Memorandum submitted by CLEAPSS School
The CLEAPSS School Science Service is an advisory
service supporting the teaching of practical science (and, to
some extent, technology) in schools and colleges, from the foundation
stage to GCE A-level or equivalent. We are mostly funded by subscriptions.
From April, every one of the 180 education authorities in England,
Wales, Northern Ireland and the off-shore islands will be a member.
The vast majority of post-16 colleges, independent schools, teacher-training
establishments and curriculum developers are associate members.
We offer essentially four services. There is a range of publications,
including termly newsletters for primary and secondary schools,
guides on subjects as diverse as Fume Cupboards and Giant African
Land Snails, a 1,000-page Laboratory Handbook and our highly-respected
Hazcards. We offer a Helpline which takes over 5,000 calls per
year and run about 200 training courses per year (mostly one day)
for teachers, LEA officers, but especially science technicians.
We also work behind the scenes with the Royal Society and other
learned societies, the DfES, QCA, HSE, ASE, BSI, etc. About two
thirds of our work is to do with health and safety. The remainder
tends to focus on laboratory design, best buys for new equipment,
where to buy obscure items, how to do . . . For the last few months
we have seconded a technician to work on producing a guide on
Technicians and their Jobsthe need for a career structure,
job descriptions, induction and training, etc.
We are concerned that practical science is not
taught as a lively and exciting subject: pupil practical is stereotyped;
demonstrations are uninspiring. Of course there is more to science
than just the practical parts but talk to most successful scientists
and you will find that they were usually turned on by some memorable
activity or demonstration. We believe that there are several reasons
Inadequate funding for chemicals,
equipment and other resources.
Constraints of the National Curriculum
and an over-emphasis on examination results.
Fears over health and safety legislation
Fears over being sued by parents
Teachers working outside their own
Some of these issues are inter-linked but I
should like to expand briefly on each. Please also see the attached
article, The Changing Face of Practical Work 
which I wrote for Education in Chemistry, November 1999.
If science is a practical subject, it costs
money, more money than other subjects except D&T. We carried
out a small survey in 1998 in which we asked a sample of schools
to let us have copies of all of their orders for chemicals over
a 12-month period. Our survey covered 10 LEA schools, two GM schools
(all comprehensive) and two independent schools. Both independent
schools and half the others had sixth forms. Schools ranged in
size from 600-1,700 pupils. The amount spent on chemicals in a
12 month period averaged £555, with a range of £114-£1,696.
If the two independent schools were excluded, the average dropped
to £394. The average amount spent per pupil was 64p per year
(range 12p-83p) or 37p per year if the independents were excluded.
At that time, 37p would buy 42g of copper sulphate for each pupilwith
nothing else for the next 12 months. Whilst the sample was small
and may not have been representative, these figures do contrast
with the figures in the report of The Royal Society, Science Teaching
Resources: 11-16 year olds (October 1997).
Properly trained and adequately remunerated
technicians are a vital resource which can make all the difference
to the successful teaching of practical science. We fully support
the messages in the two recent reports from The Royal Society/
ASE, Survey of Science Technicians in Schools and Colleges (July
2001) and Supporting Success: Science Technicians in Schools and
Colleges (January 2002). As mentioned above, we have a technician
currently working with us on secondment to develop further guidance
for schools and LEAs.
The National Curriculum prescribes what teachers
must domany interpret that as meaning that they must only
do that and nothing else. However, one can sympathise with teachers
given the emphasis on exam results. You choose to spend any spare
time on going over endless past exam papers, rather doing an inspiring
activity that isn't really required by the syllabus.
There is an enormous number of myths and rumours
about particular chemicals or procedures being banned, or at least
strongly discouraged. In the first half of the autumn term, we
were taking an average of about three Helpline calls per day about
such (alleged) bans. They were nearly always wide of the mark.
We are so concerned about these misunderstandings that we are
involved with the ASE's Safeguards in Science Committee in a campaign
"Fighting Back". Please see the attached article For
Stinks Without Kinks
which I wrote for The Times Educational Supplement (28
December 2001). It may well be that teachers use the safety reason
as an excuse for not doing certain types of pupil practical work
or demonstration. About three years ago, at the request of the
Health and Safety Executive, the Royal Society of Chemistry convened
a seminar to explore whether health and safety legislation was
inhibiting practical work in school science. The seminar concluded
that it was not. The fact is that since the Health and Safety
at Work Act came into force in 1975, there have been three prosecutions
of science teachers and one of a school for science laboratory
accidents, making prosecution much less likely than winning the
National Lottery. However, in one respect I have some sympathy
with teachers' fears. In a few classes in a few schools there
are pupils with severe behavioural problems, who are liable to
fly off the handle without provocation. Their presence can, rightly,
inhibit practical work.
A more justifiable concern is the increasing
tendency of parents to sue at every opportunity and for insurance
companies to pay up. Teachers would always be covered by their
employer and membership of a union or the ASE would back that
up. Nevertheless, they get worried because they feel guilty. In
once incident we heard about a little while ago, a pupil had an
epileptic fit during a practical lesson. Whilst the teacher was
dealing with this, another girl suffered a minor burn to her hand.
The teacher told the girl to put her hand under the cold tap but
carried on dealing with the epileptic. A few days later the school
received a letter from the parents of the burnt girl asking for
substantial compensation. Reluctantly, the teacher and school
agreed to let the insurance company pay up, without admitting
liability. The parents then asked the school to admit liability
which they refused to agree to, The insurance company agreed to
fight the case and requested a copy of the medical report obtained
by the parents immediately after the accident, only to find there
was no report. This child, for whose injuries they were seeking
thousands of pounds of compensation, had not even been taken to
Teachers working outside the discipline in which
they were originally trained presents obvious health and safety
problems, but this can be overcome by planning and training. Harder
to overcome is the absence of all of those snippets of information
at their finger tips, the sudden thought that a quick test tube
demonstration will clarify the point. It is difficult to see what
can be done about this problem.
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