Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Weep for science in schools under Labour

I have a difficult task ahead of me. That's trying to see through the image the local secondary schools present to see what they are actually like, how and what they teach and whether to entrust my children to them.

I have made a reasonable living of my schooling in science and subsequent education and training as an Engineer. Some of my school colleagues went into the city ( I'm guessing they are very rich by now ), but I had a strange affinity with the idea of producing something.

It hasn't paid fantastically, but its paid okay ( although loads of public servants now seem to get paid stacks more cash and get gold plated pensions for reasons that aren't apparent to me on first inspection. )

So I'd like my kids to have that opportunity.

The only problem is that science has closed for business in state schools.

I went on a tour of one this week and had a look through the AQA curriculum books. All highly entertaining - and yes in had science in there somewhere - interspaced with what can only be described as entertainment.

Take a look at the speed kills task to the left. I'm afraid the picture wasn't too good, but what it suggests is that

A local radio station wants your help to make a thirty second road safety slot aimed at car drivers. The idea is to repeat the slot every hour. With the help of your friends decide what message to put across then plan and record it. You could put the message across as a newsflash or a catchy jingle.

So F=ma doesn't get much of a look in then ?

What was clearly missing from the book and the class room was any indication of the basic discipline that make up science.

The concern is all to entertain and make relevant, but in doing so the basics seem to be missed.

Science is no longer taught as an progressive discovery, with experiments backing each phase, but as some sort of government propaganda indoctrination scheme.

Michael Gove cited a few examples from Science GCSE papers in his speech today - and there's plenty more where that came from !

Private schools are giving up on the government's favoured dumbed down propaganda heavy qualifications ( will you get your Physics GCSE if you argue - and most sceptical scientists do these days that the world is getting colder and humans aren't forcing climate change - its good science, but poor politics ) and turning to the international GCSE or even 'O' Level ( and it still does exist ).

Indeed I looked over the O level sample papers that exist and the tasks and thinking involved are by far closer to the real world of work than the touchy feely "what do you think" group therapy that passes for a science GCSE.

In my tour of the maths dept of one school I spotted things like a display of the 9 planets in the Milky Way ( come on Sir ! ). No wonder their Ofsted report kept going on about their problems with Maths - and quite frankly how can you be a technology college without maths the language of science functioning well ?

In the science department of course the compulsory Ed Miliband approved - Al Gore believing, Global Warming propaganda. See below:

There were even biology posters that I know are out of date on the wall - just by watching the evening news ! ( The Lab technicians were allowed a half naked man on their door - imagine the outcry if it had been a woman. Clearly no one is in charge of this department. )

No wonder top Universities find that hard science and engineering places are increasingly dominated by privately educated children. ( Note this was not always so - but its got much worse under Labour and they take their strategy of deceitful falsehoods to try and create a fantasy narrative about education ). This goes on to mean many professions will be closed of to many children because of Labour's campaign of fantasy education.

My great fear is that as exchange rates change and the Chinese decide to enjoy the fruits of their labours we will have none of the skills required to build phones, microchips, TV's ( last plant closed this year ) or even Piano's ( last UK manufacture closes this year ).

Despite what some of our socialist friends might have deluded themselves to think we can't all work in public services pushing paper round in circles and attending diversity awareness training sessions.

I can see a day coming when those who live in the East will consider the sort of economic sanctions against us, to coerce our policies, that we once used against them.

Sir James Dyson sees the importance of this. He's spent a lot of time trying to convince the Labour government as has now given up on them to come and talk to the Conservative conference in Manchester.

And Michael Gove is absolutely spot on with his instincts here. ( He gets a lot of stick - perhaps due to things beyond his control - but often people like that have developed steely determination and I hope its the case with him ).

Only a Conservative government can save science education in England from its terminal decline under Labour and give every young citizen their fair chance at making their way in this world.

Other opinion: Channel 4 ( which means left wing ) have done one of their fact check exercises on Michael Groves statements which is worth a read as it include EdExcel's repsonses on the points raided. They also provide a link to Michael Gove's speech here.

