Edgar Jenkins is Emeritus Professor at the School of Education of the University of Leeds
The history of the schooling of the three basic sciences is different. Chemistry and physics began to find a place in a few public and grammar schools in the mid-nineteenth century after a generation of opposition from classicists. Had the ‘battle’ been won in the 1830s or 1840s, it is geology that would have secured a place in such schools as then existed.
The form and content of school physics and chemistry were shaped by the then form and content of the disciplines themselves. Chemistry was essentially analytical and preparative. Physics as a subject was cobbled together form developments in electricity and magnetism, heat, light and sound, and mechanics and the properties of matter. Biology was rarely taught except to senior pupils intending to study medicine and was little more than a composite of botany and zoology.
There are many elements to the eventual accommodation, including gender and social class, designing and building teaching laboratories, laboratory work and examinations.
The School Regulations of 1904 and the School Certificate Examinations introduced in 1919 set the pattern that largely prevailed until after the second world war. Major changes came in the 1960s with modernizing of content, ‘new’ approaches to teaching and examining, the advent of comprehensive schooling and science for all and much more!
In sum, the social and political history of school science is fascinating, characterized by unresolved tensions and the search for some kind of Holy Grail!