About Conservative Home

Conservative Home's debate blogs

Conservative Home's reference blogs

How is David Cameron doing?

Conservative blogs


Contributors test

« David Walsh: Compulsory British History at GCSE | Main | Mike Christie: All secondary schools to become directly state-funded but independent trust schools »


Adrian Owens

A writing style Mark Steyn would be proud of.

Yes, to this proposal. School students should be able to choose Physics, Chemistry and Biology at GCSE. When I raised it with the science teachers at my daughter's school they all agreed. The single science curriculum was widely deplored.

However, as a mere biologist perhaps I am not sufficiently endowed intellectually to comment :)


This should be supported. Merging the three sciences into a single subject is as idiotic, if not more, as merging history, English, economics and geography into a humanities subject.


Gets my vote.

Denis Cooper

My instinct says yes, because that's how it was when I took my O-levels ...

But hold on, what were the pupils round the corner at Sussex Road Secondary Modern doing while I was doing my O-levels? They were doing CSE's, before they were hybridised with GCE O-levels to produce GCSE's, but were they doing Chemistry, Physics and Biology as separate subjects, or a single "Science"?

I don't know, but maybe while Dave is still committed to a continuation of "inclusive" comprehensive education it would be wrong to suggest reinstating courses which previously suited grammar school pupils rather than the less academically inclined pupils at secondary moderns.

That could lead to accusations of anti-Cameronism, just when he's working his miracle for the Tory party after the dark days of Hague, IDS and Howard ...


I would support this too. Not sure if the writing style was reminiscent of Mark Steyn Adrian,Tony doesn't mention dangerous Muslims once! It was however a fine pitch for a pay rise!
If any government has the guts to do it I would be very suprised.Which education secretary is going to preside over a reduction in grade inflation by making exams more challenging?

Tim Worrall

I suggest the first course of action be cloning Physics and Chemistry teachers, who have become a real rarity - where I teach a recent advertisment attracted no UK qualified teachers, or people with UK degrees, or even people with teaching experience.

Next is to raise the quality of teaching in the Sciences, still seen by students as boring despite curriculum changes.

Do we really want all students taking three science GCSEs? Curriculum time for science will necessarily increase, and minority subjects (such as Latin, which everyone seems to think is a good thing) will drop from the curriculum altogether. Students have little enough choice over their so-called options already - allow those who (like me) hate science to take the minimum.

If they are to take the minimum, then surely a General Science GCSE is better than one of the three.

Mark Fulford

Yes, yes and yes.

The scheme of combining the sciences in a single subject can only have been thought up by someone who hated all science and didn’t understand how different they are.

My wife switched professions (and pay packets) by going from pharmaceuticals to teaching. She is an out and out chemist, for whom physics is a dark art (and I am the reverse). It makes me laugh and her cry that, as a result of combining sciences, she’s ended up spending much of her time teaching a subject she ditched at O-Level.

Tim, I see what you are saying, but imagine if I condensed French, German and Spanish into a single Modern Languages course. It might be quite a good idea, but you’d still want the option to take French, wouldn’t you?

Michael McGowan

Thank you, Tony. Excellent stuff. Just what parents should want to hear and just what the Conservative Party should be offering but isn't. The problem is that you have hit the nail on the head in your fourth paragraph when you ask: do we tell the nation to quit "whimming" and learn stuff? You can't expect the Daves (C and W) to abandon Labour's policy of massaging the fragile self-esteem of 16 and 18-year-olds and their parents by telling them that tractor production has risen yet again. After all, abandoning that policy would mean tackling real challenges in the real world and only the Nasty Party does that.

Tim Worrall

Teaching separate languages doesn't seem to make us very good at speaking foreign languages abroad though, does it?

If Physics is a dark art for your wife, imagine what it is like for those of us with little aptitude for and interest in science.

Adrian Owens

But Tim, Tony is nowhere arguing that Physics or Chemistry should be compulsory. If he were I'd be voting No. He is arguing that those embarking on GCSEs have the choice of a Physics, Chemistry or Biology GCSE - something that will be denied to my daughter in 12 months time when she chooses her options.

Thomas Bridge

Absolutely agree with this proposal.

