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


Kristian Shanks

I don't know what people think of this, but my school (a boys Grammar) offered GCSE students a choice linked to other, more practical subjects.


Study all three sciences seperately as Full GCSEs, and do Short Course GCSEs in Design Tech and IT. This is what I did, although because I was so utterly hopeless at both short courses I was able to eventually drop them.


Do the Double Award Science qualification, and do Full GCSEs in DT and IT.

BTW, my school each science separately, even for those taking the Double Award, and the exams were separate. The difference between the full single GCSEs and the Double Award is that full GCSE Physics/Chem/Bio required you take an additional paper in each of those three subjects which the Double Award did not require.

The thing my school offered was quite good, as it obviously ensures Science is taught to the age of 16, which I think is essential, but can give those less academically gifted and more interested in something a bit more practical the option of doing something more hands-on.

Mark Fulford

Just to clarify, does this mean that you oppose the three-science complusion that currently exists?

Yes Tony.

Part of the confusion on this debate is that many of us are out of touch with the current state-imposed requirements. But if the requirement is currently that children sit at least Single-Science, well that’s a third as bad as being forced to sit all three.

Mike Christie

Tony, I'm really busy today and I should really tear myself away from this debate, especially as we're never going to agree.

Mark Fulford just summed up a point I made earlier perfectly in his last post.

I was a natural at physics, my mind works in such a way that I could quickly grasp the concepts my teacher was explaining (Dr. Joy, my physics teacher was a legend!). However, I'm tone deaf, can't draw and in woodwork, anything more useful than hamster bedding was beyond me.

One of my best friends at school was a brilliant actor, fantastic artist, skilled creative writer but broke out in a cold sweat at the thought of double Physics.

Why should we have been forced to study a broadly similar timetable at school. I'd have hated every minute of Art and similar subjects, he would have hated all his science lessons. We would both have spent anything up to half our timetable studying subjects we didn't like, knew we were no bloody good at, had no intention of using in our careers or studying further.

Tim Worrall

80s YC

I never said I wanted Science to die. I was in school today (yes, in my long holiday) and the Deputy Head showed me the A level options for year 12 (Lower 6th to the non-teachers). The most subscribed subjects are Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. Well done them, I say.

There are also sets in Latin, Music, Theatre Studies, Electronics and a host of other minority subjects.

Why can't people choose to focus on what interests them? Why must we decide that something is good for them, especially if they have to suffer? Why does forcing young Ryan or Chantelle, who can barely read, to study three sciences they are uninterested in, inevitably fail them (failure is good for the soul, perhaps) mean that Science will have more status within schools.

If science departments took more time switching the light bulb on in children's minds, then we would have more people taking the subject at A level.


To summarise, for those of you who have got this far. I want: i) all three sciences, ii) Double or Triple Award, iii) more rigour, iv) kids to shut up and learn stuff v) more good rock music.

OK, had I realised (i) and (ii) I'd have voted 'no'. You're dead right about (iii) though. If this gets to the Wiki stage, that section ought to be drawn out into a separate topic.


If I understand this correctly, all pupils currently have to study three sciences to GCSE. Some schools offer three separate GCSEs but others only offer the double science award.
Tony is suggesting all schools should offer separate GCSEs - thus increasing pupil choice and allowing more rigour.

A very good idea.


"an extra couple of grand a year could be recouped from dropping nitwit schemes in PHSE and Citizenship."

I'd definitely vote for this one.

Mark Fulford

Deborah, I agree that increased choice would be a good idea. Unfortunately it's not what Tony is suggesting. He wants all three science GCSEs to be compulsory in all schools:

I am advocating the teaching of all three sciences at GCSE level on a compulsory basis. -- Tony @ 12:54

Angelo Basu

With a heavy heart I will vote no on this. I did separate sciences at GCSE an eternity ago in their first year (1988) and enjoyed them (even Chemistry), going on to do A level Physics, Maths and Further Maths (although I swapped Chemistry for English in the Upper Sixth).

However, this is a real mixed-metaphor of a proposal- it manages both to shut the stable door years after the horse has bolted and finally been made into glue AND to put the cart before the horse. Today there are too few qualified people going into science teaching, particularly in the Physical Sciences so that Physics is often taught by Tony's dreaded Biologists. So there isn't the resource there to satisfy the urge to have separate sciences, the proposal would not be effective in addressing this because it could not work without the right teachers. This lack of specialist teachers has been caused by the long time during which science has been academically downgraded in schools and has been demonised for being "difficult".

This latter point is not actually principally worrying because of a lack of science teachers being produced but because of the dearth of scientists and engineers being produced full stop.

