I’m Sick of This Urban Myth

[BPSDB]If I had a fiver every time I heard that “Schoolchildren don’t do experiments in science any more because of Health & Safety” I’d be able to afford a trip to the Antipodes this Christmas.

Whenever you hear this yarn it is worth asking the spinners for their evidence. In my experience it rarely amounts to much more than “I read it onthe internet” or “it was in the paper”. There is a reason for this lack of evidence and that reason is that the notion that practicals don’t happen because of health and safety concerns is a complete myth.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have my criticisms of modern science education but a lack of practical work is not one of them. Modern GCSE students do dissect things (usually plants), they do use chemicals and they do wire up circuits. They also see demonstrations such as the thermite reaction.

There are more regulations than there used to be but these are generally such things as requiring risk assessments to be done, requiring experiments producing hazardous fumes to be done in a fume cupboard, using screens & personal protective equipment, testing electrical equipment to make sure it is properly insulated & earthed and ideally having a qualified first aider to hand. I have no problem with this – being killed or maimed is not generally a useful educational experience.

Compliance with the regulations does have some cost and it may be that some penny-pinching management or governors somewhere has decided not to pay these costs and then blamed “health and safety” for the fact that they can no longer undertake practical work. I can think of no other reason (other than deliberate lying) for this myth getting going. Now everybody repeats it to each other and each repetition of the recycled story is mistaken for confirmation.

Now Lord Drayson has trotted it out. Obviously the Science Minister did not bother to actually talk to anyone involved in science education before sounding off. Obviously too much to hope that someone in his position would actually bother to check that what he was going to say had any truth to it rather than lazily repeat the current urban myth. If this is typical of Government approach to policy then it is not only education which is screwed.

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4 Responses to “I’m Sick of This Urban Myth”

  1. boilingtube Says:

    kelvinthroop
    You are 100% spot on with this comment. I am heavily involved in his area of science education so I have direct experience of all the myths and excuses for not doing practical work because of so-called H&S legislation. (You must have been to talk by myself or a colleague of mine!)

  2. boilingtube Says:

    The myth returns!
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/school_league_tables/article6861136.ece

  3. kelvinthroop Says:

    Christ on a crutch! Do they actually talk to anyone who works in education before publishing this rubbish?

  4. dleaf12 Says:

    Though as another directly involved in science education, there are those classes where behaviour is so poor that experiments are NOT done for fear of what the pupils may do to themselves or others. So in a way, that is safety – but not from the faceless bureaucrats.

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