Written Answers. - State Examinations.

Michael Creed

Question:

697 Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Education and Science if any consideration has been given to introducing a practical element to science subjects studied at junior and leaving certificate level. [8234/01]

At junior certificate level the science syllabus places significant emphasis on student practical work and on the practical skills that should be acquired by a student on completion of the course. The syllabus consists of a core and five extensions. One of these extensions is local studies and it requires students to carry out a practical project. This project is assessed by external examiners at the end of the course. The local studies extension is taken by a minority of students. For the majority, practical work consists primarily of short experiments/investigations carried out at the laboratory bench. This work is assessed by means of suitable questions on the written paper. The junior certificate science syllabus is currently being reviewed by a course committee of the national council for curriculum and assessment. While the revised syllabus is likely to have a somewhat different structure, it will continue to have a particular emphasis on student practical work.

At leaving certificate level the three main science subjects are physics, chemistry and biology. They all place an emphasis on student practical work as an integral part of the course. Last September new syllabi in physics and chemistry were introduced to schools for first examination in June 2002. Both of these new syllabi have an increased emphasis on student practical work and both have lists of required student experiments. A revised syllabus in biology has also been recently completed. Again, student practical work is an inherent part of the course and a range of required student practical work is included in the syllabus. In all three subjects, practical work is currently assessed through the medium of suitable questions on the written examination paper.
Syllabi in the two minority leaving certificate science subjects, physics and chemistry combined and agricultural science, are currently under review. Both syllabi currently include practical work as an inherent part of the course and the revised syllabi will also pay particular attention to this aspect of the subjects. The agricultural science syllabus also includes a practical project which is assessed as part of the leaving certificate examination, while practical work in the physics and chemistry course is assessed through the medium of the written paper.
A feasibility study into alternative modes of practical assessment in physics and chemistry has been carried out by my Department and the NCCA. The results of this study, and the various issues relating to the possible introduction of practical assessment in all of the leaving certificate science subjects, are under active consideration by my Department.
A programme of inservice training for teachers and additional capital funding for laboratories has been put in place to promote and support the development of practical work in the teaching of the physical sciences.
In April 2000 schools received a capital grant of £4,000. Of this sum, £1,500 was designated for the purchase of basic laboratory equipment while the remainder was designated for the purchase of a computer and associated hardware and software specifically for use in the science laboratory. At the end of last year schools received a further capital grant of £6,500. This was intended primarily for the purchase of data logging equipment.
As well as these capital grants, an additional annualper capita grant for each student studying the physical sciences at leaving certificate level was introduced in the school year 1999-2000.
A comprehensive programme of inservice training for teachers of physics and chemistry was instituted in September 1999. The programme will run for three years at an estimated cost of £3 million. In the current year the major emphasis of the programme is on the development of student practical work.