22 MARCH 1968, Page 12

Missing scientists


• After three years of digging the Dainton Com- mittee has produced its crock of gold. Invited by the Council for Scientific Policy to inquire into 'the Flow of Candidates in Science and Technology into Higher Education,' Dr F. S. Dainton, vice-chancellor of Nottingham, and his colleagues have produced a blue book which aims at nothing less than the radical reform of English academic secondary education from bottom to top. Moreover, because an educa- tion system is an articulated whole, the changes which they want to see in the schools, and particularly the sixth forms, depend on—and entail—a complete rethinking of university first degrees in science and technology and a will- ingness to put something very much more general than the traditional honours course in front of would-be chemists and physicists.

Small wonder, then, that this has been- -albeit erroneously—hailed as one of the most important educational reports since the

Robbins Committee produced its magnum • opus. Dr Dainton was asked to undertake his inquiry because of the famous swing away

from science and mathematics in the siith form, which means that a diminishing propor- • tion of the much larger numbers who now stay at school to do 'A' levels choose to do the combinations of science subjects which lead to university science and technology. It is this swing which accounts for the 1,500 empty uni- versity places in science and technology this year. The report spells out just how serious this is in a table which gives the number of pupils in the first year of sixth-form 'A' level courses. Overall, the number is expected to rise from 107,000 in 1964 to 134,000 in 1971. But the number specialising in science- will drop during the same period from 40,100 to 31,700. All this is analysed clearly in the report but no coherent answers are offered as to why this should be happening. There is an assortment of suggestions about the spirit of the age and the need to infuse science teaching with What • the report is pleased to call 'up-to-dateness.' But anyone who hoped to know why this long- term decline is taking place—contrasting as it does with the immediate postwar period when the swing went the other way—is going to be disappointed.

As a matter of fact there is a great deal in the report which is disappointing. Having dis- covered a vicious circle—a shortage of teachers leading to a shortage of students 'leading to a shortage of teachers—the committee could offer no convincing way of cutting into it.

Instead it concentrated on the kind of school curriculum it would like to see which, in its view, would produce a generation of eighteen year olds whose options for science and maths had been kept open and who might, therefore, still be susceptible to the blandishments of university scientists and mathematicians.

Admittedly it risked burning its fingers by including a recommendation that, 'as a very high priority,' new incentives should be offered to get more able graduates into science teach- ing. But the response of teachers' and local authority representatives in the Burnham Com- mittee to a salary differential related to a graduate's degree subject was immediately hostile. There is no chance of getting this by agreement and it is hard to see how Mr Gordon Walker could drive it through otherwise.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion- that as things stand the Dainton curriculum is im- possible because of the lack of science and maths teachers. (Some, like Mr Tom Howarth,

High Master of St Paul's, would go further and argue that if there were enough science

teachers there would be no need for the Damn- ton curriculum.) To say that all pupils should continue with mathematics to the end of their school life can only mean enormously increas- ing demand for maths teachers. Similarly, to argue that all pupils should pursue a broad sixth-form course in four or five main subjects to a sub-`A'-level standard, including a lot more science, makes little sense if the people are not around to do the science teaching. Dainton recognised this but seemed to shrug it off, with a reference to teaching machines, as someone else's worry.

The figures speak for themselves. There are some 5,700 secondary schools. Yet the latest available figures (1965) show that they have

only 5,305 maths graduates between them— less than one per school. They are even worse

off for physicists, of whom there are only 2,627, chemists (3,134), biologists (2,505). Juggle how you will, the numbers just don't add up to the Dainton formula.

But this does not mean that what now is' can be allowed to continue indefinitely. The

• evidence of early specialisation which Dainton collected is damning—thousands upon thousands of young people slithering into de- cisions which determine their academic and vocational destinations at thirteen or fourteen in a largely irrational and wholly unnecessary manner. Equally damning is the evidence, which was not presented, about the dreariness of first degrees in science. If the reports which

filter back to the schools are anything to go by, there may be good reasons why young people

are rejecting the fact-crammed slog of, say, a first degree in chemistry for the opportunity to think speculatively in economics or sociology.

• It may well be that the universities hold the key, not the school. The nature of science

and maths teaching in the sixth form is deter- mined by what is demanded of candidates for a university place. Dainton acknowledges this by urging not only that the science and maths curricula should be overhauled, but also that universities should start new courses to attract young people who are not committed early to science and technology and that some of these courses should introduce students to science ab initio. This would certainly put a match to the secondary school revolution. If something like this doesn't happen, this will end up as just another report which occupied half a dozen busy men for three years.

'So! They didn't have the capability to finish it for another fifty years, did they?'