Disappearing Science Practicals?

No this article isn’t about science practicals which makes things disappear (although imagine the kind of fun that could be). Instead this article is about the apparent disappearing of science practicals in schools. The SCORE (Science Community Representing Education) report unearthed new evidence that a worrying number of children are not experiencing a complete science education because of the lack of resources for practical work.

I find this disappointing. Those of a certain generation will remember all the exciting practicals we had. I personally had experiments setting things on fire with a bunsen burner, making circuits (and blowing up a few light bulbs by connecting several batteries to it … yes I was that rebellious), and even dissected a horse’s eye (which I will add made a friend of mine faint in that lesson). These were just about the only thing I ever enjoyed about Science, so the thought of not doing those would make me hate science even more.

One of the most ominous messages to come through this report was a lack of equipment and support for practical activities;

“Secondary schools reported not having enough of some of the most commonly used equipment, such as microscopes, eye protection and connecting leads for circuits. The research also shows that many secondary schools lack essential support from qualified technicians to carry out practical work.”

I think the lack of qualified technicians probably isn’t so much as a surprise, but the lack of eye protection in a science lab is quite frankly disturbing. It also puts a horrible restriction on teachers of how many children can carry out the experiments at once. How sad would it be to have to split a class in half and say ‘right, this half is gonna experiment with the bunsen burners, while the rest of you can copy out of a textbook, and then we’ll swap half way through.’ It doesn’t even bare thinking about.

The report also found a wide variation in funding for science. In state secondary schools the annual spend on scientific equipment in 2011/12 varied from 75p per student to £31.25. 75p?! You can hardly buy a bag of Haribo sweets for that, no wonder they can’t do science practicals. Even the £31.25 is pretty poor, seen as a basic Bunsen burner like we know in schools costs around £15 on Amazon, but with some costing as much as £50. I don’t know how these schools do their practicals, but they don’t seem to have a lot of equipment. I would imagine if you take the cheapest bunsen burner, £31.25 will probably buy a bunsen burner and 4 maybe 5 pairs of safety goggles, assuming you go on Amazon’s prices. The only reason you would want more than one pair of goggles is because we all know these things break or go walkabout at some point during the year. So basically there’s not a lot you can do with that amount of money.

A rather surprising finding hidden in the report was the fact that in state-funded secondary schools, an average of 28% of the practical science budget is spent on photocopying. What’s more nearly 70% of secondary schools reported that staff had paid for items required for core curricular practical activities out of their own pockets, for which they were not always reimbursed. More than a quarter of schools’ science budgets are going on photocopying? Well this just proves how little practicals there are, if a lot of photocopying is being done. We all know what that means: worksheets, the unsightly piece of paper that every child hates. The fact that teachers are buying items out of their own pockets is just further proof that the budget is being wasted.

I hate to be a harbinger of doom, but this seems a little bit bad for me, especially as I know someone who is interested in becoming a science teacher in a few years time. I really hope if she does read this that she isn’t put off, because I’m a believer in chasing your ambitions, not destroying them.

What do you think? Should we keep the practicals going? What do you think about the spending, especially the 75p per student? Comment, like, share.

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