Nevertheless, there are still students out there taking sciences, enjoying them and doing well. What we need to do is to entice them to pursue those courses at degree level, rather than using PGCE funding to take the small current pool of science graduates into teaching rather than industry. I am as culpable as any here, having taken those sciences and gone to read Law.

Last week it was announced that Cambridge University was effectively going to discount the value of "fluffy" subjects. Why not go a stage further and encourage universities to increase fees for degrees in fluff and to make economically valuable subjects such as sciences, engineering, dentistty, medicine, free and in many cases including grants?


"Forcing pupils to study subjects that they neither like, nor are good at, will do no-one any good in the long run."

Hmmm. Actually, I think Tony is right, right and right again, especially so, in his entertaining manner, regarding the age at which pupils can make sensible and informed decisions about what they should be studying. Actually, this is one area where I would place more trust in the teachers' point of view than in anyone else's. Otherwise, of course a fourteen year old will want to do geog and anything else with field trips and colouring in.

But there is also something even more important to what Tony is saying. These days people who express horror at the prospect of doing even the most basic arithmetic, say adding a couple of prices together in a shop, expect at the same to be able to click a few buttons and be flown to the other side of the world. Similarly, with barely any knowledge of how their own bodies work, they expect others to develop drugs and medical treatments to cure them of ailments that would have reduced their average lifespan by two thirds in days gone by. This gap between knowledge and expectation is getting too big, and Tony's proposal at least goes some way to bridge it.

Mark Fulford

Actually, this is one area where I would place more trust in the teachers' point of view than in anyone else's.

Aristeides, you imagine that pupils make these decisions without any input from their parents or teachers.

For me it is bad enough that government presumes to know better than I how to spend my children’s education fund. But for teachers, with 2 minutes 1:1 contact a day, to presume better knowledge of children than caring parents is arrogant to the extreme.

Mike Christie

aristeides, I'm sorry to say this, but I think you're talking rot.

You are patronising in the extreme to young people who in some cases have a very precise and focussed view of what they wanted to do.

I don't know how old you are, but I well remember choosing my GCSE options in 1986. I chose all my subjects with a very definate goal in mind with a good idea of what A levels I wanted to do, the degree I wanted to do and a career after that. As it happened things didn't pan out the way I planned, but my GCSEs certainly weren't chosen with field trips, easy options or anything else like that in mind. With all the negative press young people get, and all the negative press education gets we are in danger of tarring everyone with the same brush.

As for your second paragraph, hands up all the non-IT people who have any idea how SMTP works. HTML? HTTP? The important thing is that someone knows. I'm in IT, I have an understanding of all that jargon. However, beyond a vague idea about cows, grass and bacteria I couldn't explain to you how yoghurt is made, but I still like to eat it, just as non-IT people still like to surf the web and send e-mail. Beyond absolutely essential skills (reading, counting and that sort of thing) children and parents should be free to choose the education that best suits their needs within certain basic parameters of ensuring effective use of taxpayer's money.


I am often told we are now competing in the knowledge economy. If that economy is not based on technology and science I struggle to see how we will generate significant wealth and economic growth - media studies does make the grade I am afraid.
We need to make science interesting and exciting and encourage learning - when I was at school we actually did some interesting (!) experiments that health and safety gurus have probably now banned.
I know science is not for everyone but if we did away with PSE (I think I mentioned this yeserday!!) we could free up time to let children's minds explore the wonders of science.
I will vote for this policy.


Mark: who said anything about "caring" parents in this debate?

Mike: frankly, I am more concerned about the large proportion of our youth's descent into a lumpen horde, of which evidence abounds, than what the sort of chaps who (even if they can't spell "definite") comment on Conservativehome may have chosen to study in 1986 and the reasons why.

This "You are patronising in the extreme to young people..." language smacks of the sort of vaporous logic that prevents people from criticising grade inflation because it somehow detracts from "young people's" achievements.

Thank heavens there are still people like Tony in schools who believe in a bit of rigour, standards and tutelage.

David Walsh

Mark Fulford: "It is criminal to take a child’s mind and completely turn it against school and learning by flogging it against subjects that don’t suit."

Oh come on! GCSE is a pretty basic standard. Let's stop wrapping children in cotton wool and give them a proper education with proper subjects.

You won't find them arguing about whether children are suited to tough subjects in China and India. We are kidding ourselves if we think our current approach is going to allow us to compete in the knowledge economy of the future.


There should be more choice in subjects generally, as we are all different and have different strengths. Splitting science back into its three elements is vital.

