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back to article Physics GCSE: 'insultingly easy, non scientific, and vague'

Physics GCSE papers are full of questions that are vague, stupid, insultingly easy, political, and non-scientific. So says secondary school physics teacher Wellington Grey in an open letter to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the AQA exam board. Grey writes: "I am a physics teacher. Or, at least I used to be …

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Be serious!!!

Come on now, get serious!

The simple test, to my way of thinking, in to sit a GCSE student down in front of an 'O' Level paper from, lets say, 1970 and see how they do! The same goes for 'A' Level students.....

Better still, sit someone from AQA in front of an 'O' Level paper from 1970 and see how THEY do!

In both/all cases I doubt VERY much that they would pass!

Unfortunately this isn't just about physics, it is pretty much all subjects that are being dumbed down one way and another.

It won't be long before we have children who can't even spell FIZIKS!

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Precision and numbers

"There is much, much more to physics than precision and numbers, we would be doing young people no service to undersell it to them by focusing solely on these aspects"

That is certainly not the Physics I know. I always thought the point of Physics was to describe and predict the physical world....

Since they appear to play down the importance of "precision and numbers" are they trying to make certain the young pupils gain a good solid background of "woolly thinking" and "unquantifiable"? , Presumably this is so that they can make educated and informed comments in the future along the lines of "Err umm well, sort of like this" and "maybe you need this much power, perhaps".

I can't help but feel if they come out with a watered down view of Physics they will have nothing but contempt for it.

Great.

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Not even science

According to the website of the QCA, "QCA is a non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). It is governed by a board, whose members are appointed by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, and managed on a day-to-day basis by an executive team". I fail to see how that tallies with "the DfES says it is not responsible for approving exam specifications"

The questions asked in the exams are ridiculous and by my standards not even science. I'm not a dad yet, but if that is the standard of public science education, I'd have to seriously consider sending my children to a private school or schooling them at home - and I'm a dyed in the wool, pinko, lefty, hippy, socialist liberal.

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Anonymous Coward

Biology?

"another asks why a dark skinned person would be at a lower risk of getting skin cancer"

Shawly that is a biology question.

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Sadly Its True

Science lessons have become a vessel for the delivery of government views on; contraception, alcohol, tobacco, cancer, green energy, energy efficiency and equality of people.

While I appreciate that that these views are important they should not be given as facts, instead large chunks of these are indoctrinated into our youth as unarguable proofs. I know; I'm a student.

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Oh my <insert chosen deity>!

This is the first time that I have ever seriously considered sending my son to a private school.

I urge everyone to read that open letter in full.

If this is what the government think science exams should be like then I don't want my child being taught by a government run school!

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Worse than useless

As someone who has relatively recently passed through this system (GCSE in 2003, A-Level in 2005), who is now studying for a degree in Physics, I can quite honestly say that both the GCSE physics and A-Levels are worse than useless for anyone wanting to enter the field. As universities have to maintain a standard of teaching on par with other (including international) institutions, they cannot afford to dumb down the courses - the easiest place to recruit new lecturers and researchers is from the student body...

I sit on the Staff-Student body for the department, and they are having to bring in a heavily revised first year syllabus because the standard of knowledge of those entering the university is not up to scratch, and basic maths & physics (which should be taught in schools) is not present, despite these pupils getting high grades on their GCSEs and A-Levels. This change puts pressure on the lecturers, as within the first year or so they have to bring the students from having no knowledge, to having the required skills for the more complex work in further years, whereas the students should have at least some grounding in Maths (such as matrix algebra & ODEs) as well as a good knowledge of at least Newtonian mechanics and electromagnetism.

I'm not sure how much of this was on the 'old' A-Levels, but as far as I can tell from seeing the syllabuses (syllabi? I'm a physicist, not a language student!) used by the university over the years, it does seem that the amount of knowledge a modern physics A grade requires would barely be sufficient to pass an O-Level.

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Anonymous Coward

It's all part of a general dumbing down

Twenty years ago, when I studied for a BEd in Mathematics, I noticed that the syllabus had become 'diminished' compared with when I studied at school only a few years earlier (by comparing my old school books with the proposed syllabus).

