New science curriculum 'more suited to the pub'

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The Independent Online

A new science GCSE which replaces traditional chemistry, physics and biology with topics in the news has been criticised for failing to teach students the fundamentals.

The Twenty-First Century Science GCSE introduced last month, which includes discussions of issues like GM crops and bird flu, is being taken by students at a third of the country's secondary schools.

In a new report, What Is Science Education For?, published today by independent think tank the Institute of Ideas, industry leaders have criticised the course as being "more suitable for the pub than the schoolroom".

Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial College London and the former chairman of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, said a science curriculum based on encouraging pupils to debate science in the news was taking a "back-to-front approach".

"Science should inform the news agenda, not the other way around," Sir Richard said.

"Before we can engage the public in an informed debate we need the scientists to do the science.

"And before the future citizen can contribute to the decision-making process, they need to have a good grounding in the fundamentals of science and technology, rather than the soundbite science that state school curriculums are increasingly moving towards."

The new syllabus is designed to engage teenagers by examining issues of public concern like nuclear power and the MMR vaccine.

Baroness Warnock, the philosopher who framed the embryo research laws, said the agenda was being set by the Press, creating debates that were "more suitable for the pub than the school room".

Lady Warnock said: "The present policy has two incompatible aims: to give all pupils some understanding of the subject matter of the sciences, and to so fire the imagination of a substantial minority of them that they want to pursue their interest into the sixth form and beyond.

"The new syllabus encourages a post-modern view that science is just one of many ways of finding out about the world, and that its claims are as open to challenges those of any interested pressure group."

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