Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 158)



  140. That is close to my heart because I used to demonstrate chemistry to young people like you. Let me ask you about the attitude of teachers—and the teachers can switch off their hearing aids—how important do you think it is that the attitude of a teacher has to be right? Have you suffered bad teaching?
  (Fern Curtis) Yes, I have suffered bad teaching. Not only the attitude of the teacher towards science, but one of our teachers recently decided she was going to leave but had to stay on until the end of term, so she spent six weeks teaching us and she did not care, she was quite apathetic and did not give a damn basically, and that is really important.

  141. Did that have an effect on your enthusiasm for the subject?
  (Fern Curtis) Yes, I think teacher turnover should be looked at as well.

  142. Is it important to you?
  (Charlotte Whitaker) My teachers were very good but because we were doing double award science none of us were particularly interested in science and we were allowed to get away with a lot.

  143. So they did not ignite you like the magnesium?
  (Charlotte Whitaker) No. At one point my physics teacher left from triple award science and because we were double award they took away our teacher and gave her to triple award science because we were not a priority. We had a supply teacher and he did not know the course and we thought, "Why bother?"

  144. A problem with supply teachers—we have heard that one before.
  (Anika Lewis) My biology and chemistry teachers were really good but physics went to pot. Over my two years of GCSEs I had five physics teachers and not all of them were actually physics teachers, they were stand-ins. Since I do not enjoy physics anyway, and I find it difficult, we were not really taught. We kept going over the same topics again and again and we were not really taught anything new. I think it is very important that you get good teachers.

  145. I am going to ask you a quick yes or no answer type question. I am opening some new laboratories in a few days' time at Liverpool University. They are space age and everybody has their own fume cupboard and no writing up is done in the lab, it is all done in a separate corridor alongside the labs. The question is: have any of you ever visited a state-of-the-art laboratory like that?
  (Fern Curtis) No.

  146. You have never seen a state-of-the-art laboratory?
  (Fern Curtis) No.

  147. Charlotte, you have never seen one?
  (Charlotte Whitaker) No.
  (Anika Lewis) No.

  148. Let me ask you next about the condition of the laboratories in your schools. Are they modern or are they Victorian?
  (Fern Curtis) We have got one nice modern one and then everything else is just disgusting.

  149. One has been refurbished?
  (Charlotte Whitaker) We have about six science labs and we had one done up a year, but we have just got a grant from the Wolfson Trust so there are laptops, but that came in after I did my GCSEs and I do not study science—

  150. It is happening in your school, but too late for you?
  (Anika Lewis) At the end of my time at secondary school we had a couple of new labs but most of the others were fairly grotty, not very nice.

  151. I am a chemist, as you have heard, and I am very interested in people learning how to handle chemicals safely and lots of them, some of the dangerous ones as well. Do you feel you have had a lot of practice in handling chemicals in your school?
  (Fern Curtis) Yes, I would say so. We do risk assessment in course work and we learn how to handle chemicals. We are not given corrosive ones like hydrochloric acid.

  152. You have heard of COSH?
  (Fern Curtis) No.

  153. That is risk assessment.
  (Charlotte Whitaker) For GCSE we were just given basic overalls and goggles.

  154. You have not had a lot of experience handling chemicals? Smells? Colours?
  (Charlotte Whitaker) No, because at GCSE you do not really do that.
  (Anika Lewis) I would say medium. I have had some experience but not very much.

  155. Did the teacher handle them more than you?
  (Charlotte Whitaker) Yes.
  (Anika Lewis) Yes, when they were showing us specific experiments and we could not get to do it ourselves.

  Dr Iddon: I have enjoyed talking to you. Thank you very much indeed.


  156. Before you go, can I ask who is the most famous woman scientist in Britain today? Do you know of anybody?
  (Charlotte Whitaker) For me, she is not particularly famous but she went to my school and went to Cambridge and she has just won a chemistry award, and that is Caroline Wright. She is the only female scientist I know.

  157. Anyone you look up to?
  (Fern Curtis) It is going to be me eventually!

  158. Good!
  (Anika Lewis) I have no idea.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

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