Science lessons lack expertise

17th March 2000 at 00:00
Survey shows 11 to 14-year-olds are learning from teachers who only studied up to GCSE level. Sarah Cassidy reports

NEARLY 40 per cent of science teachers who teach biology or physics to 11 to 14-year-olds have not studied the subject beyond GCSE, according to a new Government-commissioned report.

Almost one in five teachers deliver key stage 3 chemistry without an A-level in the subject, a survey for the Government's science advisers found.

GCSE students tended to be taught by better qualified teachers, the survey of 2,355 teachers for the Council for Science and Technology confirmed.

But nearly 30 per cent of physics teachers, 26 per cent of biology teachers and 13 per cent of chemistry teachers took GCSE classes even though they did not have an A-level in the subject.

Many primary teachers do not even have GCSE-level science qualifications. Nearly half of those surveyed did not have GCSE physics or its equivalent; 42 per cent did not have chemistry and 19 per cent biology.

Teachers of science GCSE students are less confident than their key stage 3 colleagues that they can deliver the curriculum, academics Justin Dillon and Jonathan Osbourne of King's College London found.

Their survey, commissioned by the Council for Science and Technology, showed teacher confidence and time spent training dropped dramatically after the end of the first induction year.

The King's report concluded: "More systematic, high quality provision is badly needed, and would contribute hugely to raising school standards and effectiveness in terms of the science education pupils receive during their compulsory schooling."

Te report recommended that all science teachers receive continuous, subject-specific, classroom based professional development. It called for the Government to establish a new "centre of excellence" to ensure a wide range of training for all science teachers.

Earlier this month, schools minister Jacqui Smith announced a grant of pound;41,000 for the Association for Science Education to extend its in-service training programme to an Open University scheme.

The Office for Standards in Education has found that 11 to 14-year-olds receive more poor lessons than any other age group.

Speaking at the North of England education conference in January David Blunkett said he was concerned that, in the nine terms between ages 11 and 14, the average pupil only made six terms' progress. He said: "We are simply not taking advantage of our internationally recognised success in primary science, and in other subjects the story is little better. No wonder then, that by age thirteen, many pupils are bored and a significant minority are disaffected."

Rebecca Edwards, chair of the Association for Science Education, blamed teacher shortages for the "surprising and worrying" figures. She added: "Many science teachers do have to teach outside their specialist subject because of the serious shortage of well-qualified science teachers but I am surprised that so many are teaching GCSE classes. They will need particular support. It is not surprising many do not feel confident."

"Science Teachers: a report on supporting and developing the profession of science teaching in primary and secondary schools in England" is available on

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