Science put at heart of 14-plus schooling

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The Independent Online

Science and vocational education will be put at the heart of the curriculum this week in what the Government describes as the biggest review of learning for 14 to 19-year-olds since the 1940s.

Estelle Morris, Secretary of State for Education, has been under pressure from headteachers and curriculum advisers to take science out of the core curriculum, allowing pupils to drop it at 14.

But Ms Morris is determined to create a "new generation of scientists" to try to put Britain at the cutting edge.

A green paper, to be published on Tuesday, rejects the idea of scrapping compulsory science for 14-year-olds. Instead it seeks to strengthen its importance in a new Applied Science GCSE exam, which will be sat for the first time in 2004. The next wave of specialist schools will be Science Colleges. Vocational education and training will also get enhanced status.

"Estelle's strong feeling is that this is very, very important for the economy," a senior source at her department said. "More and more careers now have an underpinning of science and science is the foundation of the skills gap we have so it is important to continue with it."

Some 2,000 teenagers apply for special permission to drop out of science each year. But those who do take the subject do well. Forty per cent get A-C grade GCSEs and an OECD study published in December ranked Britain fourth in the world for scientific literacy.

But Ms Morris was urged by the Quality Curriculum Authority to drop science from the core curriculum, while the National Association of Head Teachers made it clear last week it was "not persuaded" science should remain, particularly if the system was moving towards an "English baccalaureate" which would limit the number of core subjects to a minimum.

What has emerged is a wide-ranging review of education for 14 to 19-year-olds, aimed not just at improving academic standards, but in preparing young people for working life.

The Government wants to make science teaching more relevant to modern working life and hi-tech industry. It will form part of a planned "vocational renaissance" by tailoring education to suit talented youngsters who did not want to follow a traditional academic path.

"It's aimed not just at theoretical science but training for science-related working," the DFES source said. Wider vocational education will also be expected to improve its focus and standards so "it's not just carpentry and brick laying, it's about rewarding people with highly paid careers".