Looking at schoolwork performed by today's teenagers, I can only see that this 'dumbing down' has continued unabated since the initial introduction of the national curriculum.

Perhaps some of the people who define the schools syllabus should take a look at a GCE O-level paper from 1981, when I sat my GCEs, and compare the depth and breadth of subject matter taught then with that being taught today.

Perhaps then they should ask themselves, 'are we now looking to create a nation of half-wits ?'

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Anonymous Coward

That test is too hard!

"why a dark skinned person would be at a lower risk of getting skin cancer"

Because dark people don't need to sunbathe to get a tan. Then being brown already an all, so they sunbathe less..... 0 points.

"why would radio stations broadcast digital signals rather than analogue signals?"

Because digital signals are made up of 1 & 0s, so noise of 0.2 for example does not affect the quality of the signal because 1.2 can still be determined to be 1 and 0.2 can still be determined to be zero. In additional a bit correction can be included which can fix small errors in the signal. So they do it for better quality..... 0 points.

"Are mobiles putting our children at risk?’ A recent report said that children under the age of nine should not use mobile phones…Below which age is it recommended that children use a mobile phone in emergencies only?"

Between 9 and Adult, below 9 they should *not* use mobile phones at all said the story....0 points.

"Why *must* we develop renewable energy sources?"

The law of conservation of energy states that energy may neither be created nor destroyed. Therefore the sum of all the energies in the system is a constant.

So we cannot really develop 'non renewable' energy sources, since the energy simply gets transformed, so they 'must' all be renewable in some form, even fossil fuel.

.... 0 points.

Damn, I am so stupid, I'm complete wrong on every answer.

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Grim reading

How long before questions about 'intelligent design' start to appear?

(And to those for whom that is a reasonable question, what about the 'stupid design' of redundant organs, like the appendix?)

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Anonymous Coward

applied physics

High school physics should not be heavy on math - it is more important that students develop a FEEL and understanding for it. Topics like energy efficiency are a great way to train the B.S. detector. Sun tan resistance looks a bit misplaced, though...

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Here we go again

Yet another chance for the generation of yesteryear to bemoan the low standard of the children of today.

Perhaps Gary and his triad of acronyms whom together with a thesaurus couldn't manage to put together coherent sentences and finish off the word increasing(ly).

I'm a child of 90’s education. I scored quite poorly at GCSE, A level and then only managed a lower second at University. Yet, I am AMAZED by how poorly educated the majority of 30-50 year olds I meet at my work enviroment are. Their spelling and grammar is dire, their mathematical skill doesn't even reach the heady heights of competent mental arithematic and they have no interest in anything other than TV and football.

I unlike a number of those in the previous generation am intelligent enough to know that my experience is circumstantial, and to tarnish an entire age group with my limited observation would be a diservice to them.

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Simplicity

Mr. Sargent, what level do you believe an 'O' level student from 1970 would achieve if they were asked to take one of today's GCSE physics papers? The test may be simple, in your way of thinking, but I believe that makes your thinking over-simplistic.

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Undeniable

@Ian Sargent

If it's anything like the trend I saw when I was doing my A-levels, the increasing ease of Maths/Science exams is undeniable. You could literally line up past papers year by year and see them get easier.

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To MrWeeble

It doesn't matter *where* you are schooled, you still sit (mostly) the same exams!!!

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Painfully true...

and reminds me of my own personal experience:

Before I moved to France, I muddled along as an average pupil (somwhere in West Sussex). Good in science, ok in English and History, average in math etc.

In 1991, I moved to France, and took up schooling there at age 14.

in France, you get taught French (grammar etc), and it was a quantum leap in getting verbs, tenses, grammar rules... miles from English taught in England, and the English lessons were far better than French in England - my classmates could talk to me in English, but to start, I could not talk to them in French!

Back to math: I remember one of our maths projects in school in England was to cut up a TV guide and make your own channel programs for a week making sure that all the programs followed, started and stopped without gaps etc (more logic than math, but anyhow...), some long divison (about 3 lessons) and some multiplication.

In France, my first maths lesson was

a² + 2ab + b²

WTF!?!

