Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 98)



  80. That is the exams and how it is organised. What about what you learn? You are obviously bright enough to pass exams. You have done quite a few already, and you will do more I am sure. Do you find that you still have a lot of questions that you want to ask but you are stuck with a timetable, a curriculum, where you are not encouraged to ask those questions?
  (Helena Perry) Yes.

  81. We must cut a buttercup up or something next?
  (Ben Wormald) It is very much a strict timetable. There is no room for error. If a teacher is off you have to work lunchtimes or break times to catch up because there is not any room.

  82. Is it different in science to some of the other subjects you have done?
  (Hannah Greensmith) In all GCSE subjects they have the curriculum and they have to stick to it and they go through it and until it is finished. There is no room for extra experiments or trips or anything, which I think should be propagated throughout the course to keep up everyone's interest.

  83. If you were designing a science course to get 90 per cent of them going on it, what would you have in it that is not there now?
  (Helena Perry) You have to do the theory work, but it should be backed up by something fun.

  84. What was that word? Fun! Fun in school, my goodness!
  (Helena Perry) Like going on trips to museums that have the sections. When you are doing earth science you could go to the Natural History Museum and go through the rocks and find out what happens in earthquakes. They have a big exhibition on that. I find when you go into the exam you remember it more easily. It is enjoyment but you have that information there.

  85. What practical classes did you do that you really enjoyed?
  (Hannah Greensmith) Dissection in biology. Some people are very squeamish about it but in the survey quite a high proportion of people said it should be more on the surface for biology. It is really interesting and gives you hands-on experience working with what you are learning about. I think that really did help me.

  86. Do you know how your body works?
  (Hannah Greensmith) Yes.

  87. Do you know where your kidneys are and your heart and your brain are—if you have still got one?
  (Hannah Greensmith) It helps you learn.

  88. It helps your understanding. How about how the kidneys work, and so on?
  (Helena Perry) That is something that I do not think is pushed enough. Our teacher got us all hearts so that we could see the process of how it works. When you see it in a diagram in a book you cannot be bothered to memorise it.

  89. You must have said to the teacher, "Please can we do some practicals?" What was the answer?
  (Hannah Greensmith) They said there are rules about what they can dissect in schools. I think that is a big problem.

  90. Why do you think that is?
  (Hannah Greensmith) Because there is such controversy surrounding organs in schools.

  91. You think the boys would faint, do you?
  (Helena Perry) It is also the funding as well. Before our school got any money it was hard to do experiments with a large class. We were only allowed to look at one heart because they could not afford to get everybody a heart to look at. We had to crowd round watching this one heart being dissected. It was ridiculous because you really want to get it and do it yourself.

  92. What about the labs you work in, would you call them modern? Are they as swanky as this place, for example?
  (Hannah Greensmith) No.
  (Helena Perry) My school has done up all the science labs now, which they could have done before. In most of the rooms now they are starting to put computers in so you can do your science and computing at the same time and they all have active boards so they can hook up to the laptops.

  93. Do any of you want to go on to university and study science?
  (Helena Perry) I am going to do politics.

  94. Tough! You can do politics and science of course, as some of us did.
  (Hannah Greensmith) I just want to say that another issue which came up was the issue of ethics, which also links into the dissection of the heart, and more relevant issues towards the GCSE syllabus. That is one thing which everybody thought there should be more of on the syllabus, that we should learn more about what is going on in the world around us and up-to-date issues like the foot and mouth crisis and how that works, which we hear about every day but we do not know how it works. If we are to be the future of science, we should know how these things work.

  95. So they do not stop the classes to talk about issues like that?
  (Hannah Greensmith) No, because they have to stick to the syllabus. There is no time to do extra stuff. We would love to do debates and that kind of thing.

Mr McWalter

  96. Is that not crazy?
  (Ben Wormald) Yes.
  (Hannah Greensmith) Yes, and it is so frustrating too.

  Mr McWalter: That is the feed-back from the audience above as well.


  97. We would love to talk to you all day and night but we have to move on. Is there anything else you would like to say to us in the last half minute? Any advice for us? Any advice to so-called important people on what to teach in schools? What would you tell us to make sure we look at?
  (Helena Perry) I think there should be flexibility in the options we are able to do instead of just making us stick to one thing. The students are put off so they do not want to learn, so they do not want to do it any more, they do not want to do science. Science is such a beautiful thing, it is something we should all do but if you are put off because you have no choices, what is the point?

  98. Anything else?
  (Ben Wormald) I reiterate the thing about choice.
  (Hannah Greensmith) Choice is a big thing. You have to get people interested.

  Chairman: You have certainly got bitten by the bug, that is clear. Good luck going on with science. Stick with it, and we will give you our report when we do it. Let's hope we keep in touch. Thank you very much. I am sorry it has been so short.

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