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 …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Ian Sargent

    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!

  2. Edward Grace

    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.

  3. MrWeeble

    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.

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  6. John Doe

    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.

  7. GettinSadda

    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!

  8. Matthew Harris

    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.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    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 ?'

  10. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  11. James Pickett

    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?)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    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...

  13. N1AK

    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.

  14. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. Ben Roe

    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.

  16. Anthony Metcalf

    To MrWeeble

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

  17. daniel Silver badge

    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

  18. Steffen Schubert

    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

  19. Rob Kirton

    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.

  20. Sampler

    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.

  21. Michael H.F. Wilkinson 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.

  22. 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....

  23. Anonymous Coward
    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!

  24. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  25. JohnG

    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.

  26. Stuart

    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!

  27. Anonymous Coward
    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".

  28. Anonymous Coward
    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....

  29. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  30. 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.

  31. Dale Morgan

    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

  32. Dave

    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.

  33. Adam

    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.

  34. Phil Endecott Silver badge

    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?

  35. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  36. Mike Silver badge

    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.

  37. Adam

    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.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Hope for the Future

    "Dave" is David Cameron AICMFP.

  39. Rose

    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

  40. Anonymous Coward
    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?

  41. 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...

  42. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  43. A J Stiles

    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.

  44. Ashtonian

    What? No Resnick & Halliday?

    now known as Halliday, Resnick, Walker

    That's all you need

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    spellin

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

  46. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    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!

  48. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  49. 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).

  50. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  51. Jim

    Stuart - The problem is...

    Comprehensive education was not about removing tiered education, it was a solution to the problem that able students were failing the 11+ and then found themselves unable to jump from secondary to grammer schools.

    I attended a 'Secondary Comprehensive' and that school provided vocational, CSE and GCE level education catering to the individual student's abilities. They also carried out longish term analysis of individuals with possibility of promotion/demotion in the system, based on longer term student performance.

    The problem IS that elitism in education has become a dirty phrase. People seem to forget that an education system is not just there to provide a basic education but to push each student to achieve their best. This is amply demonstrated by employer's frustration in being unable to differentiate potential employees by their high school grades. This has lead to GCSEs being labelled as irrelevent. Some students are supposed to fail exams adn only a few to excel. If that isn't the case then the examination process has failed in its purpose, to separate the talented from the talentless

  52. James Pickett

    Pot calling kettle...

    "Perhaps Gary and his triad of acronyms whom together with a thesaurus couldn't manage to put together coherent sentences"

    I usually applaud the use of 'whom', but only when it's used correctly, and not to rubbish someone else's coherence!

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a Bufoonish use of acronyms.

    <Better unnamed> writes "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 the problem was revealed to all: ignorance about one's ignorance

    Yes it *is* the only authoritative knowledge system. And it's not "western" at all, it's indeed a "system" and quite general. So general that even ET will have to use it if he doesn't want to stumble in the dark and poke his eyes out. So general that it can describe its own principles, and its own limits.

    "Traditional Ecological Knowledge" and "Indigenous Knowledge" sound like something that one could fill a rule-based system with. Useful heuristics for a few environments only; utterly useless in general.

    Please tell me how tetanus vaccine could have come from "TEK" or "IK"?

    I hear Newton, first of the Scientists and last of the Alchemists, turn in his grave at generator speeds!

  54. Gilbert Wham

    Bah

    "It appears to have slipped Mr. Grey's attention that our Western Modern Science (WMS) is not the only authoritative knowledge system."

    Whilst several people would appear to have beaten me to the punch, it has to be said; not if you want to calculate an orbit, or explain, say, lightning. A qualification in healing roots & tubers or applied tiger penis pharmacology is not going to be much use is it? Not even if it is dressed up as (god help us) a Bsc (hons) in TEK/IK.

