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Council catalyst to spark science

North Lanarkshire is to launch its own science course to ease the transition in the subject from upper primary into secondary.

The council's move, which has already been backed by 110 out of the council's 134 primaries, came as Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, announced a review of environmental studies, beginning with science.

The review will be carried out by the national 5-14 implementation group chaired by Jim Anderson, director of education in Angus, and includes headteacher and union representatives.

Mr Wilson said: "The initial focus on science reflects the evidence from recent research that the performance of Scottish pupils in this area is not sufficiently high." The problems have been highlighted in the Scottish Office's Assessment of Achievement Programme (AAP) and the Third International Maths and Science Study.

The possible shake-up was heralded as early as last May by Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector of schools, in an address to primary heads. He repeated his concern last September about "the need to look carefully at whether the way in which science is embodied in the environmental studies guidelines ensures a coherent experience in science".

Tom Bryce, who has headed the AAP science survey, said last year that student primary teachers do not have a secure grasp of science. "We are worried by the amount of science they don't know," Professor Bryce said.

Michael O'Neill, director of education in North Lanarkshire, said the authority's science course, which will be formally launched in June, is being developed by writing teams of teachers in response to demand from teachers. It will attempt to create a coherent course taking pupils from primary 6 into the first year of secondary, backed by a core set of materials which will make staff development and in-service easier.

Mr O'Neill hoped the course would tackle a number of issues simultaneously such as the environmental studies workload, teacher confidence in handling science, discontinuities between primary and secondary, and underachievement in secondaries one and two.

The HMI review on Achieving Success in S1S2 acknowledged that despite the attempt to introduce a more continuous experience for pupils in the 5-14 guidelines, "the scope of the guidelines, allied to strongly held views about the relative merits of integrated or subject-based approaches are likely to cause continuing difficulties".

The Inspectorate called for "better and simpler specification of attainment targets" for science. It also said schools should be given advice and help with good planning in environmental studies, "cluster-group management" involving local primaries and secondaries, and approaches to assessment.

While Mr Wilson confirmed that the review would heed this recommendation for a "more focused attention" on science, there is no suggestion that science should become a separate 5-14 subject.

The minister added: "This review will examine the guidelines with a view to simplification and clarification and so release teachers to concentrate more on direct teaching. It will proceed to produce further support to teachers in the form of examples to assist with implementation."

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