A fear of health and safety legislation is robbing pupils of the opportunity to do science experiments or go on field trips, MPs warn.
A report by the Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology claims health and safety "may be used as a convenient excuse for avoiding practicals and work outside the classroom".
However, a lack of curriculum time and poor science facilities were also listed as major reasons why science experiments and activities were being curtailed. As a result, too many pupils are receiving poor practical experiences during their secondary schooling, the report said.
"This is worrying," said Andrew Miller, the MP who chairs the committee. "If the UK is to be confident of producing the next generation of scientists, the schools – encouraged by the Government – must overcome the perceived and real barriers to providing high-quality practicals, fieldwork and field trips."
Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, has said that the schools whose results improve the most are those which have embraced the idea of giving "hands-on" science experiences to their pupils.
MPs were told health and safety and the "blame culture" were providing "a disincentive to do anything that might have a risk". The teacher who made that claim added the "attitudes of senior management who are wary of science and are risk averse" was causing the decline of practicals and field trips.
However, the MPs said there was no evidence that health and safety legislation itself should be a barrier to organising trips. The report added: "We are clear that teachers should never have to decide between following interpretations of health and safety rules or the delivery of an interesting and engaging practical lesson."
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