This is the sort of stuff that was played to students who watched the Open University, not to 14 year old kids going to the local community college!

On the other hand, I had been playing with bunsen burners and test tubes for 3 years in England, and we were allowed to play with bandsaws in technology classes, but France was definitly lagging in the scientific and practical lessons, though maths and language (French and foreign) we so far ahead as to be over the horizon for me.

So now, the science lessons that I held highly have been broken. How can you interest someone in science if you don't even go to the basics?

Physics for me was playing with litmus paper, acids, alkalis, reactions, magnets, batteries, even some basic nuclear theory when explaing about molecules, stable and unstable elements, nicking the test tubes from the lab and wondering how to return them without getting caught (we did), and my team even came third in some regional science project (the great egg race or somthing like that, making Post-office proof egg boxes, gravity controlled timers and the like. Coming to France, I was proud of the fact that even though I could not understand the language, I could breeze through science and biology by understanding the pictures and formulas, and globally having a 3-4 year head start.

It seems over the last 10-15 years, the "difficult" lessons have had to be dumbed down, and it seems one hell of a shame.

Cheers,

Daniel

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Serious concerns with the outcomes of school science education

Major research in recent years indicates serious concerns with the outcomes of school science education, with retention levels beyond the compulsory years, the levels of motivation and engagement in secondary classrooms, and the level of science literacy achieved all being seen as seriously problematic (AAAS, 2000).

Wubbels (Wubbels, 1993) did not find a correlation of these problems to factors intrinsic to the science curriculum. Instead, he suggested that changes in teacher interpersonal behaviour seemed to play a greater role in student outcomes than the curriculum.

It thus appears that teacher classroom practices were primarily the key to addressing the problems in relation to science development in schools. While a supportive school environment seems relevant, pedagogical teaching practices appear to play the most significant role.

Mr. Wellington Grey writes "My pupils will sit an exam and earn a GCSE in physics, but that exam doesn't cover anything I recognise as physics". It appears to have slipped Mr. Grey's attention that our Western Modern Science (WMS) is not the only authoritative knowledge system. Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and Indigenous Knowledge (IK) are equally legitimate sciences and Mr. Grey should be able to adjust his pedagogical teaching practices accordingly. In my opinion, Mr. Grey's letter to the DfES does, however, not support his ability to make this transition to this new science curriculum.

If I were a teacher, I would certainly choose not to voice my own deficiencies in quite such an open way.

---

AAAS, 2000: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Designs for science literacy [Project 61] , OUP: New York

Wubbels, 1993: Wubbels, T., Teacher-student relationships in science and mathematics classes Vol 1., pp. 65-72, Curtin University of Technology: Perth, Australia

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My familly have suffered

My eldest son has just completed a 21st century science qualification at his school, they didn't offer the three sciences despite being a specialist technology school. To be fair to them they are about to rectify it for top stream pupils, like him, in the next year. I thought he had suffered as a result of the woolly 21st century science, though considering what passes as physics, maybe not so much.

The DfES need to hang their collective heads in shame if they do not believe that physics is not all about precision and numbers. It is nothing without precision and numbers.

Human kind is about to prove that evelution is not all about advancement. We are now dumbing down so much, so as to take out natural selection from the gene pool. Prizes for all and the less strong surviving too in the academic field; maybe going on to university and "advancing" science in ways we could never have dreamed of.

Forget launching a rocket to the moon, mankind will soon be unable to organise a bus trip to Scarborough, you know precsion and numbers and that kind of stuff.

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Of course they're looking to create a nation of hal-wits

How else are the current incumbants going to get re-elected if the poplus was smart enough to realise how they're being screwed.

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Silver badge

Not just physics, not just UK problem

In the Netherlands there is a similar trend, and a similar increasing disdain for especially the "hard" sciences. Maths at school is almost reduced to a reading excercise: turning a story into an equation, quite a useful skill, but not so impressive if the same students lack all algebraic skills to actually SOLVE the equation. Recently, 43% of our maths first year students (BSc) could not simplify the equation

x/(x+1) + x/(x-1)

into a single fraction. And these are the students who took the more extensive maths curriculum in secondary education.

