We are putting the best principles of CfE at risk

4th May 2012 at 01:00

Science and the appliance of science are central to our economic future, and to our health and well-being as individuals and as a society," declares the Education Scotland website. So when the final documents for the National qualifications were published this week, four new subjects were added to "help meet the future needs of Scotland's economy": lifeskills mathematics; environmental science; computing science and engineering science (page 5).

Creating a new curriculum for the 21st century has enabled policymakers to look ahead to what will be required, and the sciences are high on that agenda. So, too, is practical, active learning - an essential tenet of Curriculum for Excellence, for this is a "hands on" curriculum to enthuse children and give them the skills and understanding required for their future careers.

The guidance for engineering science, for example, includes advice on practical metalworking and stipulates that it "reflects the specific context of a school with particular facilities and equipment". In environmental science, it suggests pupils visit farms and take soil samples, set up insect traps to compare biodiversity, or do investigations into acid rain. In computing science, they can design their own software.

The success of these subjects - and of the curriculum itself - depends on schools having the necessary equipment. But in order to have that equipment, they need the science budgets to pay for it and the technicians to maintain it.

This week's News Focus reveals that some of the best principles of CfE could be at risk (pages 12-15). A secondary school with a roll of 1,000 pupils has a science budget of #163;4,000 for the year; another with 700 pupils has #163;1,000 - and half or more of those are going on photocopying, as textbooks no longer match the curriculum and teachers are obliged to make their own materials for pupils.

"There is no additional funding for any equipment under CfE, or for that matter, for Nationals 4 and 5," we are told. "If a major piece of equipment breaks down, we can't replace it or repair it. We just have to quietly drop any associated experiments."

At the same time, technicians' posts are being cut to make savings, and those who remain can find their hours reduced and their duties extended across the school. One union estimates technician posts have been cut by 25 to 30 per cent in two years.

So where does that leave practical work, "the core of science, technology and engineering", according to the government's Science and Engineering Education Advisory Group? In a precarious situation. Industry may be crying out for better investigative skills, and 5,000 people may have helped create the curriculum to deliver them - but if the resources and technical staff are lacking, they will be 20th-century lessons in make do and mend.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor of the year (business and professional). gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk.

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