Government must cut the Gordian knot of vested interest in education

13 May 2010

The new coalition government must cut the Gordian knot of UK secondary education, and liberate teachers and pupils to propel this country towards future prosperity, the Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry will say tonight.

Dr Richard Pike will speak in Scunthorpe at a dinner for leaders of the chemicals industry in the north-east of England, representing one of the major concentrations of related businesses and academia in the country.

Like its legendary counterpart, the twisted knot of education in schools becomes more complex and unfathomable the more you look at it, Dr Pike will say.

"Extraordinary effort and funding has gone into solely ensuring that those pupils who might get a D at GCSE get a C, just because of the demand of league tables.  This is coupled with questions becoming less demanding as competing examination boards seek market share in a weakly-regulated system.

"The currency of the Grade C itself has become devalued, with government-funded studies identifying science papers with no underlying mathematics and questions with no science.

"Bright pupils are not being stretched, and find the jump to A-level science too great.  Even A-levels have lost their value, with universities being swamped with straight A candidates who still need remedial mathematics lessons once they start as undergraduates," Dr Pike will say.

"The independent sector, less driven by the mindlessness of league tables, is opting for the more demanding and quite separate International GSCEs (IGCSE), and across the country the more imaginative schools are looking at International Baccalaureate (IB), and Pre-U for older pupils.

"Lack of rigour, a philosophy that everyone ostensibly should take the same examination, and a failure to assess unintended consequences has led to an irrational, divisive system. Bright pupils in state schools are held back. Others are given such a superficial grounding in science as to be almost worthless in understanding the methodology of science."

Dr Pike will ask in his speech: "how could we attract inspirational teachers into this mle, and where will future science teachers come from?

"Reform is being hindered by an array of vested interest, not least that some senior examiners themselves have lucrative book deals for course materials that perpetuates a broken system. It is all too entangled to pick apart piece by piece. Instead, it must be a single blow from a sharp sword.

"Only then will we have both leading-edge scientists and a scientifically literate wider population which is a prerequisite for innovation and wealth creation in the modern world."

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