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Decline and fall

    My 15 year old son who is taking the new gcse part1 science exam next week asked me to explain the answer to a mock question in physics for him. The question was "What two properties of isotopes can be used to cure cancer?" The only possible way he could answer this at his level of worldly experience is by rote learning. I gained my love of physics at school because it was a subject that required little rote learning. An understanding of basic principles plus a little effort in practicing how to employ them empowered one to answer questions that defied parrot fashion answers. Alas, I fear his generation will never be allowed to experience the creative excitement of learning science. It will be a chore just as studying history was to me then.

    Let's analyse the way the education system works given the attempt to create a market in all things since Thatcher. Exam boards compete against each other for fee paying candidates, schools compete against each other for league table position. To maximise exam board income and maintain school league table position the only posible outcome is for exam boards to compete with each other to lower standards. Similar arguments can be applied to explain the decline in higher education standards.

    But everyone is happy, except the few of us in the know. Government will fight tooth and nail to disguise the truth so they can boast that their policies have created ever rising results, schools no longer have to recruit rare specialist teachers to maintain artificial standards and students and their parents are lulled in to a sense of false achievement.

    Of course, this can have no effect on our society and culture because, according to the Thatcherite philosophy, "society doesn't exist"!

    Those with the money have long ago realised that the only way to keep on making it was to switch research, development and production to places where the populace compete for knowledge and accept lower standards of living and freedom than us.

    The answer can only come by removing the sham of institutional competition and placing the emphasis on individual incentives and selection in education. Something totaly unacceptable to any shade of political party. (Except for individuals wanting to become sporting personalities that is.)

    I remain utterly pessimistic - Retired Engineering Lecturer.

  56. John Stirling

    does this mean I could improve my A level grades from 20 years ago?

    It has occurred to me for a number of years that there are some pretty objective methods of testing this.

    The old 'let's give the current papers to some old duffers and see how they get on' approach suffers from the painfully obvious flaw that said old duffers are probably not really particularly up on the subject, so any testing will be irrelevant, as they will either be a) completely ignorant, regardless of knowledge 20 years ago, or b) vastly more knowledgeable and experienced, in which case it is not a fair test either.

    However the correct, relatively objective method is surely to take a series of test papers from various yesteryears and give them to a statistically valid sample of current students, shortly after taking their GCSEs (in order to give as close an approximation of the knowledge they had in the exam as possible).

    This would then allow an extremely close correlation for how any exams have been dumbed down. If one wanted to be really grown up about it, one could even control for syllabus by selecting relevant questions from exam papers, and building papers of greater relevance.

    The old exam papers must surely still exist - teachers may have retained copies, legitimately or otherwise, the exam boards used to sell them together with marking scripts, which would also be essential. Now those organisations no longer exist in their original format copyright may no longer be an issue either

    It would cost some money, but with the voluntary help of a few schools (the exams could be part of the introduction to an A-level syllabus) the cost could be minimal, and it would be a very interesting piece of historical, political, economic, and (of course) statistical analysis.

    Not to mention one in the eye for the lying disingenuous DfES and their political masters.

    It also occurs to me that a badly educated, mass media informed and controlled, biometric ID tracked, and politically spun majority may not be the best platform for a successful democracy, and the paranoiac in me suggests that may be intentional. We have seen the golden years, and they have passed. I'm going to spend my retirement in the trenches.

  57. Ian Sargent

    My response to a question

    QUOTE: ------------------------

    Simplicity

    By Rik Hemsley

    Posted Tuesday 12th June 2007 14:51 GMT

    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.

    END QUOTE: ------------------------

    As I have been asked a question I will answer.

    If (most) people who passed a physics 'O' Level in 1970 had to sit a GCSE tomorrow they would probably do poorly, but likely pass! If they had a couple of weeks or so to prepare then they would probably pass with flying colours!

    The only reason I can say this with some confidence is that I passed a physics 'O' Level in 1971 and have seen the material that my son has currently been studying for Science GCSE (3 parts - Physics, Chemistry & Biology), in fact he is sitting the second of two exams later this morning (13th June). He has also told me some of questions he has already had to answer…….

