Thursday, 22 January 2009

Are specialist science colleges boosting physics?

Professor Alan Smithers has produced an odd piece of research designed to show that specialist schools are useless; and if they are any good, it's only because they get more dosh and posher kids. The basis for this claim is a study of science colleges and other schools and the status of physics within them. According to Prof Smithers, a greater proportion of students who take physics get A grades in language colleges than science colleges, therefore the whole thing is a sham.

Yet in his report, Prof Smithers tells us that science colleges are five times more likely to offer physics at GCSE than other schools. They are even more likely than grammar schools to do so. And he says that the best predictor of whether students do physics at A level is their GCSE results. Separate data shows that the number of physics and chemistry entries at GCSE and A level has been growing nationally, partly as a result of this trend. So science colleges are boosting physics, even if they don't get quite so many A grades.

So, if a larger group of students across science colleges has the chance to take the subject at GCSE, whereas many cannot take it in other schools, is it not possible that the science colleges are making a rather greater contribution to the subject than a long-term opponent of specialist schools is prepared to allow for? I only ask because the researchers apparently didn't think to do so.

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