Next we should make these lessons worth having again, and make them attractive to students, by ridding them of the crazy health and safety rules that make practical teaching impossible. Oh, and make them safe by having some decent classroom order. If they had more practical lessons, and they were achieved without injury, uptake in these subjects would sky rocket!

I have a 9 year old sister who, like me at her age, really loves science, particularly chemistry. She watches a programme called Brainiac Science Abuse on Sky TV, hardly educational but it instills a love of the subject through fun. But when she gets to secondary school, I expect she'll be annoyed at or bored with the lack of real science (experiments etc) and select other subjects for GCSE and A level.

Mike Christie

"language smacks of the sort of vaporous logic that prevents people from criticising grade inflation because it somehow detracts from "young people's" achievements."

Nonsense! Please don't put words in my mouth. Grade inflation is incredibly damaging. Nothing detracts from a young person's achievment more than public examinations' failure to differentiate between different ability levels.

Maybe if you could explain quite how forcing children to study subjects they have no desire to study and no aptitude for would improve educational standards, rather than indulging in petty point scoring about spelling mistakes and patronising generalisation about children today I'd have more respect for your point of view.


I feel total despair reading these posts. Does no one realise that politicians and political parties are lethal to any reasonable education decisions. Are you all unable to see what has happened to British education since 1945?
Take education out of politics, or endure another 60 years of watching British education die.
Read "The Welfare State We're in" by Bartholomew, though I suppose the political elite class, NuLab, Lib Dim, Con Alliance can never trust the people.


Er, Mike - you lowered the tone by accusing me of talking rot... don't get all high and mighty when you get a bit of feedback in kind.

"...[F]orcing children to study subjects they have no desire to study and no aptitude for..." is, I am afraid, a lot of what school and learning are all about. See David Walsh's comment at 6.20pm above for the reason why to do it.

Mike Christie

aristedies, I'm not being high and mighty, I have no problem with the tone of your response, just its accuracy.

If you want to attack my ideas, feel free, I can take a bit of banter, but I do object to you attacking me for things I haven't actually said. I also object to your wildly inaccurate generalisations and taking the easy route of pointing out a spelling mistake.

As for why we should force children to study science, even in a knowledge economy we need plenty of people who require no formal scientific qualifications, whether they be sweeping the streets or starting up a new business. I studied physics and chemistry to A level, how much use has it ever been to me? How much of it do I remember?

Thinking about less academically gifted pupils, I'd rather they spent more time learning to read and write properly, and learned some practical skills that will be of some use to them rather than spending yet another two years staring vacantly at a de-motivated teacher explaining concepts they will never need to understand so they can get a poor grade pass at best in three GCSE science subjects.

I also fail to see how forcing children who's talents lie in languages or the humanities to study three sciences at the expense of being able to study more subjects where their stengths lie benefits the nation either.

I'm still waiting for someone to explain how forcing children without either an intrest in or aptitude for the sciences to take them at GCSE will result in an increase in the number of science graduates the country produces.

Mike Christie

I just noticed I mis-typed 'interest', in my last post. This therefore must invalidate my entire argument ;-)

Mark Fulford

Some writers here have somehow given themselves the right to dictate what goes on in other people’s lives. They have formed the idea that children need protecting from themselves and their parents. The logic behind their argument seems to be that children are a resource partly owned by the state; whose output has to be directly useful and productive to the state. They are, of course, wrong.

Each parent’s responsibility is to do the absolute best they can for their children. Within normal parameters, nobody has the right or the skill to say that they know better than a parent what’s good for a child; to assume a parent’s responsibility

Above all else I want my children to be happy. Happiness usually involves feeling useful, wanted and respected. We really don’t need to worry about people aimlessly wandering into worthless lives – it’s not a human ambition. We really do need to worry about forcing people to ignore their interests and aptitudes in favour of an economist’s model.


No, I don't agree with children forced to take Physics, Biology and Chemistry to GCSE.

Mark I absolutely agree with you. A young man I know has just left education at sixteen to work at a top City hair salon, his dream is to work around several top salons, get his qualifications on day release, evening courses and vocationally and eventually open his own salon, every morning I see him with a smile on his face going off to work.

My eldest has just decided to take Physics and Chemistry at A level, he disliked Biology and is glad he is now able to drop it. At 14 he would have liked to drop Biology as he did French (even though he had a 91% pass in KS3). Looking at how much it costs in translators in the European Parliament (Burning our Money) not having language skills doesn't seem to stop the members of the European Parliament from securing their top positions does it?


Great to have you back on the site a-tracy. Really great. I missed you!


Thank you Tim ;-)

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