Dumbing down is mostly perpetrated by scorning the work needed to learn the facts, to dig in deep into details. This dogged pursuit of detail is essential for the progress of science. In the late 1800s people thought physics in the twentieth century would be no more than adding a few decimal points, to solve certain small anomalies: enter Einstein, Bohr, Dirac and many others to show that these few small anomalies could only be solved by completely revising our understanding of physics.

People often claim that if needed they can look up the factual details, but how will they recognise the correct facts (<rant>wikipedia abuse <censored>------------------------------------------------------------------------</censored></rant>). Besides, in any meeting, however good your debating skills, you are going to be beaten thoroughly by those who DO have the facts firmly in their head. How can I have a good scientific discussion with my students if they do not know their maths/statistics/computer science facts, methods and important results.

Science needs a HUGE PR effort to make it attractive, not by dumbing down, but by challenging students. I find students most appreciate those lecturers/teachers who issue real challenges, so that they feel they have actually achieved something when they pass. Yes it is best if eductaion is also fun, but there should be HARD bits as well, otherwise we just cultivate woolly thinking.

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xjy

Ruling class creating mass in its own image

Our WASP rulers are obviously thick as two short turds and want to create a bunch of whiny supercilious wankers and full-of-shit knowalls like themselves. Must be the Anglo genes. The avant-garde is already here judging by the quality (loose use) of the Reg comments above. Perspective and vision are part of physics, too.

And the launch of the shuttle was Pure Politics at work, little else. If I could chuck a brick or flick a bogey a few miles straight up, they'd orbit too.

Anyway, us Master Racists don't have to think any more, the Indians and Chinese will do it better and cheaper for us, and keep a respectful distance while doing it.

As for exams, when I were a lad....

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Anonymous Coward

The problem is the lack of physics teachers!

I studied for a PGCE in 1997/1998 to become a physics teacher following my physics degree. It suprised me at the time to find there were twice as many government funded students training to become classics teachers than there were people studying to become physics teachers! The majority of students training to teach science, by far, were from a biology background (around 40 I think), with chemistry next most populous (around 20) and physics least (precisely 9 students). While on placement in some local state schools it was obvious that teachers struggled to teach physics properly in GCSE 'science' lessons since they were relying on their rusty O-level (not even A-level - how many biologists do you know that also took physics?) knowledge. In many instances these teachers were far from enthusiastic about teaching physics, which is fair enough given that they hadn't trained to do so. I suspect that the lack of skill in physics (and often mathematics - no offence to any biologists) in the science teaching population has contributed to the dumbing down of the physics curriculum.

Of course, this is a vicious circle, with fewer students taking physics beyond A-level due to poor teaching, leading to even fewer physics teachers. It's a tough problem to solve!

As for me, I found the depth of physics taught too dull to maintain my interest and was tempted away by the lure of the dot com boom to later become a reader of the Register. I'm sure this happened a lot at the end of the 90s - perhaps the dot com gold rush is also partially to blame!

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Anonymous Coward

GCSE should prepare for A level

As a 'Grade A' student at the 2nd intake of GCSE in 1989, when sciences actually were sat as the individual subjects of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, where today 'combined sciences' is supposed to replace, I can vouch that the system did not prepare at all for A level beyond giving an interest in the subject. Predictably a grade 'E' at A level ensued, yet I was able to Ace all the first year engnieering sciences at University.

Clearly nothing has changed for the better today.

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Silver lining

There is one upside to this... The government have messed about with pensions and told us we will have to work until we die. I may now have some chance of keeping my job as the youngsters won't be able to do it.

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The problem is...

...that in the past, only a priviliged and talented few went on to study A levels and go on to university. Many people left school without any, or with very few, qualifications.

Since then, the general populace hasn't gotten any smarter, but now the majority of children go on to study A levels, and most expect to attend university.

As a result, A levels and GCSE's have had to get 'easier', so that they remain aimed at the level of the average student who takes them.

If, as these people are suggesting, the qualifications were set-back to the difficulty level of the past, consider what the result would be - 80% of students failing, with only a small elite of children achieving passing grades.

