Independents spend up to 100 times more on practical lessons

TES, 31/10/14, widening gap between the state and independent schools when it comes to practical experiments.

The study carried out by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (Case), which quotes numbers from a Science Community Representing Education (Score) report published last year, says that funding for experiments is as low as 75p per student per year in some state schools, compared with an average of £27 in independent schools. In some private schools, the figure is as high as £83.

With an average of almost £9 across the state sector, Case is calling on the government for more investment in school science practicals in an effort to level the playing field.

Sarah Main, director of Case – a lobby group that represents some of the biggest science bodies and universities in the UK – warned that the subject was becoming the domain of private schools and said more should be done to encourage state school students to opt for the sciences at A-level.

“The independent sector, as a proportion, puts more students through science and maths by a long, long way,” Dr Main told TES. “And their levels of attainment are much higher. A gulf is opening up between the two sectors, which is worrying.”

Dr Main’s comments were supported by the publication of national data on this year’s A-level results, which show that private schools significantly outperformed their state rivals in the three sciences.

Nearly a fifth of independent school entries achieved A* grades in both A-level biology and physics, and about one in six reached the same grade in chemistry. However, less than one in 10 state school entries gained the top grade in each of the three subjects.

Professor Julia Buckingham, chair of Score and vice-chancellor of Brunel University, said practicals were an “integral part” of science and called for better support for schools.

“There is no doubt that the independent sector does very well and is well resourced, but there is some splendid work happening in state schools. There are some schools that are not doing so well in the maintained sector, so we must do more to ensure that there are equal opportunities for all of our young people,” she added.

State schools

  • Average spend on practicals: £8.81 (per pupil per year)
  • Lowest spend on practicals: 75p
  • Highest spend on practicals: £31.25
  • Percentage of A-level entries achieving A*: 8.5 per cent in biology; 8.2 per cent in chemistry; 9.1 per cent in physics

Private schools

  • Average spend on practicals: £27.29
  • Lowest spend on practicals: £7.18
  • Highest spend on practicals: £83.21
  • Percentage of A-level entries achieving A*: 19.7 per cent in biology; 17.2 per cent in chemistry; 19 per cent in physics.

Read the full article c TES