On a side note, I've heard concerns being expressed that the reason why kids aren't taking science subjects is that they are "hard" compared to so called "fluffy" subjects such as history or general studies.

It seems to me the solution is to make the "fluffy" subjects harder - of course that would lead to grade deflation, but I don't think that's a bad thing either.

Tim Worrall

Um, actually he is:

"Going down the Single Science route, allowing pupils to study "any combination" of the sciences, will wipe poor grades from the books by abandoning important and demanding subjects. However this will not improve the dismal number of pupils who take Physics at A Level, or the sciences at university. For a start every schoolkid knows biology is the easiest science. If we go down this route Britain will become the nation of unemployed biologists."

In other words, you can't just pick Biology, you have to do all three separate sciences.

Denis Cooper

Hmmm, compulsory British history at GCSE was approved yesterday ... and presumably English and maths should also be compulsory ... so even the least academically able pupils would have to take those three ... maybe for them a broad and shallow "Science" subject would be better than no science at all?

Alison Anne Smith

Yes to this idea. The University of Sussex Chemistry Dept just won its battle not to be merged. This idea would guarentee more students wanting to do sciences at university, keeping depts open.

Mike Christie

I have mixed feelings about this proposal, I work in a school which has specialist science status. Pupils in the top ability band can choose seperate sciences and this year's GCSE A*-C passes in seperate sciences were 100%. The school also 'offers' a single science GCSE for the pupils without the aptitude or desire to do single sciences.

We seem (myself included) to be a bit of a hypocritical bunch at times on here about this sort of thing. We fly the flag of giving schools and parents choice in what they offer, but when someone floats an idea about a centrally mandated subject or teaching method that fits in with our prejudices we happily jump on board.

As for paying science teachers more, why stop there? Schools should be free to pay all teachers a fair market rate. If there is a shortage of good physics teachers and an over-supply of media studies teachers then pay would reflect that.

I won't say too much more as tomorrow is my day under the spotlight!

I did seperate sciences at school, loved Physics and Chemistry enough to do them at A level, hated Biology enough not to even take it as far as GCSE. I had the choice to do that and as science was my forte at school I was happy to do that. I had friends who were every bit as intelligent as me, but whos talents ran in more artistic directions. Why shouldn't children like that be able to take a single science subject that gives them a basic grounding in some important facts about how the world works without causing them untold misery by forcing them to choose subjects they have neither an interest in nor aptitude for.

If single science is being taught by teachers who don't want to be teaching it, then we need to train and recruit 'science' teachers as well as physics teachers, chemistry teachers and biology teachers.

Mike Christie

"This idea would guarentee more students wanting to do sciences at university"

Would it? I'm not sure forcing pupils to study chemistry will make them good at it, or make them any more likely to want to do it at university.

Thomas Hobbes

Science teachers are poor in quality in many schools. They go into teaching because they cannot get research posts keep jobs in industry. They are generally dull and do not inspire children. Why pay these teachers more? Why force children to sit through more copying out? Look seriously at the quality of science teachers before doing this.

Anyway, this policy cannot work as there is a shortage of Physics teachers.

"Increasing retention would also lower the extensive bills for supply teachers who have to be drafted in when the real ones run off with nervous breakdowns." - not true, money does not reduce stress and forcing non specialists to teach physics will cause more problems than it solves.

Cardinal Pirelli

Ridiculous that compulsory history is passed for a start, doubly ridiculous that people here seem to be unable to comprehend what this proposal means and just vote on what they would like, not what is practical.

It's as though we're just agreeing with anything that people vaguely like the concept of with no clue about how they are not possible and militate against each other.

Firstly if you want compulsory British history then you are showing that you don't want three sciences, you really can't have both. Not unless you want no language teaching for example. Presumably those voting yes to these proposals think that languages have no place in schools then.

As such, the lack of common sense from people here is making me despair of our members and how out of touch with reality they are.

On the subject, no.

Why? Because it further reduces choice and treats those whose skills are in different areas, and elevates those who are good at sciences, unfairly. It would also lead, down the line when this becomes clear to parents and students, to non-compulsion and students getting a narrower science education than now (how it used to be before the double science award, which actually increased science education for those who have no idea).