The truth is that the majority of children find today's GCSE's reasonably challenging - even if they are not particularly taxing for the brightest students. The only way to fix this would be to move over to a two-tier system, with more challenging courses for brighter pupils; exactly what the comprehensive system was meant to eliminate!

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Anonymous Coward

the A level physics bible...

... for the 1970s was "Essential Pre University Physics" by Whelan and Hodgson. If you have one, or access to one of those "library" things where they might have one, have a look at it, and compare it with what's being taught and examined today. It sounds like it won't be pretty.

An education in the sciences (not necessarily just physics) leaves the competent student with skills in logic, clarity of expression, analysis, and indeed just basic numeracy. The kind of skills which, if widely available, might have left this country's economy in a better state than the paper-shuffling "service sector" disaster it has become since that Thatcher (chemistry graduate, iirc), got rid of school milk and introduced privatisation and "the right to buy".

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Anonymous Coward

This is the Government's plan

If education is dumbed down to such a level, the general population won't be able to argue it's case and will take any spin supplied the media as the truth. We already see this in action with the BBC's Paranoia programme from a few weeks ago about WIFI.

I believe the Government has no wish to educate the general population. If the population debate the issues of the day, it may bring about a change of Government.

I hope I'm wrong about this, but the picture is beginning to form....

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Anonymous Coward

Is there a bigger picture ?

The issue may be wider than one subject, or one exam board. In theory , each generation should be a little smarter than the next, in the midst of a functioning education system. If this were the case , for a given difficulty of material/examination, the average grades would improve over time. However, it appears that overall we are having to make examination easier, to maintain a given resultant grade profile.

I think the reality is that we HAVE to have a large number of ABC graded students produced each year. Imagine if due to failing ability in students, the number of ABCs started to fall year on year. Having good grades would actually mean something , they would be a premium. Business would have a clear view of who does and does not have ability, in an absolute sense. There is also the appearence on the international stage to consider.

I think the debate about exams being easier will still be around in 50 years. The imperative is to make sure that come hell or high water as many students coming out of education have a chance to gain employment and not exists on the edge of society.

Despite having been fairly academic myself and having completed an Engineering degree, Im really not sure that I would want the absolute academic disposition of the UK exposing. For me, I happy for the government to cook the books, and make appear that on average a UK student might hove some academic prowess.

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JP

So much easier...

As a relatively recent A-leveler (2000) not having gone through the state system, I remember a technique our teachers used every year at the begining of the Easter (Lent, Spring) term, which was to give us a paper from 1987/91 and watch us all cry for a lesson. The papers had been getting easier and easier back then, I hate to see the standard they have fallen to now.

One of the joys I found in Physics was exactly what Mr Grey mentioned: the precision. To take this out of the Science is to take the soul from the subject.

It seems that, without religion to dumb down the masses like in the US, the UK will instead cripple itself by trashing the curriculum instead.

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Does it really matter?

GCSE's aren't worth the paper their written on!

I have no GCSE's, social services took me out of school when i was 15, im 21, im an IT professional doing an honours degree in Software Engineering.

The only jobs i've ever applied for that asks for GCSE's is a call centre job for a bank, and they only asked for grade C or above in Maths and English.

I have never regretted or lost opportunities by not having any GCSE's

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Hope for the future?

David Cameron has a short film up at Webcameron of a visit to the Cheltenham Science Festival.

http://www.webcameron.org.uk/videos

He does seem to understand the importance of education, and science education in particular, for the future economic success of the UK.

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Re: applied physics

God I hope whoever posted this:

"High school physics should not be heavy on math - it is more important that students develop a FEEL and understanding for it. Topics like energy efficiency are a great way to train the B.S. detector. Sun tan resistance looks a bit misplaced, though..."

was kidding. Physics is constructed using math; without a thorough understanding of and feel for the mathematics you are using, you will fail to fully understand the physics (unless your concept of understand is memorise the formulas without paying the slightest attention to the assumptions made to derive them). Physics is not hard, it just requires you to put in the groundwork first. Physics is about intuition, but for most of us poor bastards this is earned intuition through seeing analogies to other stuff we've done, often because the math is similar.

