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Students shy away from 'difficult' science

Decline of science education, part 534

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Students are abandoning "difficult" science A-levels in favour of "funky" subjects like media studies and psychology, according to a report from the House of Lords. Physics take-up has been particularly affected, the Lords said.

The report, entitled Science Teaching in Schools, notes a decade-long decline in the numbers of students taking science and maths at A-level. It attributed the decline, at least in part, to fashion, but said that the problem had been exacerbated by "teaching to test", school league tables and misplaced health and safety fears. It also noted the shortage of science teachers, and chastised the government for failing to follow through on a promised £200m investment in school science labs.

Teaching to test meant that teachers were confining their instruction to a narrow and uninspiring set of methods, the report warned. Meanwhile, changes to the way Ofsted carries out its inspections mean that poor teaching might not be picked up.

More seriously, however, the Lords noted that as well as being perceived as being more difficult, there was some evidence that science and maths subjects actually are more taxing than Media Studies. [In related news, the sky has been confirmed as blue, and last week, the sea was found to be wet.]

The Lords said that the contention that all A-levels are given equal weight, as put forward by the Department for Education and Skills and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, was "unconvincing", the BBC reports.

It also cited anecdotal evidence that some students are steered away from difficult subjects by schools concerned that lower grades might negatively affect the standing of the school in league tables.

Lord Broers, the chairman of the committee behind the report, called for the post-16 curriculum to be broadened.

He said: "We call on the government to look again at a diploma or baccalaureate system, which would enable students to keep studying science and maths along with other subjects, reducing the tendency for them to drop science entirely for 'easier' subjects after their GCSEs. The Welsh Assembly Government has recognised the need to broaden post-16 education - the Westminster Government needs to catch up." ®

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