASE says many teachers believe that the key stage 3 Qualifications and Curriculum Authority work schemes limit their ability to be innovative in their teaching.

Yet the work schemes are not compulsory. The review will consider how to get this message across to staff and encourage innovation.

The inquiry is expected to touch on the issue of GCSE coursework, which is widely seen as demotivating and formulaic for pupils - a problem recognised by the QCA in its annual report on science.

Opinion 23

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