Brussels, 28 Jun 2004
School science exams in the UK are failing to prepare young adults for their future careers and studies, the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science, has warned.
The warning follows the publication of a report by King's College London on the assessment of science for 14 to 19 year olds. The report claims that secondary school and college science does not assess a broad enough range of skills, and instead focuses on preparing students for exams and mastering standardised and predictable experiments. The skills demanded by employers and universities are thus overlooked.
'Getting pupils to learn to conduct overly simplistic practical scientific experiments, which never go wrong, does not give them a sense of the dynamism of real scientific research,' said Professor Mick Brown, chair of the Royal Society's steering group on assessment of school science. 'We need a system of assessment that fuels pupils' enthusiasm for the subject by opening up this exciting world of problem solving, discovery and innovation while at the same time supporting their factual learning.'
In the short term, the Royal Society is therefore recommending that the UK government's exam supervisory body, and the bodies that set exams, both encourage the assessment of a wider range of skills in secondary school science. The academy believes that this could be done by cutting back on examinations in favour of ongoing assessment.
'[Teachers'] professional skills and time must be better utilised to teach and assess science in a way that helps pupils succeed in science careers and as informed members of a society as well as in exams,' said Professor Brown. 'This means encouraging analytical skills and using an exam as a tool to help pupils learn and become enthused rather than simply as a means to qualification.'
The Royal Society has support for its recommendations from the scientific teaching community: 'Science teaching should be about equipping young people with an understanding of the subject so that they can engage intelligently with difficult issues like global warming, stem cell research and GM [genetically modified] foods as well as inspiring those with an aptitude to science towards further study and careers,' said Michael Terry, a science teacher from London.
The study on science assessment has been carried out in the context of a fall in the number of young people choosing to enter a scientific career. 'At a time when critically few 16 year olds are choosing to continue to study science, and institutions face crippling problems in recruiting and retaining talented science teachers, the role of assessment in science learning can neither be ignored nor allowed to continue to be unreasonably distorted by the many different public and political priorities placed upon it,' warns the Royal Society. To read the Royal Society's policy statement on assessment of science learning, please visit: http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/education/asse ssment/