Labs going down the tubes

25th June 2004 at 01:00
Crumbling and uninspiring science facilities need pound;1.4 bn to being them up to scratch, reports Dorothy Lepkowska.

Schools need almost pound;1.4 billion to bring science laboratories up to a good standard, a study reveals this week.

It paints a damning picture of the state of facilities in hundreds of schools with science lessons considered unsafe, unsatisfactory or uninspiring for almost two-thirds of pupils.

Just 35 per cent of school laboratories were considered good or excellent, according to the report for the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Nine out of 10 teachers said they did not have enough money to sustain an effective level of education despite schools allocating more cash to science departments.

The study shows that schools spent an average of pound;10,560 on science departments in 2003-4, nearly pound;80 more than a year earlier although this ranged from pound;40,000 in some schools to just pound;1,030 in others.

The average spent per pupil annually on science was pound;9.89, just 6 pence more than a year earlier. Figures ranged from 64p in some secondaries to pound;71.43 in others.

At A-level, each school spent an average of pound;28.45 per pupil, per science subject, although costs vary by subject.

The study found an overall shortfall of pound;6 per pupil in biology and pound;270 in physics in what schools were, and should be, spending on essential items.

It said that virtually every secondary school was one laboratory short of what it needed and said: "It is inescapable that a very substantial amount is needed to upgrade the quality of school science resources.

"This would not be a one-off cash injection but a continuing commitment to maintain a minimum standard of provision."

The study said the cost of upgrading all unsafe, unsatisfactory and basic laboratories to a decent level would run to nearly pound;700 million, and an additional pound;510m would needed to be spent on new facilities.

A further pound;188m would be needed to improve preparation areas.

And it said: "Unless science is taught in an up-to-date manner, using modern equipment, there is little likelihood that young people will be motivated to continue their study of science.

"For those who do, there is even less likelihood that they will want to return to schools as teachers."

The study was carried out by CLEAPSS School Science Service - a Brunel university-based advisory service which supports practical school science.

It examined the state of laboratories and how many were not up to date, the cost of refurbishment and the overall cost of bringing all school labs up to an acceptable standard.

It also looked at how much needed to be spent on apparatus, resources and chemicals to provide an effective science education, compared with actual spending.

Questionnaires relating to laboratories were sent to half of the schools in each English local authority, while the others received questions about resources and budgets.

Researchers got a response rate of 42 per cent on laboratories and 26 per cent on resources.

For copies of the report, email science@cleapss.org.uk or see www.cleapss.org.uk

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