    To be honest I am appalled at the level of knowledge required today (not just Science) to pass a GCSE and even he (my son) has said that it has been ‘pretty poor’ (his words)! When I mentioned this article to him he also agreed about the ‘political’ aspect of some of the questions as well. Out of the mouths of babes???

  58. Dave

    Civitas report

    The Civitas report mentioned in the article, "Corruption of the Curriculum", is available from Amazon UK.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Corruption-Curriculum-Robert-Whelan-Editor/dp/1903386594/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/026-7801467-0330842?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1181549078&sr=8-1

    Currently ranked at 1,084 which strikes me as astonishingly good selling for something like this.

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    TEK/IK?

    Steffen Schubert wrote:

    "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."

    If Mr Schubert is joking then congratulations to him - this got a chuckle out of me. If he is not joking then hs is extraordinarily misguided. I have nothing against teaching "Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and Indigenous Knowledge (IK)" or even Contemporary Religion And Politics (CRAP) for anyone who might be interested in such things, but Mr Grey is employed by the state to teach "Western Modern Science (WMS)"

    Seriously, if you care about this stuff, write to your MP and ask them to read Mr Grey's letter, this might have a slight impact if thousands of people did it.

  60. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    What's this ?

    "Teachers, meanwhile, are expected to help further the government's social goals, rather than impart knowledge to their students."

    So teachers have become social workers now ? Who is going to do the teaching, then ? You know, bashing students over the head with why Kelvin temperatures can never be negative ?

    If the scholarship curriculum devotes itself to the warm and fuzzy domain of "getting a feel of things", who is going to teach people the Law of Energy Conservation, and prevent snake-oil salesmen from selling the latest perpetual motion machine ?

    Feels like we're all going to end up a bunch of mouth-breathing couch potatoes in a decade or four. On the other hand, it probably means the great return of the caveman method for getting laid : big bash on the head with club, and drag by hair to soft spot in grass. Oh well, at least what's left of Humanity will still have _some_ fun in the future.

  61. Ken Edmonds

    Oh Dear

    no no no - any kiddie will tell you the correct spelling is FZKS

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    tired old misquote

    A previous comment repeated the old misquote "according to the Thatcherite philosophy, "society doesn't exist"!", out of context as usual.

    The comment was made during an interview in which Margaret Thatcher (qualified as a chemist, incidentally, to retain some connection with the topic) pointed out that when it comes to paying for things you can't just assume that some amorphous "society" with bottomless pockets can always pick up the tab. *In that context* there's no such thing as society, because the money has to come from individuals, through taxes etc. Of course, ignoring the context was much more fun for the press and anti-Thatcher brigade!

  63. Tom Hawkins

    Not this 'health & safety' guff again...

    "Oh, and one final thing, remember practical science? You do? Well forget that. Health & Safety has all but eradicated the good stuff"

    No it hasn't, although some teachers think it has. The Royal Society of Chemistry surveyed schools and education authorities about this and found that very few substances or experiments were actually banned from schools, but there were some misconceptions about what was allowed. Still, the report comments, "97% of schools demonstrate the reaction between potassium and water, 96% the van der Graaff generator and 90% dissect a heart."

    http://www.rsc.org/ScienceAndTechnology/Policy/Bulletins/Issue5/SurelyThatsBanned.asp

  64. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A few thoughts from an(other) old fogey

    As a lifelong lefty I surprised myself five years ago by entering my son into the independent school system. I did this because we saw the scholarship exam taken by pupils of his age aspiring to go to a local prep school. My son had no clue how to read the maths questions much less how to answer them. This despite being a "high achiever" in his primary school class.

    Several years on he is about to take GCSEs at a well-known independent school. I asked him how he felt about them. He said they would be fine and in particular he had no worries about Physics because the standard is lower than he studied for Common Entrance at age 13.

