Chemistry popular but good labs behind target, says report

12 November 2010

A report published today by the National Audit Office (NAO) shows that while chemistry is an increasingly popular subject for students, the government has not been matching that enthusiasm to meet previously agreed targets.

Since 2000, chemistry GCSE entries have risen from 39,000 to 113,000, and since 2003 the percentage of schools offering separate sciences has risen from just under 30% to over 50%, says the report.

While there is no lack of interest in studying chemistry from prospective students, little has been done to demonstrate the same commitment by government departments.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) under the previous government set a target in 2004 for all school laboratories to be brought up to satisfactory standard by 2005 and either good or excellent standard by 2010.

Neither as DCSF nor in its new incarnation the Department for Education (DfE) has the Department collected routine data to measure this target, and the NAO report quotes RSC documents from 2004 and 2006 as the latest data available on the subject.

The 2004 report by the RSC noted that 25 per cent of the 26,340 laboratories in maintained secondary schools were "unsatisfactory" or "unsafe for the teaching of science."

A 2006 follow-up study for the RSC noted that 28 per cent of new laboratories built were not of an excellent or good standard. The report estimated that the government's 2010 target would not be met until 2021.

At the time Dr Richard Pike, RSC chief executive, said "Our case for faster action to improve school labs, and to assign money to the task, is powerful and incontrovertible. Without something being done to address this slippage Britain could drift to the margins of world science as potential young talent goes unexploited."

The NAO report also notes that the DfE expects to meet the 2014 target of 31% of chemistry teachers having a chemistry specialism, despite the only figures available showing the number dropping from 25% in 2006 to 21% in 2007.

Related Links

Link icon Educating the next generation of scientists
A National Audit Office report into the government's efforts to raise the standard of science teaching

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Downloadable Files

Improving school laboratories?
12 October 2006 - A Report for the Royal Society of Chemistry on the number and quality of new and re-furbished laboratories in schools.
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