Alarm sounded over demise of physics teaching

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Hundreds of state secondary schools are failing to enter a single pupil for A-level physics, MPs were told today.

Professor Peter Main, director of education and science at the Institute of Physics, said the figure was as high as 500. “This is a very, very serious problem,” he added.

He was speaking as MPs on the Commons select committee monitoring education began an inquiry into the teaching of science, maths and English.

Dr John Oversby, from the Association for Science Education – also giving evidence at the inquiry, added that one in four of the country’s 3,300 state secondary schools did not have a qualified physics teacher..

MPs were told that one of the reasons why pupils did not pursue science into the sixth-form was the lack of academic content in GCSEs as a result of curriculum changes in the past decade.

They no longer had the grounding to pursue the subject to A-level.

David Perks, head of science at Graveney School in Wandsworth, south London, said: “I am afraid the essence of all reforms in the science curriculum over the past 10 to 15 years has been to reduce academic content and replace it with something else.

“You throw in controversial ideas such as nuclear power in an attempt to reinvigorate interest in the subject - and talk about something topical.2

“It’s something you didn’t need to do in the first place. What you want to bring in to the classroom is passion for the subject.”

Professor Sir John Holman, director of the National Science Learning Centre, said A-level entrants to physics were only just beginning to rise again after 30 years of decline,

At present, 29,000 youngsters took physics compasred with 44,000 in the 1980’s. The Government had set a target for this to rise to 35,000 by 2014 but, he added, “it will be a big struggle to get to that number”.

However, Schools Minister Iain Wright said he did not accept the comments, adding: “Internationally we are proven strong performers and there are now big increases in the number of pupils taking sciences at A-level,” he added.