There argument is essentially that Science GCSE's need to cover a wide range of ability and there was more to the questions than Michael stated.

However having just lost an hour or two reading International O level question papers over at the University of Cmabridge's international examinations site here I am just trying to work out how I can get my kids to take and pass them. Becuase they contain the basis that a profession can be built on in the physical sciences. I am very unimpressed by the GCSE material I've come across with respect to state schools.

Yes people will go on about the need to cover the ability range - but that's where the dumbing down accusation hits Labour like a Exocet missile just above the water line.

Why can't my taxes pay for my children to be educated in way that is actually useful for their futures ?


James Higham said...

An excellent piece, MiaS.

I went on a tour of one this week and had a look through the AQA curriculum books. All highly entertaining - and yes in had science in there somewhere - interspaced with what can only be described as entertainment.

Sadly this is the case across the curriculum. In fact, I ran the GCSE physics theory with a Class 6 and the top mark was 35% unprepared.

Mrs R said...

"Why can't my taxes pay for my children to be educated in way that is actually useful for their futures?"

None of this helps you choose a school, but ask yourself the following...

How many schools offer one or more European language at GCSE? - So that British children can compete with their European counterparts in the European job market?

How many secondary schools are now Drama, Performing Arts or Sports "Colleges"? - Offering fun subjects, rather than academic rigour.

How many secondary schools offer separate sciences at GCSE? - Instead offering a single subject called "Science" that gives more than one "pass", but doesn't give a grounding in practical or experimental science essential in higher education.

How many other countries would accept around 40% as an average pass for a GCSE equivalent Maths qualification? - And be proud of the results!

How many other countries fail to ensure that their children are literate in their mother tongue? - Read some of the comments in the Mail and see how few adults know how to spell!

How many countries will socially engineer university admissions to ensure that the qualification is downgraded simply because it's commonplace?

measured said...

Great post. For all the teacher training that goes on, I cannot understand how so many teachers forget fundamentals of good teaching; they fail to show individual, specific, explicit interest in each student. Feedback for work undertaken is so important, not for a long, just enough time to show they have noted the individual's areas of strength and then questioned and listened to why something was wrong. It takes dedication. It is not all about lesson plans.

Couple this with teachers choosing dumbed down exams because this will make them appear to have greater teaching success and rank the school higher in league tables and it becomes a vicious circle. Ofsted has difficulty tackling it. Parents need to be better informed, more discerning and demonstrative, but the difficulty lies in communicating this without an outcry.

The Half-Blood Welshman said...

"The Lab technicians were allowed a half naked man on their door"

Now there's an image to conjure with - even though I imagine it was only in poster form!

Things have gone downhill in 10 years since my day - we had posters of one male, one female nude body, anatomically accurate, to show muscles, circulations etc. They were covered by the requisite fig leaf in a "certain place". I never did find out what the lab technicians put up - given the school I went to, they probably really did have Page 3.

After the light-hearted interlude, even as someone who abandoned science as boring, it is depressing to read about the nine planets of the Milky Way. Thanks for the warning MIAS.

ScienceGuy said...

Science teachers have not dumbed down the curriculum - we have to teach what the government ttells us to. It does not help the students - current GCSEs leave them woefully unprepared for A level and only pupils getting close to 100% on their exams can realistically hope to get close to an A grade. The core (compulsory) GCSE is more about politics thsn science and it consists of all the boring parts without the chance to do any practical work. My most able pupils become disruptive as they can master the concepts in 5 minutes and then feel patronised by the content. I would love to teach iGCSE or O level science but currently can not as the government eill not allow it in league tables but do allow a mickey mouse BTEC course which is worth 2 C grades at GCSE but can be taught in just 18 hours of teaching time. I am hopeful that things will improve under a future conservative administration but who knows?

Man in a Shed said...

@ScienceGuy - Interestingly I went to a school yesterday that gets some of its top pupils to take the iGCSE as well as the govt approved version, so they are not disadvantaged.

I think you are right - schools will get the freedom, if you use it , unless something terrible happens and Labour stay in power.

Chin up - change is coming soon.