YouTube rather than the test tube if we do not save science now

It is a crucial month for those who love science and want to see that passion passed on to the next generation of schoolchildren as the teaching of practical science in schools is on a knife-edge.

Ofqual is threatening to scrap controlled practical assessments at GCSE in favour of an additional written element to exams giving pupils the chance to show that they understand the practical side of various experiments.

Teachers have until February 4 to make their views known before Ofqual moves forward with its proposals and only an overwhelming ‘no’ is likely to make any difference to their plans.

Only last year I expressed my concern when an Ofsted report warned of a large number of schools where pupils were already spending their potential practical sessions taking notes. Now it seems Ofqual wants to make this a reality.

Most schools already struggle to attract experienced science teachers because of the knock-on effect of several generations of lower standards in the teaching of sciences.

What hope have we got for the future of today’s students and the next generation if children end up only watching practical science – at best performed by their own teacher but unable to take part and experiment themselves – or worse still – overseen by inexperienced science teachers who are incapable to performing the experiments themselves – perhaps showing them a film of how to perform the experiment.

It sounds likes an Orwellian nightmare of the past – but today’s students could end up being taught science by watching it on YouTube. It will literally be a case of YouTube instead of the test tube!

As a chemist, I am deeply concerned about plans to reform practical science at GCSE and A level: like many, my earliest memories were of experimenting in the classroom and the sheer joy of doing so.

Academics and the science industry are at one of this issue – what hope do we have for the creative, scientific brains of the future if we stultify their passion for a subject before it has even been ignited?

It is time to say No to these proposals and to protect the science education of our students and future students.


Jo Heywood, Headmistress, Heathfield School

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