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And the next generation?

The number of young people choosing to study science is actually rising, despite the fees. From 2007/8 to 2013/14: Physics up 16 per cent, Engineering and Technology up 15 per cent, Biological Sciences up 30 per cent.

Chemistry departments are re-opening, for example at King’s College London and Lancaster, and there are more students (no doubt understanding that a science degree really does help get a job).

In the decade leading up to 2005 30 of Britain’s 70 chemistry departments closed. Then, in 2006 the University of Sussex said it was closing its truly world-leading chemistry department.

Huge outrage followed – government looked into it, and was forced to provide a few hundred million to encourage schools’ chemistry and to fund higher education. The Sussex chemistry department is still there.

But how long will this last? The government seems to be doing all it can to turn children off science. At the end of 2014 Ofqual announced that GCSE science would be examined by written exam only, putting practical work – where the fun really lies – under threat.

Faced with laboratory space that isn’t contributing to exam success on the one hand, and with rising rolls on the other, how many schools will turn their labs into ordinary classrooms?

Or to put it another way, how long will it take government-inspired perversion of education and low levels of investment to overturn 350 years of scientific tradition?

• Companion article: Science for the people: Away with superstitions