I thought that agreeing with incompatible ideas was the job of the liberal democrats!



I voted 'No' to the compulsory History GCSE yesterday, so how do I square that with this? Well firstly, I was outvoted, so in for a penny, in for a pound. But, secondly because this is not about making a subject compulsory, but about doing away with a phoney worthless subject (combined science). While we should leave schools to their own devices the exam boards can and should be regulated properly.

Fixing the decline in standards requires getting to grips with the exam boards. Currently different boards issue GCSEs which are officially equal in status, despite potential for widely different curricula. A market has been created which inexorably drives standards down as the different boards compete for more custom from schools which want better results. A salutory lesson that markets are not a panacea - they work within the parameters under which they have been set up.

This proposal could be effected by simply barring the boards from issuing a single science GCSE.

Cardinal Pirelli

Mike Christie -

busy composing my reply when you did yours but I agree with every word. At last, some common sense!

Cardinal Pirelli

Gildas, agree very much about the exam boards matter. Are we talking about the same things when people mention single science though?

Single science is not the same as double science. Single science is taken only by the very weakest students and is worth only one GCSE. Double science (which is pretty universal) is the equivalent of two GCSEs and covers all three science subjects.

Kristian Shanks

As mentioned there is a scarcity of teachers in Physics and to a lesser extent Chemistry, despite the lucrative 'golden handshakes' given to those who want to do the Science pathway for the PGCE teacher training qualification. The neglect of science in schools has created a problem, as we have fewer students taking, for example, Physics at A-Level. This means fewer people doing it as a degree, and means that the dwindling number of Physics graduates are in higher demand, and thus, on balance, get higher salaries, from employers. The Teaching profession just is not lucrative enough.

I do worry that we have more and more A-level students who increasingly specialise in EITHER Arts subjects (so might do English Lit, History, French) OR Science subjects (Maths, Physics, Chemistry, for example). Especially in the former case where we probably have too many students doing all arts subjects at A-level already. Having a breadth of education for as long as possible - especially given the dismal standard of the GCSE these days - is something that I and employers think is important. I think having more schools do the International Bac would help this but I think I'd be in fantasyland if I saw any major party advocating the replacement of A-Levels and GCSEs with that.

I haven't got a Graduate job yet. I am in the process of searching, however. I can already tell you that having A-levels in a broad range of subjects (I did History, Economics and Mathematics) has already opened some doors for possible jobs in companies that I wouldn't have had a hope with if that Maths A-level was something like English or a language.

Mark Fulford

My understanding of the nation of biologists quip is that it’s what’ll happen if the only choice is “science”. I don’t see where Tony is advocating compulsion to do science but Tony, if you’re out there, can you clarify?

My belief is very simple: pupils should have the choice to do physics, chemistry, biology or joint science. If an individual parent wants to force their child to do one or more of those (and many of my friends were in that position), that’s their right. But if they want to start forcing my child to do a particular subject – they can get off!

Thomas Hobbes

Sadly, the education section of the 100 Policies seems to be a act of revisionism for the 1980s and 1990s Conservative Party. They introduced the National Curriculum, SATS, Double Award Science, PSE, Key Stages and many of the other things that have been attacked this week. It's clearly not only the left that enjoys re-writing British History.

Denis Cooper

"Science teachers are poor in quality in many schools. They go into teaching because they cannot get research posts keep jobs in industry. They are generally dull and do not inspire children."

Some children need to be taught, and they need teachers who will inspire and motivate them to learn even the basics. Other children have a strong desire to learn, and really they need only the opportunity to do so, in which case a teacher who may be dull but who knows his subject inside out will help them to take their learning further. I'm afraid that inspirational teachers who also know their subjects inside out will always be relatively uncommon, while from my experience with our children in recent years it seems that there's no shortage of uninspiring teachers who don't know their subjects.

The question remains whether academically able and interested children should be in the same school, with the same kind of teachers, and the same kind of ethos, as those who aren't really suited to or interested in academic studies.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • DVD rental
  • Conservative Books
Blog powered by Typepad


  • Conservative Home's
    free eMailing List
    Enter your name and email address below:

  • Tracker 2
  • Extreme Tracker