Sir Claus provoked, virtually single-handedly, a national debate on the state of Britain's education when, as president of the British Association four years ago, he warned that we were fast becoming one of the least educated nations in Europe, and called for a Royal Commission on education. Yesterday, he asserted that the educational experience of many children living in deprived areas is intolerable - school roofs are leaking, libraries are a joke, and teachers are underqualified.
Tens of thousands of children have unacceptable education, he said. The system does not produce the kind of educated workforce the economy desperately needs.
Although there had been significant improvements since 1990, partly as a result of the independent National Commission on Education set up after the Government rejected the call for a Royal Commission, Sir Claus said the Government was in a very lonely position in its evident support for the A-level system. There was no voice left in the academic world backing A-levels.
'We are in a serious muddle as a nation,' Sir Claus continued. 'The Government keeps saying that we need more scientists and engineers so it has encouraged the universities and rebalanced the system towards science.' But on the other hand, he said, there was the 'the most devastating statistic, that during the past 10 years, the number of pupils preparing for science A-levels has fallen by 40 per cent.' Over the past two years, he said, there had been a 5 per cent drop each year in the numbers taking mathematics and science at A- level.
It was not just that children were not attracted by careers in science and engineering, he said, 'above all they are not prepared to give up history, geography and the other humanities subjects. Yet the A-level system forces them to concentrate on science.'
'This is the most basic fault in the entire system. For goodness sake, let us go for a much wider examination system,' he said.