Teachers must save science

15th September 2006 at 01:00
Every year, innovative schemes to banish dull teaching and excite pupils are unveiled at the Association of Science Education's big annual gathering. This week in Norwich, they ranged from the mathematics of morris dancing to the science in science fiction. A pilot scheme in Essex that links teachers to scientists in the classroom is injecting human interest and practical relevance into lessons.

Yet, every year, we also hear reports of the inexorable decline in the take-up of science at A-level. Popularity of physics - the driest science - is always the measure. Here, student numbers have slumped by half since 1982, from 56,000 to 28,000.

Why has this happened when, for most of that time, a "radical" national curriculum was in place to stop the rot? The answer is that what we see at the ASE is the exception, not the rule. Science higher up the school is too often boring, abstract, mundane and far from pupil-friendly. And the obsession with university entry makes for a dull curriculum.

Pupils are not fooled. Paradoxically, the more interesting teachers make science in the early years, the more tedious GCSEs and A-levels appear. The result is not just the decline of physics. Instead of everyone taking science for all, we have dwindling numbers taking science for the few. The consequences are felt beyond schools in a lack of scientific literacy among the public.

The creative spur that can help change this must come from schools and colleges. The ASE charter science teachers - the first 10 of whom receive the Queen's official seal of approval next week - should be in the vanguard. But that requires the scheme to be more than just a tool for personal career development and a short-cut to higher pay. As in engineering, accountancy and surveying, the creation of a charter should bring with it increased clout for the ASE and other professional associations, especially in its influence on the curriculum.

It is worth trying. Successive governments have failed to make the national curriculum for science work. Scientists and science teachers may do better.

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