    I am very much afraid that the idea of effective science education in the state sector is dead and buried. We have reached the stage where the teachers in schools today are themselves the products of the dumbed down system. Maybe there are a few old relics still hanging in there but they are dropping fast.

  65. Hayden Clark

    The triumph of opinion over fact

    ---

    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

    ---

    ..is a typical humanities-study response to the certainty of the scientific method. Unfortunately, all education policy-makers are humanities graduates.

  66. richard padley

    Memory vs. Intelligence and Quality vs. Quantity

    Memory vs. Intelligence:

    There is a significant confusion in the Education system today, which now concludes that students, who can recall facts, are some how good at solving technical problems.

    This is seen in society as we hold up winners of the Weakest Link, Brain of Britain or the Peoples Quiz as being 'clever' or 'intelligent'.

    People who are good at recalling facts simply have good memory recall, and this does not give any indication of an ability to understand the subject which they are able to recall or demonstrate an ability to solve a problem on the subject matter.

    The ability to recall facts about the size of a Planet, or the value of Pi to 20 decimal places does not demonstrate student as being good problem solvers, and is not indicative of whether or not the student is a good Physicist or Mathematician.

    The focus today is on sacrificing real science to turn out a mass of students with only a surface understanding of the actual mechanics of how the world works, and how this can be described in a mathematical framework.

    Quality vs. Quantity:

    In the governments drive to get 'more people into higher education', they have forgotten the single most important fact - not everyone is equal.

    The populations IQ exists on a Bell Distribution Curve - this is why it is useful to score students against such a curve -

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_curve_grading

    This means that only s small proportion of high IQ students get As (2%), then a larger proportion of B's for the next group (14%) and so on with the majority of students being 'average' around the C and D grade.

    However, Political Correctness says we should push 50% of students into Higher Education - even though we can clearly see that this means that the majority of those entering university would lack the mental capability of being an academic high performer and be fit to study in such an institution.

    Now, any flabby-thinking, half-a-brain thicko can saunter into University and walk out with a Desmond...

  67. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Careful......

    "is a typical humanities-study response to the certainty of the scientific method. Unfortunately, all education policy-makers are humanities graduates."

    I know what you mean and agree with your sentiment, but this sort of statement gives an opportunity to those who seek to equate science with religion and other superstitions.

    The point of science is that nothing is ever certain in the "If it says so in the bible/koran/talmud it's good enough for me" type of way. Even the longest-held and most useful scientific theories are open to change in the light of compelling new evidence.

  68. Ashley Stevens

    Debating and Voting on Science

    The politically-controlled curiculum today seems to teach that science is something that should be 'debated' and 'voted' upon, with the most popular position then being declared the 'truth (witness the government continually trotting out that 'most scientists now believe in man-made global warming', like that's really significant). It's more like social science (or politics) than the hard science that we learned 25 years ago. This is what happens when you put politicians (most of whom don't even know what science is) in charge of school curiculae. That's why I'm fundamentally opposed to the very idea of a "national" curiculum in the first place.

  69. Law

    Hmmm

    Even if you sat kids today down infront of an OLevel paper and they failed, all it would prove is that the generation who took OLevel papers screwed this generation over!! Don't be angry - be active... it's kinda your fault people!!

    I bet for some subjects like Biology the Olevel generation would have failed too because things change... stop calling the kids dumb or saying it's easy - it isn't, it is just different. It's not a good different, but they end up learning how to pass the current questions - still requires hard learning to know what answers are needed!!

    As for myself, must have been before this dumbing down because I sat GCSE's, I'm now 26... I'm a software engineer, I been uni and college... I understand maths, english, the sciences amongst other things... having said that my GCSE's papers weren't as bad as these questions I don't think, all about refraction, atoms and some maths if memory serves.

  70. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Start learning Chinese

    All numerate and rational subjects have been debased by UK educationalists for at least 50 years. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/6589301.stm for a comparison of current UK and Chinese university entrance maths standards. Even more embarrassing (if you're British) is that the UK example given there would have been taught to UK some 11-year olds in 1958!

