Surely that's banned! - Many schools not sure what is allowed in the lab
06 July 2006
Unfounded concerns over health and safety are hampering practical science teaching in schools, says the RSC.
Dr Colin Osborne, the RSC's schools and colleges education manager, made the statement while giving evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology (6 July 2006).
He said: "The RSC was so concerned about teachers perceiving particular experiments to be banned for no reason that we commissioned a survey - 'Surely that's banned' - to find out how widespread the problem was.
"Further problems occurred where teachers were teaching outside the subject specialism - for example, a biology teacher teaching chemistry.
"We found there are significant misunderstandings about the chemicals and scientific activities which are banned in secondary schools, and some teaching is inhibited by unjustified concerns about health and safety. This was often a case of 'Chinese whispers.'
"Schools need to ensure there is a better understanding of what is banned and what is not to enable them to teach exciting but safe science."
Dr Osborne said that the visually spectacular thermite reaction - which produces molten iron sparks and a plume of smoke - would be one which many adults remembered from their school days.
The experiment - which involves cheap and easily obtained materials - was a perfect example of one which some schools thought was banned.
Dr Osborne said: "Because it is so spectacular, some teachers think it must be banned. But as long as the experiment is carried out behind a safety screen and from a reasonable distance - and pupils all wear goggles - it can be carried out perfectly safely."
The Lords Committee, headed by Lord Broers, also looked into whether the government's Next Steps targets - to encourage more students to take A-levels in Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Maths - were realistic.
Dr Osborne said: "It may be better to focus on increasing the transfer rate - that is the proportion of students going on take science at university."
Dr Osborne, along with representatives from other learned organisations, said he welcomed the latest GCSE science specifications.
But he added: "It is now vitally important we get the A-levels right so that more students carry on to university level."
Surely that's banned?
The RSC has published a new report uncovering some of misconceptions in many schools regarding chemicals and procedures thought to be banned
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