Tailor the subject to all levels of ability

7th December 2007 at 00:00
I have been reading a lot in newspapers recently that examination boards are thinking of making science questions in exams easier. At the same time everybody is agreed that we are short of good-quality science teachers and graduates. Are we going to be happy that the few science graduates we have in future will be less knowledgeable?

There has been a trend to make science easier for many years. Its concepts are far too difficult for many pupils. We have seen coursework and modular multiple-choice questions introduced, and science courses with the more difficult topics removed.

However, if the subject is diluted any more it will be barely recognisable. It is being watered down to make the subject accessible to more pupils and motivate them to like it more. But is this the way forward? I believe not.

Clearly, for most pupils the three separate sciences at GCSE are inappropriate. But those who want to study it at A-level, or as a career, need the present academic rigour.

The others need only a general science education. Double science takes up a large chunk of the curriculum at the moment and this must be purgatory for these pupils and will further switch them off from the subject.

The present fact-based curriculum offers a sterile learning environment but is essential for some. I believe we should keep the rigorous, more academic sciences separate while maintaining a basic compulsory curriculum. Practical science should be included to enthuse pupils, and its enjoyment should help motivation.

Pupils also need to understand the part played by experiments, and especially the subject's changing nature. They seem to think science is always right. Karl Popper, the 20th-century science philosopher, believed that scientific enquiry is tentative and is updated in the light of new knowledge and should be taught with examples to illustrate this fact. The part it plays in industry should also be taught. Those pupils who do not sit three separate science GCSEs should continue, as at present, to the end of KS3.

But should pupils doing the basic science curriculum have to sit a GCSE exam?

Perhaps a certificate or diploma - internally assessed by teachers, stating a successful completion of the course - would be better.

Not all pupils have an aptitude for the subject, but at least the diploma would ensure they realise that society values the contribution it makes to the world.

Jim Goodall is a retired science teacher from Torfaen.

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