What exactly can Harrow tell us about social mobility?

29th January 2010 at 00:00

As head of science at a comprehensive school I would like to respond to the comments made by Harrow headteacher Barnaby Lenon.

The Government has spent huge sums on a laudable campaign to increase state school students' interest in becoming scientists and engineers, while simultaneously distorting the curriculum to make it more "accessible" and "relevant" - in ways that make it more difficult for those pupils to learn enough science to follow it as a career.

Content has been steadily removed over the last few years in the name of accessibility.

That which remains is largely chosen to illustrate wider "societal" themes without sufficient regard to the theoretical coherence of the science being taught.

I was told at a recent training day that "It's all about skills now - they can look up facts on Google".

Would you want to be treated by a doctor who has spent five years honing her evaluation skills instead of mastering those tedious old anatomy facts?

The IGCSE exam, which retains a coherent conceptual structure, cannot be offered in state schools as it "doesn't conform to the science subject criteria" (the very cause of the problem).

The two-tier system is returning to British education with a vengeance.

Are we happy with independent school students learning about electromagnetic induction while their comprehensive peers have to grapple with assessment criteria such as "identify the use of evidence and creative thinking by scientists in the development of scientific ideas", when they have little clear idea of what those scientific ideas are?

University scientists (as distinct from the culprits in the education departments) are belatedly showing signs of waking up to the situation, while the media and the wider political class, dominated by arts graduates, appear to be blissfully unaware of the implications.

While the UK panics about being overtaken in science and technology by overseas competitors, the IGCSE is doing a roaring trade with ... schools in those competitor countries.

Andrew Urwin, Head of science at a comprehensive, Umberleigh, Devon.

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