WALES: Welsh schools in science rap; Drive to lift teaching standards urged.
A CRITICAL report by schools' inspectors yesterday called for better training for teachers to improve standards in science in secondary schools.
A study by the inspections body Estyn revealed standards were lower in science than in almost all other subject at secondary level, especially at GCSE, but also in sixth form.
The quality of teaching for 14-19 year olds was also classed as 'generally worse'.
The findings came despite the Welsh Assembly Government drawing up a science vision for Wales in 2006, which stated improvements in science education was key to overcoming shortages in those studying more advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The last six chief inspector's of schools annual reports highlighted low standards in science in secondary schools compared to other subjects, compared with primary schools, where pupils' achievement in science is among the best.
The report called for greater co-operation between schools to offer a wider range of opportunities in science for learners of all abilities and interests.
Estyn also urges the Assembly Government to secure more training opportunities for teachers who do not specialise in physics and to review incentives to encourage the recruitment and retention of qualified physics teachers.
The Assembly Government should 'develop a national strategy to drive up standards and the quality of teaching and leadership in science', it said.
Janet Pritchard from the college of education at Bangor university said that this year's intake of student teachers specialising in physics, at just four, was at its lowest for more than 20 years.
When qualified non specialist teachers were offered further training on issues such as classroom management, but few on subject knowledge. "Teachers don't often have the time or the funding to make use of those courses," she said.
Meanwhile, student achievement in science in Wales was slightly above the mean but countries from the European Union that significantly outperformed Wales included Finland, Estonia, The Netherlands and Slovenia, Estyn said.
The amount of 'outstanding teaching' in science is well below the average for all subjects and compares poorly with that in mathematics and English at GCSE and in the sixth form.
Dr Bill Maxwell, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales, said yesterday: "Research shows that not enough people study science, technology, engineering and mathematics beyond compulsory education.
"Wales needs to ensure that its future generations are able to supply its needs for science and technology specialists - improvements in science education are recognised as being central to addressing these challenges."
A shortage of qualified, specialist physics and chemistry teachers in Wales meant many pupils were taught the subjects by teachers with a biology background.
"This practice does not always help to provide a sound knowledge base for learners or to motivate pupils who could potentially progress further in physical science," Dr Maxwell added.
A Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson said science had a central place in the new curriculum for 3 to 16-year-olds from September.
The Government will consider providing more training opportunities for non-specialist physics teachers as part of its regular review of training needs.
Official inspectorate Estyn fears science teaching standards in Wales are seeing the country's pupils fall behind