I took GCSE physics back in about 1990 and it was a fucking joke even then, that's why we did AO level at the same time and studied old O Level papers, they were much more challenging, but ultimately much more satisfying. My first exposure to open ended questions was the special paper at A-Level, by then I was ready for a bit of fun, and it was quite nice to pull numbers out of your ass to stick into formulas you'd just come up with on the spot. But then it was back to the grind lerning and appling new math, all the way up through the first 2 years of PhD over here in the states.

So, if your goal is to teach people critical thinking, then fine, just don't hijack physics to do it. If you are going to do physics right you've got to hit the ground running early with math, and if you bore the shit out of anyone with any interest in it while failing to teach them the basics, they'll either have to learn it on their own, or just have to start trying to learn what they should have been learing at age 14 when they are age 24.

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My AS French experience

A couple of years ago I did AS French evening classes. It wasn't a very enjoyable experience; I didn't learn much because the syllabus had next to nothing that I hadn't learnt for O-level in 1986. But the most miserable aspect was the topics that our text books chose for the comprehension and vocabulary exercises. What I was really after was something that would lift my vocabulary from "good enough for holidays and restaurants" level to actually being able to have a conversation in French on a "normal" adult conversational topic. But instead, we had an unending stream of "politically correct" social issues material:

- Homelessness.

- Drug abuse.

- Dog shit on the pavements.

- Racism.

- Unemployment.

- etc.

One evening I thought we were going to do something interesting when I turned over the page of my text book to see an impressionist painting. But it turned out that it was Degas' 'Absinthe', and the topic for the lesson was "alocoholism".

What a complete waste of time.

I suspect that someone, somewhere thinks that teenagers want to learn about racism and climate change in every single subject. I doubt it. But I'm an old fogey. What do the young people themselves think?

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Anonymous Coward

Precision and numbers II

"There is much, much more to physics than precision and numbers, we would be doing young people no service to undersell it to them by focusing solely on these aspects"

An excellent example supplied by the DfES of why they shouldn't be setting the curriculum. Precision in science is the ability to get the same result repeatedly, even if it is completely the wrong answer (grouping in shooting). Accuracy is the ability to get the right answer (closeness to the bullseye in shooting).

Even so, curricula have always varied hugely. When I was at University (as a student and teaching) the first 12 months of a 3 year course was spent getting the people from "easy" curriculum areas up to the same level as everyone else. Meanwhile the rest of the course spent their time discovering the intricacies of beer and sex. So, it's good to have easy exams just as long as you aren't the one taking them.

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Why Digital Radio?

Two reasons leap to mind:

1) because analog signals "gracefully degrade", whereas digital tends to either work perfectly or not at all, thus giving very sharp "market boundaries".

2) because they can use DRM and encryption, thus maximizing subscription revenue.

Neither of those are exactly _physics_, although an understanding of physics is needed to understand the chain of thought. I'd be impressed if the educational system were such as to equip students to recognize these unstated motivations.

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Whelan and Hodgson

Yup, my stolen copy still sits here on my bookshelf in my office just in case I have to go back to basics.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hope for the Future

"Dave" is David Cameron AICMFP.

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Re: applied physics

"High school physics should not be heavy on math - it is more important that students develop a FEEL and understanding for it."

Now there's a woolly (or considering you wrote 'math' I should probably say 'wooly') approach if ever there was one. How on eath can anyone develop a feel for anything if practical work isn't backed up by theory and vice versa?

Incidentally, for the guy raving about his French education, ten years earlier English lang & lit classes would has been just as rigourous in the UK. And the French pay more attention to learning English than most Brits to learning French because of the cultural (film, music) and economic hegemony our blessed tongue enjoys.

In 1976, first-year physics students at my university had to have remedial maths lectures because their maths wasn't good enough to let them follow the physics course.

Muttermutter inmyday etc etc

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Anonymous Coward

Yeh, here's you problem

"Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and Indigenous Knowledge (IK) are equally legitimate sciences and Mr. Grey should be able to adjust his pedagogical teaching practices accordingly. In my opinion, Mr. Grey's letter to the DfES does, however, not support his ability to make this transition to this new science curriculum."

