Science minister hits out at 'deeply flawed' curriculum

4th December 2009 at 00:00
Lord Drayson calls for balance between results and scientific flair

The school science curriculum is "deeply flawed", a government minister admitted this week.

Lord Drayson, science and innovation minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said there was a need to look at the balance between a curriculum driven by assessment and one that allowed pupils to demonstrate scientific talent.

Speaking at a Times Higher Education debate, he also said the Government's approach to science was "not as joined up as it needs to be".

Alom Shaha, a science teacher, told the minister: "Our science education in this country is deeply, deeply flawed and I would like to hear your opinion on that."

Lord Drayson was applauded when he responded: "I think you have got a point. We have to look at whether we have got the balance right."

He said it was the balance between a curriculum driven by "the qualifications and the results achieved" and one that provided the training needed to "give young people who are choosing science the ability to feel that this is something that they can be a part of".

It needed to allow those with a "real talent" in science "to be able to show and demonstrate that talent".

His remarks are the second time this year a senior government figure has spoken out and criticised ministers' policy on science in schools.

In February, Professor Adrian Smith, director general of science and innovation at the then Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, suggested ministers were educating "the masses" at the expense of equipping the most able with the skills needed by universities and industry.

In comments revealed by The TES, the senior civil servant also warned of ministerial rhetoric exaggerating improvements in science education and "insidious" health and safety legislation stifling scientific curiosity in schools.

This week Mr Shaha, who teaches physics in an inner-London comprehensive, told the debate that the Government's idea of developing a curriculum for different pupils that offered "science for citizens" and "science for scientists" was a fundamentally good idea.

"But I don't think we have cracked it," he said. "In the process of doing that we have let down our future scientists because what is evident is that we are not preparing pupils for A-levels and university."

Lord Drayson said: "The concerns that have gathered weight around the curriculum are things we take really seriously and are working on. We should recognise the improvement made in terms of the proportion of young people choosing sciences."

Part of that increase is due to the introduction of the controversial 21st century science GCSE in 2006 in an attempt to make the subject more appealing. It covers topics such as global warming, genetically modified crops and the cloning of stem cells.

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