On January 18th 2010 I attended a meeting called by QCDA – the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority – who were seeking the input of professional physicists into the ongoing revision of the Physics GCSE syllabus. It quickly became clear that QCDA staff thought they knew better than everyone else and they were condescending and contemptuous of anyone else’s opinion. In particular, the head of ‘development’ stated that the problem with GCSE physics ‘was physicists’ and that ‘everyone thinks their subject is hardest:- physics is no harder than religious studies’. I didn’t really know what to do about this experience, and on the same day my cousin died in Ireland, and I had to travel for her funeral. The week was busy and a write-off. However on Satuday I saw an article about ‘worthless exams’ in the Guardian and this re-ignited my desire to do something. I wrote a letter to the paper!
My letter was published today, but my friend Alom Shaha had already posted the letter on a ‘How Should we teach Science‘ web site and I been shocked – overwhelmed indeed – by the extensive support from a wide range of (mainly) teachers. Please read some of these comments. They are shocking and moving. Alom headed this with the phrase I had used to summarise this meeting to my bosses: the lunatics have taken over the asylum.
I really don’t know what to do next. I am busy and this is not my job, but it also doesn’t appear to be anyone’s job to stand up for standards in exams if that means that more people will ‘fail’. QCDA has completely politicised the construction of curricula and will not rest until physics is as easy as religious studies. This matters because many real people – generally we call them children but they are people and they will become citizens – are being disempowered. Why? Because actually physics and engineering remain exactly as hard as they ever were – but the holders of these worthless qualifications will simply not be able to study physics, work in physics, or more widely – bring the benefits of physics insights into whatever career they adopt. Its a tragedy. Its a car crash in slow motion, and it may already be too late.