Nah, dude, this is science, the teacher needs to explain to the students how the world works. Even if 50 of them think otherwise it doesn't change the reality. They're just wrong, but that's OK, it's why they're students and he's the teacher.

"......I would certainly choose not to voice my own deficiencies in quite such an open way.

"

Yet you did. Why not click the 'post anonymously' (PA) button next time?

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Joe

Competition between exam boards

I have a theory on why the exams are getting easier (and they are, let's not beat around the bush here).

There are 3 major exam boards. Those exam boards charge a fee based on the numbers of students who sit their exams. They are private companies so it is in their interests to turn a profit, and more students = more profit.

Schools are under immense pressure from league tables. It is in the best interests of the school to have pupils who score highly in exams. The qualification gained is identical regardless of which board sets the papers.

Now, assume that board 1's Physics exam is noticeably easier than boards 2 & 3.

Q1. As a headteacher or a department head, with which board do you choose to enter your pupils?

Q2. As a Director of exam board 2, you notice that significantly more schools enter pupils for Physics through exam board 1. What do you do?

And here endeth the erosion of standards...

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Anonymous Coward

Statisticians need not apply

"...equally as accessible e.g. grade boundaries are at similar percentages."

Translation, "the Gaussian distribution could very well be reversed and we would be none the wiser." It's nice to know that they passed their statistics GCSE.

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Silver badge

Nothing surprising

I don't see anything remotely surprising in this, unfortunately.

When I sat my O-levels (I know, I'm showing my age there), along with a stash of past years' papers we were given a warning that some of the questions dealt with topics that had been dropped from the syllabus since the paper was set -- a process which evidently had been going on for some years, for the older papers had even fewer questions that we were expected to be able to answer. And in those days, the matriculation boards were affiliated with universities -- they were not profit-making corporations.

Since the privatisation of the matriculation boards, it seems that all anyone cares about is how many kids pass their exams. Private companies only know one thing, which is to proclaim loudly that your product is new and improved.

The "everything has to be new and improved" mentality can't be applied to education. Within any year-group there will be roughly the same proportions of child prodigies, normal kids and utterly ineducable little scrotes. So, unless a serious error is made, the distribution of marks ought to be fairly consistent from one year to the next; and "improving the pass rates" can only ever mean "making the exams easier".

The other effect of universities effectively no longer being in control of the examination requirements to get into university has been a requirement to teach material in the first year which would have been taught in school in the past.

Still, at this rate there'll be no more "brain drain" ..... it'll have a severe case of back syphonage, as we are forced to employ graduates from abroad.

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What? No Resnick & Halliday?

now known as Halliday, Resnick, Walker

That's all you need

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Anonymous Coward

spellin

kan wee pleez mak sur wen wee r rantin bout dumin doon tha wee spel rite n r cohearant ;P

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Anonymous Coward

It *is* getting easier

Having just gone through the PGCE hoopla I can relate to how much has been dropped from all science subjects.

When I started I was gob-smacked at how little was in the curriculum now. To paraphrase a head of science I know "oh, we don't teach depth anymore, just skip across the surface" that’s to say, the scope of the curriculum has increased (the number of "topics") yet there is minimal depth, virtually no grounding in the basics & fundamentals. I'm a biologist so can't really comment on non science, but like the poster above said in their evening French study, its all social issues based drink, drugs, sex, racism issues oh, and don't forget "citizenship". All rather Orwellian if you ask me.

But don't worry! The esteemed government have decided to make it all better and re-structure the whole GCSE science experience. There are now 5 (or more) different ways to get a science "qualification", including, but not limited to entry level, core and applied science.

The examination bodies and the QCA are a joke, and that's being polite. The DfE are the biggest collection of know nothings to date and continue to screw things up beyond belief, I seriously doubt a single one of them has been into a school since they left after whatever qualifications they gained.

Oh, and one final thing, remember practical science? You do? Well forget that. Health & Safety has all but eradicated the good stuff, while the so called curriculum has knobbled 90% of the rest.

