Dáil Éireann - Volume 623 - 04 July, 2006

Written Answers. - School Curriculum.

Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the difficulties encountered in schools in implementing the junior certificate science course for which 35% of marks are awarded for practical work, including 30 mandatory experiments, due to large classes, lack of classroom assistants and inadequate laboratory facilities in some schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25914/06]

Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science the provisions in place to ensure that second level science teachers have the support of laboratory technicians to help with preparation for practical experiments; the provisions her Department has made to ensure that all second level students studying science subjects have the opportunity to engage in regular practical work as part of their studies; if she has satisfied herself that all second level science students receive this practical instruction; the financial or other assistance available to second level schools to facilitate the above; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25989/06]

  Ms Hanafin:I propose to take Questions Nos. 35 and 38 together.

Student practical work has been a major feature of science syllabi at both junior and senior cycle levels for many years and science teachers have long experience of carrying out programmes of practical work with their students. Up until now, this practical work has been assessed [190] through the medium of written papers in the Certificate examinations only.

The revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus introduced in 2003 differs from the previous syllabus in a number of ways that are intended to make the subject more relevant to students’ needs in the twenty-first century and to provide the students with a richer educational experience. One of the major changes is that the students’ practical work will now be directly assessed as part of the Junior Certificate examination.

The revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus has been mandatory since 2004 except for schools which were given a derogation from introducing the revised syllabus on the basis of a shortfall in laboratory space. Only four schools sought such a derogation. The needs of these schools are being addressed through the appropriate procedures in place in the Building Unit of my Department and it is expected that they will be in a position to implement the new syllabus from the coming September.

In relation to class sizes, it is a matter for management authorities of each individual local school to decide on the most appropriate ways in which to use the overall allocation of teaching resources the school receives from my Department, based on its total enrolment.

In addition to the revised Junior Certificate syllabus, revised syllabi have already been fully implemented for Leaving Certificate Biology, Physics and Chemistry.

The introduction of curricular change in the sciences has been supported in a range of ways. There have been comprehensive in-career development programmes for teachers and a major focus of these programmes has been to support teachers in providing an appropriate experience of practical work for their students. Additional funding for equipment and resources has also been provided. For example, some €16 million was made available to schools in 2004 for the purchase of equipment and the refurbishment of school laboratories to support the introduction of the revised Junior Certificate Science syllabus.

[191] As the Deputies are aware, the Inspectorate of my Department is currently implementing a comprehensive programme of evaluation in schools. This programme is designed to identify and affirm good practice while constructively identifying areas for improvement in the implementation of the curriculum. In the case of the sciences, the provision of appropriate practical activities for students is one aspect of the evaluation process.

I have no plans at present to make provision for laboratory technicians. In the Report of the Task Force on the Physical Sciences it was estimated that the cost of providing technicians at second level was €18.8m per annum at 2002 prices. Provision of technicians in this area would undoubtedly lead to demands for similar assistance across other areas of the curriculum where there is a strong practical component.