More choice and practical work will turn pupils on to science

20th February 2009 at 00:00

As one of the successors to Sidney Pask, Robert Winston's teacher at St Paul's School, I echo Lord Winston's views on the importance of practical work and dissection in science ("My best teacher", TES Magazine, February 13).

By the end of this year, my pupils will have performed whole-animal dissections of earthworms, lugworms, horse leeches, locusts, garden snails, mussels, squid, sea urchins, fish, frogs, rats and birds. They've also done partial dissections of sheep kidneys, hearts, lungs and eyes, cow stomachs and pig trotters. They've bred fruit flies in bottles, done water quality analysis on the Thames and given lead poisoning to bananas.

I'm sure Sid would have been delighted to learn that much of this has precious little to do with any syllabus and everything to do with generating enthusiasm. Extra-curricular biology and chemistry clubs are hugely popular, with boys queuing up to crystallise flavones or engineer antibiotic resistant bacteria in their lunchtimes.

These practicals and dissections are carried out not only by our own pupils, but also by pupils from our four state partnership schools as part of our expanding outreach programme.

We're hugely proud of the palpable buzz of excitement within our science department. And practical science teaching, where pupils learn by doing, leads to a high take-up for science A-levels.

I am, of course, privileged to be able to support such an extensive programme of practical work and have every sympathy for overstretched, underfunded heads of department in other schools who would love to offer their pupils comparable opportunities. I believe government should provide ring-fenced funding specifically to expand practical science provision in all schools. This will be much more effective in attracting young people to science than continued erosion of the content of GCSE and A-level syllabi.

Bill Burnett, Head of biology, St Paul's School, London.

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