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6th July 2001 at 01:00
Although the Department for Education and Skills - as the DFEE is now called - has always treated science as a single subject area and refused to indicate what proportion of teachers of the different sciences are needed, schools overwhelmingly still seek to appoint biologists, chemists and physicists rather than "scientists".

The sad news is that although there were copious applications from biologists for training courses starting last autumn - up 15 per cent on 1999 - the number who started PGCEs was only 57 higher than in 1999 at just more than 900. Chemistry fared worse with just 20 more trainees and in physics there were actually 20 fewer students than in 1999. Even for combined and general science courses there were only 23 more students.

The total number of qualifying teachers this summer will depend partly upon the success that university and college tutors have had in keeping these students on their PGCE courses and partly on the extent to which the employment-based routes into teaching have been able to provide additional entrants.

All this leaves schools facing two problems: firstly, recruiting a science teacher, and secondly, matching that teacher's expertise to the needs of the science curriculum. What may be needed are broader science degrees for intending teachers and a comprehensive in-service programme for new science teachers to equip them with the necessary skills to teach the whole of the science curriculum.

The alternative is that good science teaching becomes a matter of chance.

John Howson

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