Science surveys reveal gaps in performance

Science teachers in Scotland are demanding more equitable funding and resources, after three separate reports produced different findings about the state of science attainment in schools.

The Association of Science Education in Scotland warned that pound;10million allocated in 2002 to improve science teaching over three years was still being allocated in a "patchy" fashion and that the financial "jam" for better equipment and teacher development was spread very thinly.

Stuart Farmer, chairman of ASE Scotland, also called for the science curriculum to be modernised.

He said the disappointing findings of the Assessment of Achievement Programme (AAP) on science, published on Tuesday, were no surprise. It highlighted pupils' difficulties in data handling and report-writing, particularly in late primary and early secondary.

The survey, which tests pupils at the 5-14 stages, showed fewer than 10 per cent in S2 were secure at their target attainment level, while three-quarters failed to achieve even half marks. Two international surveys, Pisa and Timms, published in the last week, produced different results.

A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said: "Pisa, Timms and AAP show that, in the early years of primary and the later years of secondary, pupils are performing well. Nevertheless, there is no room for complacency as the results again confirm that many pupils are underachieving during the early years of secondary. That is why our recently unveiled reforms have a major emphasis on meeting these challenges."

He acknowledged that science requires attention, which is why it has been made a priority in phase two of the curriculum review "so that the subject is more challenging, enjoyable and relevant for young people".

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said: "Scotland is not unique in being a country which looks good under Pisa and less good under Timms. New Zealand is another one that comes to mind.

"The AAP is our own internal domestic survey set against 5-14 levels. It is a purely Scottish construction and it looks as if that is the one in which we are generally poorest."

Professor David Raffe, of Edinburgh university's education faculty, said the AAP results for P7 and S2 were "a pretty poor performance". Those for writing attainment were particularly worrying.

"I think that international benchmarking is important in that these are the criteria at which teaching is supposed to be directed," he said. "If they are not meeting these criteria one way or another, schools are failing in the things they are setting out to do."

However, Professor Geoffrey Boulton, a member of the Scottish Science Advisory Committee, said that social attitudes and motivations in different countries had to be taken into account when making comparisons.

In some developing countries and parts of Asia, science was the preferred choice for young people to study. In the UK, science was falling away as a subject choice at university, and he called for it to be given greater priority. Last year, the SSAC recommended that more specialist secondary teachers should work part-time in primary schools.

Professor Boulton, a member of the Council for Science and Technology, the UK Government's advisory body in this area, added: "Many of us are familiar with the concerns of primary teachers over science - they feel insecure and uncertain about it. We were extremely concerned that they should be given every support, and it is not clear that has happened."


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