    The kindest explanation of this is that it is due to the PC dogma of 'no child left behind' which, in practice, results in 'every child held back'. Having had my children's education impaired by this I now believe the only way is out.

    One thing is sure. British people will have to meet and compete with fully educated and motivated Chinese in future. No amount of waving your hands, flapping your lips and brown-nosing the latest PC fashion will help you do any business or keep your job in this counry.

    My advice: start learning Mandarin, because the liberal left have a stranglehold on UK education.

    Chris (Ph.D. Physics)

  71. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Roll back the clock

    My theory is that the rich elite are missing their slaves, people got all educated and middle-classy and took their slaves away from them. Dammit! Rich people have a god given right to cheap labor don'cha know.

  72. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    visualisation is the key

    as a Physicist, and now engineer, with a daughter who is studying Physics to "A" level, i can only confer with the above, the GCSE syllabus is too broad and fails to teach a complete understanding of any topic.

    The thing with Physics is that it is compressible, if you understand it you can work it out from first principles without having to remember hardly anything. - but only really if you have some natural ability in this area. Attempting to open-up the subject to a more popular audience has weakened this appeal, it is no longer "a good skive" - i.e. an easy option if understanding comes easier than knowledge.

    The truth is that Physics and Higher Mathematics are visual sciences, if you take a brain scan then it is the visual cortex all lit up, its like rewiring your graphics card MIPS to do field-solving. This skill alone is the key, and also finds application in software / hardware architecting, strategy and ultimately, creativity.

    We need scientists and engineers as a society, the courses should be designed for those with innate skill, it is a specialist subject.

    that said, there is some need for a social dimension, i support the calls for a hipppocratic oath for engineers, to decouple them from the arms industry - a major put-off for the more enlightened pupils of today's age.

  73. Iain Argent

    Faith Schools are the Answer

    ...and whilst we're not learning proper physics anyway, the curriculum is further polluted with Intelligent Design crap.

    My physics teacher impressed on me right from the start of the course that employers liked physics O-Grades (like O-levels) because "Physics shows you can think". Unlike faith schools, which bleed out capacity for original thought.

  74. rmm

    Speaking of "dumbing down"...

    Earlier today - 14th June, 2007 - I was told to go have a look at a certain report on the web site of Sky News.

    I found the following:

    "The International Space Station's computers have malfunctioned - leaving Nasa facing the prospect that it could go drifting off into the galaxy."

  75. Warren lockhart

    Physics is exactly about precision and numbers...

    Hell, this is what all of the physical sciences (and engineering) are about. It's important to learn early about physical quantities, and how they can be, errm, quantified. Even the more conceptual parts of physics are strongly related to the calculational parts anyway, and in their own right often require the student to think abstractly, or in three dimensions. This should be true as much for GCSE physics as for A-Level.

    Whatever happened to the sheer satisfaction of obtaining a numerical answer and then sensibly considering whether it is physically, er, sensible? A student learns so much from this process. Qualitative questions have their place but the UV/skin question is so overly simple that it insults the student. I have to wonder why the DFES are so defensive over this. Just who exactly is in charge of this country? This is what happens when non-scientists make policy about science education. The only good leader we ever had was a chemistry graduate. Her neurons were firing unrepentantly and it's not a coincidence that she had been trained how to think.

    That's what the physical sciences (are supposed to) do; train you how to think. Our present system is rewarding young people not to think. Our present government likes to reward the greedy corporate/financial system more than it likes to fund scientific research. Hell, it even likes to appease non-thinking religious fundamentalists by saying, "I know you're angry, what can we do to help?". These people smell blood, because they know we've become complacent, in everything, not just education. I digress, but I've made a crucial point. (By the way, over 50% of the verses in the Koran encourage hatred of infidels, or call them pigs or apes). How did I ever get onto this subject? Oh yes, it was to do with the incompetence of our leaders.

