Comment »Posted on Monday 11 August 2008 at 2:55 pm by Jacob Aron
In Education

How should GCSE students be taught science? The Confederation of British Industry thinks that more students should be taking “Triple science”, with separate lessons for physics, biology and chemistry and three GCSEs at the end. Currently only 7% of students take Triple science, with the rest taking Double or Single science GCSEs which combine all three subjects in to one set of lessons.

The CBI say there are not enough pupils learning science and the needs of industry, particularly the energy industry, are not being met. They propose that 14-year-olds who gain a Level 6 in their SATs should automatically be put forward for a Triple science GCSE – but with the option to “opt-out” and take Double science. Director-General of the CBI Richard Lambert said:

“Young people are missing out. They are doing better than ever in science tests at 14, but hardly any are going on to study Triple science GCSE, despite the opportunities and learning it offers. We need to create an environment in schools that reflects the importance of science, and the value of studying it. We also need to send an unambiguous message to young people who are good at science that science as a career can be fascinating and worthwhile, and will reward you well.”

Are pupils not taking Triple science because it isn’t being offered and encouraged, or because science is an unpopular subject? There is already a shortage of chemistry and physics teachers, and providing lessons in all three subjects would only increase demand – which is perhaps why Triple science isn’t currently widely taught. I think, however, that pupils impressions of science is as big a problem as the lack of teachers. When I was at school, cries of “Sir, when am I ever going to need to know this?” were a common occurrence in science lessons.

The problem is the usual one. Science is viewed as only for the scientists. It’s something alien, that “ordinary” people don’t need to know about. By the time pupils reach Year 10 and choose their GCSEs, they’ve probably already made their mind up about science, and the portrayal of science in the media plays a huge part in their decision. I think changing this is more important than quibbling over the choice of two or three GCSEs. Get more pupils interested in science and the depth can come later at A-level – after all, science A-levels are already split into subject, and are essential to a scientific career. The end result, an increase in British scientists, will be the same.

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