Reforming school science education
26 November 2008
The RSC is very concerned about the disappearance of problem-solving, critical thinking and mathematical manipulation from school science examinations and is campaigning to raise awareness of, and ultimately reverse, this unacceptable trend.
What are we doing?
In June 2008, we launched a competition - The Five Decade Challenge - to test school pupils' ability to answer chemistry questions from the 1960s to the present day.
The results showed a serious deficiency in the problem-solving and mathematical abilities amongst pupils in UK schools. This adds to a growing body of evidence that dedicated teachers are working under a system which encourages teaching to the test and which fails to meaningfully differentiate pupils' performance.
We have set up an electronic petition on the 10 Downing Street website to demand that the government reverse the decline in standards of school science examinations.
Show your support by following the link to the petition and signing online now.
Evidence of the erosion in standards
The RSC invited schools from across the UK to nominate their most promising 16-year old scientists to take part in a challenging chemistry examination, which included questions with a mainly mathematical or analytical basis from O-level and GCSE examinations set in the past five decades.
Over 1,300 pupils completed the 40-question, two-hour online test, which was conducted in the form of a competition. The data collected produced the following key findings:
- The average mark for participants was just 25%
- The average score was 15% for questions from the 1960s, rising to 35% for the 2000s
- Questions requiring even simple numerical manipulation posed a high degree of difficulty
A report which is based on these findings is available to download.
These results indicate that school science examinations are becoming increasingly less demanding and pupils are consequently no longer being equipped with the level of problem-solving and quantitative skills our national science base requires.
To ensure a sustainable future for the chemical sciences in the UK, industrialists and senior academics are placing increasing priority on problem-solving and strong mathematical abilities. However the examinations and syllabuses set for 16-year olds in science have moved in the opposite direction.
The Five-Decade Challenge is the latest in a number of studies to highlight the worrying deterioration in educational standards.
Ofsted have reported that too many schools are "teaching to the test" where mathematics is concerned and it was revealed only recently that AQA lowered the pass mark for its GCSE science paper this summer.
According to the Times Educational Supplement, rival board Edexcel awarded C grades in one of its science papers to pupils scoring only 20%.
The consequences of this have been recognised by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), who have identified a serious decline in students' ability to apply mathematics skills across all levels .
We urge you to sign the petition to show your concern for this important issue, to demonstrate your support for science teachers who are striving to inspire their pupils, and for the pupils themselves seeking more challenging qualifications
The Five Decade Challenge Report
A wake-up call for UK science education?
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Number 10 E-petition
Electronic petition on the 10 Downing Street website to demand that the government reverse the decline in standards of school science examinations.
Ofsted's investigation into the teaching of mathematics in schools
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