  76. Ted Treen

    ....precision and numbers

    Politics is generally the last refuge of the congenitally incompetent - which would account for the surfeit of (usually failed) barristers and lawyers in Parliament.

    I have never understood quite why one who has been a mediocre/failed lawyer of some sort, possibly armed with a nebulous non-degree in politics and/or sociology, should suddenly be an expert on education, economics, transport, health or defence, just because you've conned enough people to give you a vote. I really believe that a strong ambition to stand for office should be sufficient cause for disqualification since it definitely appears to indicate a serious personality defect.

    If we add to this institutionalised incompetence the dire state that education itself has drifted over the last 40--45 years, where lefty-trendy social engineers have slowly but steadily perverted education into indoctrination, it is clear that the hordes of uneducated feral youth are an inevitable consequence. I wish we could return sanity (and honour) to our government and administrative departments but, alas, I cannot see that occurring - unless we adopt the French mode of political dissent. Barricades on the street and AK's all round?

  77. brian murray

    Melanin?

    I quote: 'Acceptable answers are "more UV absorbed by dark skin (more melanin)"'. Er...surely this should be 'melatonin'? I daresay a replacement door for a kitchen cupboard might provide some protection from UV but really, is that what the exam board are looking for?

    Who else spotted this? No? Back of the class everyone - now!

  78. Graeme

    a-level physics

    "There is much, much more to physics than precision and numbers"

    After sitting an AQA A-Level Physics paper only yesterday the above statement just proves my opinion that in order to allow the less mathematically able students to still be able take the course ALL maths skill has been removed from the papers. This baffles me, as maths is an integral part to higher level sciences especially physics and therefore if you cant do the maths you shouldnt be able to claim you have an A-level in physics!

  79. Michael Chester

    My opinion

    As a current student (AS Physics/Chemistry, AS and A2 Maths, doing A2 Physics and chemistry and the full further maths a level next year), i have to say that in this particular run of exams (all on edexcel) I have noticed very few "political" questions, with most of it being theory, however i would like to raise one or two other points....

    In physics as part of unit 3 (the last of the first year), you do an option topic (edexcel only). these were originally designed to re-enforce (with some real world applications) the topics in the "core" units. these topics are:

    Astrophysics (Thermal physics mostly, generally to do with black body radiation but with some rote learning of star life cycles and some understanding of fusion), the core parts for this are taught in the 2nd year

    Nuclear and particle physics (a general introduction to the particles and forces in the standard model, but without the quantum parts), the core parts of this are in the first year (radioactivity) although most of it is new

    Solid Materials (no one does it, its boring!) basically just hookes law and a couple bits that are also in chemistry about material strengths

    Medical Physics (mostly on X-rays and ultrasound, as well as radiotherapy, MRI and other uses of radiation) Primarily based on the waves topic (2nd year) and the radioactivity topic (1st year)

    Of these the most popular with schools/colleges seem to be astro- and medical physics, as the pupils will fall asleep at the mention of solid materials and run screaming at the mention of something as difficult sounding as particle physics (although this is by far the easiest! Little rote learning, just conserve everything except quark type in weak interactions), however this means that students HAVE to learn these by rote as the basic foundations are not taught till the year after.

    The option topic used to be part of the second year, but it was decided that pupils would be more "engaged" if they learned some applications in the first year, and so this makes it less engaging as they understand none of the principles behind them...

    Matrix mechanics by the way, earlier identified as one of the key things that students should have from an A level if they intend to do physics at uni, do not some up until the Further Maths syllabus, and due to the extra effort this requires (doing the Maths A level in 1 year rather than 2) many students will not get this far unless they wish to do pure maths later in life.

    I would agree with the above poster that being able to derive equations by instinct does make physics and many parts of maths alot easier, one of my fellow students who I often help cannot do this, and suffers as a result, however there is little attempt to teach this in the modern curriculum.

