Science goes to the beauty salon

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
Trips to hairdressers and shops are on the curriculum. Nicola Porter reports

Trips to beauty parlours and supermarkets are making science lessons popular again, according to teachers.

Fresh ways of teaching the subject outside the school lab are being tested in Wales as changes to the curriculum go out to consultation. From September, schools will be able to offer the whole range of new GCSE science options to 14-year-olds.

Revised programmes of study for key stage 4 are expected to follow in 2008, according to new guidance from ACCAC, the qualifications, curriculum and assessment authority for Wales.

However, some heads of department say more support is needed by Welsh businesses to make it workable. One of the aims of the new GCSE is to stop making pupils regurgitate facts, such as PH tables, and make it more relevant to everyday life. This could mean going fishing, visiting a nursery or a even a hairdresser's.

A lot more of the final GCSE marks will rest on coursework that presently accounts for 20 per cent of the final grade. Dr Mark Matthews, head of science at St Joseph's high school in Newport, is already taking lessons out of the lab with the support of keen employers as part of the school's applied science (double award).

He said: "I never hear the word 'boring' from my pupils now. For too long core science was clinical and fact-based. Why learn about the workings of a kidney if you are not going to be doctor?"

However, he also warned that making science more work-related could pose problems with local employers, who were often too busy to cater for pupils.

Changes to the science curriculum are being made in tandem with plans for vocational education in the 14-19 learning pathways.

Tony Lowery, head of science at Chepstow comprehensive school in Monmouthshire, said: "Science is becoming more focused on the key skills - it's actually good fun as well. The new curriculum will offer choice and diversity and be more in tune with the workplace."

But award-winning young scientist Farah Alauddin, 17, warned against being too adventurous. A-level student Farah, from independent Howell's school in Cardiff, recently researched a new drug treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia at Cardiff university.

She said: "Pupils should still be taught the basics. It's important to have a good grounding."

Under the new curriculum, science will be taught by three approaches - the traditional, a science-for-the-citizen approach, and the vocational.

GCSE science will cover core requirements, and most pupils will then study additional science offering a traditional or vocational pathway. The two single GCSEs will replace the current double award. Pupils will also be able to study the three separate sciences.

Less-able pupils below level 3 at the end of KS3 will be able to take entry-level science. It means that pupils will receive two GCSE grades - one for GCSE science and one for GCSE additionalscience.

* nicola.porter@tes.co.uk

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