Skewed science

13th June 2008 at 01:00
The impressive 90 per cent of science teachers with a relevant qualification reported in last week's staffing survey ("Rising levels of expertise serve rich areas best", TES, June 6) counts a general science training as enough to teach each of the separate sciences
The impressive 90 per cent of science teachers with a relevant qualification reported in last week's staffing survey ("Rising levels of expertise serve rich areas best", TES, June 6) counts a general science training as enough to teach each of the separate sciences. While not wanting to devalue the work of the 16 per cent of science teachers with a general background, being taught by specialist teachers has been shown to enhance student performance.

The article notes the impact of social disadvantage on maths teaching. In the sciences, schools in disadvantaged areas not only have fewer specialists, but school type has a huge impact on the curriculum. Latest figures show just over a quarter of mainstream schools offer separate science GCSEs, compared with nearly three-quarters of independents. No doubt correspondingly, only about a tenth of students take at least one science A-level in mainstream schools, compared with about a third at grammars and independents.

These issues tie in with your recent gender, race and class series, and a recent Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education report found these factors have a high impact in science, technology, engineering and maths. With regard to race and gender, the white male scientist stereotype is still evident; without role models to counter it, it is hard to shift.

Sadly, teachers often reinforce this stereotype. You reported how black Carribbean pupils were not entered for higher science and maths papers at appropriate rates, and they are typically encouraged on to more vocational courses. As for gender, research shows science teachers give more time to boys, have higher expectations of them, and give them more credit than girls for the same performance.

There have been many initiatives to improve matters, but progress remains slow. Schemes are often run without proper assessment or targeting. pound;1.5 million has been made available for extra-curricular science in schools with many students from under-represented ethnic minorities. That funding might be better spent on ensuring that schools have properly qualified science and maths teachers and offer separate sciences.

Dr Hilary Leevers, Assistant director, Campaign for Science and Engineering, London.

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