    The other problem with the education system is that work designed to encourage brighter students is often not recognised. I am yet to meet a single person outside of my secondary school (which was a private school) who has any idea what an FSMQ is (a maths qualification between GCSE and AS, designed to allow bright GCSE students to do some more work without causing too much worry to the admin staff when they do AS levels, contains most of the core subjects for the AS level), this includes the careers advisors, the maths teachers at my current college (although for one of them it is not unexpected as I don't believe he could tell his arse from his elbow..), in fact anyone at my current college, any of the places I apply for part time work or work experience (which includes some technology companies), or indeed a Cambridge admissions tutor at a recent conference.

    I have been told many times on my way thorugh the current system that i could not be given extension work, the first was in primary school (year 5) where after being moved down previously due to a change in education policy (no child left behind, no child allowed ahead either), i was told that extension material could not be given "as the school did not have enough money to provide anything beyond the year 6 curriculum when Michael moves to the next year". This then resulted in me being constantly ahead of the class, and so I could easily doss about during lessons, occasionally stopping to help some of my slower classmates along in the hope of reaching something which I could not do easily. This did not happen until last year, by which point actually having to learn in school was such a novel experience that I struggled for a while because of it. To those that say that this is because I did not find extension material for myself, I will only say that I had enough understanding of particle physics, radioactivity and electricity midway through secondary school to have passed the relevant sections of the course this year, and my mechanics wasnt too far behind. The problem came when the areas of maths that got studied were different enough from what had come before that I had not encountered them except in vague mentions and so had not been interested enough to read up on them (calculus for those that are wondering).

    I have no idea where this is going, (hence the lack of any essay subject in the ones that i am doing) so will just end it now....

  80. heystoopid

    No worse than the current crop of existing graduates

    No worse than the current crop of existing Business Mismanagement Graduates , some of whom have truly impressive fictional polished resumes , but many were so badly trained and educated that even adding up the sum of 2 plus 2 was beyond their limited grasp of mathematics! Others were so incredibly lazy and fixed in the lame retarded rhetoric that they were brainwashed with in their advanced learning courses that made them impossible to work with as a team , due to the programmed me , myself an I syndrome they tended to suffer from(I think they forgot one basic question , the teachers of this so called knowledge of business management , if they were as good as they claimed to be why weren't they out working in the real business world earning ten or more times their current academic salaries!)

    I seem to recall some five years prior to the collapse of the late Ken Lay's personal fiefdom , the Energy Conglomerate? , called ENRON , that particular company prior to it's spectacular self caused implosion ,employed upwards of approximately 800 annually , and most if not all of these wankers who never saw the end coming literally!

    As for education committees , as are all political appointees merely there to reflect the attitudes and hidden agendas of the prevailing Minister and his Permanent Civil Head , thus must water it down or write unintelligible wacky conclusions that only "peter principle adherents" can do so well!

    Now since all political parties only supply idiots , morons and trained party lap dogs who can only read from the script stuck in front of their nose , we have no say in the matter anymore!

    I recall , that all higher government funded educational institution have a hidden quota system and through the abuse of the mathematics of statistic's will pass a large number of incompetents and utterly useless failures in order to reach the self imposed hidden government minimum quota pass rate!

    Sadly as with most government politically appointed boards and committees , they lack the ability to understand or comprehend the task put before them , but are merely employed as lap dogs to follow the relative minister in charge every whim and fancy that floats within the half brain cell that he or she possesses (remember we are only ever given mostly brain dead head in clouds party political hacks and morons as candidates to elect in what passes for democracy in the 21st Century)

    Don't blame the committee for this fiasco , the real problem lies with both the Minister and the Permanent Civil Head . operating so well to reflect all scripts written for the late Paul Eddington as Jim Hacker MP in "Yes Minister and or Yes Prime Minister"

  81. Choundappan

    Re:Brian Murray. Its Melanin not Melatonin

    Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the Pineal gland which acts as a biological clock.

    Melanin is the pigment found in your skin which gives varying shades of colour depending on various factors (environmental, genetic, etc.)

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019