Show Me The Evidence, Please

[BPSDB]I previously wrote here on the Times OnLine’s slightly inaccurate description of the effect of ‘Health & Safety’ on school science practicals and illustrated my point with examples of supposedly banned experiments still performed at my school. One commenter pointed out that this was really just anecdotal evidence and countered with an anecdote of her own to the effect that practical work had decreased at the school attended by her daughters.

This is a very fair point. While it is a fact that a short discussion with a CLEAPSS or Health and Safety Executive staffer will confirm that the supposedly banned experiments are in fact perfectly legal, it is quite possible that some teachers have a misconceived idea as to what they are allowed to do (probably from reading shite articles in the press and on line). What the Times article does not tell us if this is how widespread the problem is – assuming it is in fact the case.

I emailed Professors John Holman and David Phillips to ask what evidence they had to say that practical work was being restricted. Phillips never bothered to reply but I did get a courteous reply from John Holman which, however, did not add to what had appeared in the article.

I emailed again, requesting a link to any evidence that he had and stated explicitly that I am a blogger and intended to blog on the matter. As yet, he has not replied. Draw your own conclusions as to why.


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3 Responses to “Show Me The Evidence, Please”

  1. Bob Worley Says:

    Here is a report written on this topic, commissioned by the RSC to which many of these professors belong. There is probably less practical work done now but the reasons involve modular examinations, a narrower syllabus (although teachers always claim they cannot finish it; we said the same in 1985!), a lack of preparation on some teacher training courses, challenging behaviour by students and a specialist science not being taught by specialist teachers. The latter is rather contentious as some teachers can deal with all three sciences really well but many will find it really difficult to bring enthusiasm and passion into a science they might have last studied at GCSE themselves.

  2. rob Says:

    There’s also the question of cost. Bar-room supposition, I’m afraid, but I suppose it must be cheaper for schools not to offer practical classes, with savings from lower materials and equipment costs to less (skilled) technical support needs. I can’t imagine that many school heads or governors would want to shout it from the rooftops, but in straitened times it must be tempting to save a few quid and use the ‘get out of jail free card’ of ‘elf and safety.

    Anecdote alert! some years ago during hard times at my (then) university – dwindling resources and reduced status of science teaching – it was seriously suggested by senior management that chemistry practical sessions should be video-recorded and students should watch the videos instead of handling the equipment themselves. At least they were honest enough to state that cost was the main reason for doing this, although I think H&S was mentioned as a secondary benefit. The proposal was eventually withdrawn amidst the uproar and the sound of pitchforks being honed.

  3. jaycueaitch Says:

    Bob – useful link. Thanks.

    It would appear that the main problem is the misconceptions about and misinterpretations of H&S regulations that are the problem. This is something in-service training (and teacher training courses for future teachers) could address. I liked the bit which suggested that technicians tended to be better informed than teachers. However, it is clear that the Times article’s suggestion that Health and Safety have banned this that and the other is plain wrong.

    The cynic in me thinks that rob’s suggestion that some school managements are using spurious health and safety concerns to camoflage cost cutting may have an element of truth to it.

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