Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Health and safety could stifle scientific inspiration

Two very ancient pictures of me - the first one messing around in the school chemistry lab in 1960, and the other 12 years later on the Nchanga tailings leach plan in 1972.
The connection? A report in yesterday's Times that many schools are phasing out chemistry practicals because of health and safety concerns. The safer option is to watch experiments being performed via the internet, This is worrying, as most people who pursue a scientific career were inspired by practical experiments at school. I remember mixing chemicals to produce the most noxious smells and violent reactions, and I never saw or heard of any serious injuries- a few holes in shirts and jumpers due to acid burns maybe.
Where will this end? Presumably if students aren't introduced to practical work at school, the next stage will be a reluctance to initiate them at University. No more dangerous laboratory ball mills, or nasty furnaces which can burn fingers. And perish the thought that a young graduate might be let out onto a plant with all the inherent dangers of heavy machinery. Cone crushers!! Not within a million miles.


  1. Andrew Morrow (science teacher)6 October 2009 at 18:30

    This is indeed the case in many secondary schools around the country. I think that the main reason for this is not health and safety concerns, it is lack of teacher training and poorly behaved students. The number of chemistry and physics teachers are declining in schools and this is a worry.

    I myself try to do as much practical work as possible and this can motivate many poorly behaved students. Videos of practical work are also very useful, Youtube videos of Caesium in water can only add to a lesson.

  2. Claire McManus (Science teacher)7 October 2009 at 13:13

    I think we are more limited now in the kinds of practicals we can do. There are stricter guidlines on safety. I personally would do more exciting practicals if I was allowed!
    There is also the issue of training; I teach (and enjoy) Chemistry but am a trained Biologist.

  3. All in all a pretty gloomy picture of modern day science teaching.

    Maybe we should go back to the "bad old days" when we were all given a Bunsen Burner to play with, but if we misbehaved the Bunsen Burner hose served a completely different purpose!!


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