I could go on, but I won't, other than to say that "this is a government that values the British science tradition" or words to that effect. My arse.

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Anonymous Coward

Wow, you folks got taught Physics?

In my school, the fat excuse for a teacher wrote a load of stuff on the blackboard before we came to class. When we got to class, he’d order us to copy what was on the board and march off to the matron’s office (which overlooked the classroom) and sit there smoking and drinking tea until the lesson was over. The only time he’d come back would be to tell us to shut up if we started messing around too much. No effort to bring the subject to life, no incentive to learn.

This is the first time I’ve thought of this since I’ve left school (I’m 37 now). Man, it makes me angry.

Needless to say, I had no chance of passing an exam on a subject that was as lifeless to me as Paris Hilton’s grasp of reality.

It’s a shame really, because I’ve grown to love things like Mythbusters on TV. I would have loved a series such as this used in the physics curriculum.

Bah, now I just feel old and stupid!

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Anonymous Coward

Good news for thirtysomethings

Of course, the recent 'dumbing down' of school / university exam papers can only be good news for those of us who were awarded A-Levels / degrees when they were worth something.

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Jim

How much easier?

I remember sitting in what was probably my last Physics lesson before my A-Level exam. It was 1988 and the first GCSEs were being sat that summer. At the end of the lesson the teacher pulled out his copy of the syllabus and informed us that this is what we had been tought over the last 2 years. He then proceeded to rip the syllabus along the staples and dropped one half of the booklet. Brandishing what remained, he proclaimed that this is what would be taught to those about to take their GCSEs as they simply hadn't been taught enough to cope with the old A-Level syllabus.

It makes me sick that we are told not to complain about exams getting easier because "it takes away from the achievement of those that just sat the exams" - strangely there is no consideration for those who took harder exams and now see their achievement being devalued as they didn't get 20 straight As (or something).

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Anonymous Coward

And this is the separate science...

Most kids don't even get the chance to see this much science, as the double version is much more popular with schools (I wonder why...).

What passes for the chemistry content of the double is frankly pitiful. A bit of geography (plate tectonics), a bit of cookery (vegetable oils and mayonnaise...), with a tiny, tiny content of what I would actually class as chemistry - a bit of alkanes, alkenes and cracking. I have just taught an entire module of chemistry in an hour revision class. It was a bit rushed, but I could give adequate coverage of the material in that time, so much so that a person of fairly average intellect could have sat in, and then passed the exam (actually this is not much of an indicator. With the multiple guess format, a literate, completely non-science trained individual (eg: someones grandmother) could pass the exam simply by virtue of reading the questions carefully and making sensible choices).

I have also taught the separate chemistry GCSE. While I am not a fan, at least it does contain chemistry. My experience of it has been negative due to inadequate timetable time (in itself making it hard to teach the subject to the level it deserves) - which I imagine plays a large role in the abandoning of separate sciences by many schools. It simply does take more time to teach three sciences properly, compared with the watered down, abridged version that is the double award. As far as I have noticed, the exams do not seem to have changed significantly in the last 10 years. As revision, I have given my pupils past papers from as far back as 1997, and they all cover roughly the same material in approximately the same manner. Any changes have been more cosmetic than major dumbing down.

Retention in a major issue in my opinion. Not only are pupils who only have access to the double award nowhere near the level needed to do A-Level, but they are also not interested. With unchallenging, wishy-washy content, who can blame them. The motivator should be a desire to know and understand more. With the difficult (and interesting) stuff stripped out, we are left with a course that has as its brief the creation of 'scientifically literate' individuals. This is not, and does not even come close to 'scientists'. The training of scientists will sadly fall by default to the schools who are at liberty to teach a more rigorous syllabus (ie public schools and grammar schools). The governments goal of inclusion and opportunity for all has made them lose sight of the true objectives. In doing so they have removed the true opportunities which should be available to pupils who are able to benefit from them. As it is, no one is fooled. I will end with a quote from one of my pupils:

"GCSEs will finally separate the stupid from the clever."

While perhaps not particularly politically correct, he has a point. Why does it take so long...

Disclaimer: That was quite a rant, and probably doesn't make much sense. Sorry.

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