Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 159 - 176)




  Mr Dhanda is going to be asking the questions this time.

Mr Dhanda

  159. We are going to talk about how to make science more interesting and relevant. Obviously by having more dissection taking place! Other than dissection, how do we make it more interesting?

  (Ashley Clarkson) One of the questions we focussed on on the website was, in GCSE science should more emphasis be on understanding why or how things work? The most popular response was why, which is different from the current situation where students are asked to describe how a system works. 55 per cent of people said they could describe how but a lot less than that actually said they wanted to know how to describe it, so they seemed to be more interested in knowing why things worked rather than how.

  160. Does anybody else have any views?
  (Yasmin Akram) A lot of people want more relevant issues such as GM foods and cloning being taught. We do touch on them but we do not go into detail. We see it on the news and we see all the media about it but we do not really understand how it works.

  161. Is that a problem with the syllabus? Somebody said before that it was not flexible enough.
  (Yasmin Akram) I think it should take into account current affairs and things going on.
  (Vicky Parkin) It is not being taught at the moment. The only place people hear of it is on the news. Everyone's views are coming from the media at the moment, they do not know much about it and they are getting biased views because it is not being taught in schools.
  (Christopher Gascoyne) I sit in on a Year 8 science group and I help in lessons, and it is interesting watching them because they really want to know what is going on out in the world but they are confined to the text books. It seems to me it would make it more interesting having it taught in the syllabus.

  162. So if you could add anything at all to the syllabus to change it, what would you do? What would you add or take out?
  (Christopher Gascoyne) Aside from the normal course, I would have personal research projects where people can actually choose an issue they want to debate, go away and do some research and think about it properly. So you have the element of choice, which came out in the regional meetings and the survey, and you can decide which issues you want to discuss and learn about.
  (Vicky Parkin) Maybe have debates every few lessons on a current issue and have some people who have researched it.

  163. What about in terms of teaching and the way teachers teach? Is there anything that could be changed to make it more interesting or more relevant to what you do?
  (Christopher Gascoyne) The problem is that there is not enough room in the syllabus to have time in class to have debates. It is a matter of setting some time aside. It is so rushed, as colleagues have said before me. If a teacher is away and you get a week behind, they get concerned about the syllabus.
  (Yasmin Akram) I think we should consider more open-ended questions in exams so that people can take topics of their own interest. They decide they want to study a topic, they study it, and then an exam question can ask for a current issue with relevance to science and they can write about that rather than everybody having to study the same topics.

  164. As well as having that kind of flexibility which you are talking about, and talking about what is happening in the world, how useful do you think the science you are being taught is to you in the real world?
  (Christopher Gascoyne) That is one of the problems. We have never really had it explained to us how useful science can be to us—the sort of careers we can do—it has never really come up in lessons. If we were sat down and told where science could take us and why it is relevant, that would help.
  (Vicky Parkin) A lot of people drop it because they do not realise what they can do with it.

  165. What can they do with it? What is it you can do with science which you would like to do in an ideal world?
  (Ashley Clarkson) It really just depends on your aims in life. You really only go on to study science if you wanted a job which was to do with science. If you wanted to be an author, you would not continue with science, but science can lead you into jobs which involve science and people interested in that sort of thing would want to continue with it.

  166. What about yourselves? Are you all interested enough to carry on in science? Do you all want to carry on? Ashley, you do not want to carry on?
  (Ashley Clarkson) No, I do want to carry on.
  (Christopher Gascoyne) I am hoping to carry on into medicine.
  (Vicky Parkin) I am doing general science but I am not carrying on with it next year.
  (Yasmin Akram) I want to do medicine.

  167. So we have a few doctors in our midst. You also looked at how different people, depending on what they have studied, whether a single science, double science or triple science, end up feeling about science and how interesting it is to their lives. Was there a difference between what depth of science had actually been studied and what their view of it was?
  (Ashley Clarkson) Yes. One of the questions asked was, what GCSE science should be taught with a view to, and most people said it should be based on relevant issues. One of the things which did change between single, double and triple award, was that more triple award people thought it should be based with a view to post-16 studies than double award people thought, which was more than single award people thought, which is what you would expect really. That would suggest that it would make sense to have a different syllabus for each award.

  168. Can you explain that a bit more, a different syllabus?
  (Ashley Clarkson) Because single, double and triple award responses wanted different things out of GCSE science, if single, double and triple awards got separate syllabuses which had different material in them, it would give the students the chance to get what they wanted from it.

  169. Okay. A couple more things. Something which has been mentioned a fair bit by the other groups is the things you have to do like maths, which you may or may not find directly relevant to what you do. If you take something out of the science syllabus, what sort of thing would you be looking to take out from what you do?
  (Vicky Parkin) Something which came up at my regional meeting was the Haber process, things which are a bit specialised when you are doing general science at GCSE.

  170. I cannot even remember what the Haber process was! Anything else?
  (Ashley Clarkson) It would be less of repeating the same things over and over.

  171. What sort of things?
  (Ashley Clarkson) Like the anatomy of the plant. I do not do biology any more so—


  172. Cutting up buttercups?
  (Ashley Clarkson) Yes. Buoyancy, these were the kind of things we did again and again. They were really simple ideas but they got drilled into us again and again.

Mr Dhanda

  173. I want to come back to a couple of other things. One of the other groups mentioned dissection. Do you need more of that? Do you all feel that way? Can we go across the table starting with yourself, Yasmin?
  (Yasmin Akram) I think it is quite good to be able to do dissection because I remember we did a pig's heart dissection and that was really interesting because you can see where all the air tubes are and things like that.

  174. Do you agree with Yasmin?
  (Vicky Parkin) I suppose so. It is easier to see when you are looking at it when it is actually there rather than in a picture, but there are limitations as to what you can do with health and safety.

  175. Chris, for interest's sake, are you going to disagree?
  (Christopher Gascoyne) Hands-on experience, there is nothing like it. You cannot get the same other than by having it in front of you, scalpel in hand.

  176. The final word, Ashley?
  (Ashley Clarkson) I was not that fussed about it. It was just a practical experience. All it did was create variety in the course, and variety is good everywhere in education because it helps you remember things more clearly.

  Mr Dhanda: Thank you for your contribution.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. We are going to have a lot of cardio-vascular surgeons in the next generation too!

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 14 May 2002