New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

What Makes a Successful Chemistry School?

Peter Childs, University of Limerick (Ireland)


In Ireland senior cycle Biology is almost four times as popular as Chemistry and Physics. Around 15% of the senior cycle cohort study Chemistry each year, but the uptake of Chemistry varies widely from one school to another. All students study the same science course in the junior cycle and so nominally have a common background when they enter senior cycle. We were interested to investigate why some schools are more successful than others in attracting students to study Chemistry.  By identifying contributing factors in successful schools then this might allow us to transfer them to less successful schools. This paper reports two studies, done as final year research projects by science education students. One was done in 2009 (LW) and the other in 2014 (MMcC), to answer this question: ‘What makes a successful Chemistry school?’ Schools where the uptake of Chemistry was significantly above the national average were identified. We termed these schools ‘successful’. In 2009 we sent questionnaires to 35 successful schools in one geographical area, and received 12 replies. In 2014 we identified 30 pairs of similar schools across the country: one with above l average enrolment for LC Chemistry and the other below average. Questionnaires were sent to all the 30 pairs, 60 schools in total, to identify factors common to successful schools and not found in less successful schools. Results from 8 complete pairs (16 schools) were returned and analysed.
From the 2014 results we could identify common factors in the successful schools, similar to but more extensive than from the 2009 study. The data enabled us to produce a  profile of a successful  Irish second-level school in relation to Chemistry enrolment. These factors influence the view students have of science and particularly whether they want to study the physical sciences in the senior cycle.
This study gives ideas for helping schools increase their uptake of Chemistry. Irish schools offer the same curriculum but can vary widely in size, type, style, location, resources and intake, thus the actual educational experience received by students can thus vary widely. 

Keywords: Chemistry education, secondary education, chemistry uptake;


[1] Task Force on the Physical Sciences, Department of Education and Science, 2002.
[2] Smyth, E. and Hannan, C. Who Chooses Science? Subject Take-up in Second-Level Schools, Dublin: Liffey Press, 2002
[3] Turp, S., ‘SIIF 2004-2014: factors and processes that contribute yo high take-up of post-16 science.’ Education in Science, Nov. 24,27, 2008, 24,27
[4] Progression to post-16 science the report. UK: Department for Children, Schools and Families. 2009. Available online: Accessed 12/1/18


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