Opinion: Why science fails to inspire the young

The annual ritual of knocking the achievements of 18-year-olds is upon us. Every year in the third week of August, the reputation of the A-level, the gold standard in secondary education, suffers a blow as overall grades and pass rates invariably break records.

An all-too-familiar debate plays out in the media that the qualification is becoming easier, or that schools are becoming more adept at fine-tuning their teaching to boost their position in exam league tables.

This year, however, a more pressing message for UK plc has emerged loud and clear. Science in schools is in crisis. Physics in particular has an image problem among the young - the number taking the subject at A-level has halved over the past two decades.

This week, business lobby group the CBI urged the Government to do more to recruit specialist science teachers.

It fears a shortage of science graduates is threatening the economy and fatally undermining the UK's credentials in engineering and technology. Rolls-Royce CEO Sir John Rose used the firm's results last month to issue the same warning. In a sign the warnings have popular credence, the Tories this week weighed in by suggesting science A-levels should be worth more points to school-leavers going to university.

So what can be done to entice pupils towards ‘tough' science subjects? A charismatic figurehead or two would not go amiss. Catering colleges report that the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver are driving more trainee chefs to their classes.

But the most important science role models are teachers, of whom there is an acute shortage. Teach First, a partnership between industry and education, places top graduates to work in challenging schools for a couple of years before allocating them a role in a leading business. With many of the brightest talents spurning teaching for more lucrative careers, initiatives such as this can inspire pupils and reverse the image of science as the preserve of the social outcast.

(Danny Rogers is away)

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