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Discontent over course content

THE current science curriculum only makes sense if you already understand the subject, according to academics at the University of Durham.

The result, they say, is that pupils are confused and opt out of science as soon as they can.

Curriculum content, not teaching method, is at the root of problems in school science, say Richard Gott and Philip Johnson from Durham's school of education.

In a paper presented at the ASE annual meeting, they argue that most pupils would benefit from a radical reappraisal of what they are taught.

For example, the national curriculum progresses from rusting at key stages 23 to salts at KS34 and synthesis at KS4A-level. These are all examples of the same thing - chemical change. Yet the national curriculum does not specify what it means to understand chemical change, or key ideas underpinning an understanding - such as what is meant by a "substance".

"What we are talking about here are the very central ideas of chemistry where the curriculum is flawed," say Gott and Johnson.

"We believe that the same can be said for biology and physics. The national curriculum assumes all of these ideas, but the ideas themselves are not specified as the content - the 'what' we should be teaching."

They conclude: "It is not surprising then that our pupils are so confused about chemical change."

They suggest a link between attitudes towards science and understanding, adding: "One is hardly likely to opt for more of something which has so far only confused."

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