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Too-safe science

Are strange smells and small-scale explosions becoming endangered species in school science labs?

Evidence presented to a Lords committee strongly suggests that teachers' fear of ending up in court means pupils are doing less hands-on experimentation. Dissections - no longer compulsory on any syllabus - are increasingly unlikely, given animal rights sensitivities.

The result is that the inspiring bits of the subject - which might transform a bored, spotty 13-year-old into an aspiring scientist - are disappearing. Watching your teacher do an experiment is all very well, but doesn't even remotely compare with the un of doing it yourself.

English 14-year-olds are good at science: they recently came ninth in an international survey. Researchers noted their lessons contained more practicals than elsewhere.

The Association for Science Education is campaigning for the curriculum to be more relevant to real 21st-century science. And it wants health and safety regulations to differentiate more between school labs and giant chemical conglomerates.

Schools need everyone's support in this: being over-cautious is a safe option in these litigious days. But we can't risk turning off a single potential young scientist.

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