A plant that grew;Reviews;Primary;Books

1st January 1999 at 00:00
JUNIOR SCHOOL SCIENCE EDUCATION IN ENGLAND AND WALES SINCE 1900. By Edgar Jenkins and Bronwyn Swinnerton. Woburn Press pound;35 (hardback). pound;16.50 (paperback).

At the turn of the century, if science appeared at all on the elementary school curriculum, it was restricted to nature study. Even in the 1960s, primary science was described as a "feeble plant" with patchy provision. Dominated by an approach which rarely included physical sciences, it gave pre-eminence to the processes of science rather than its content.

Since then, supported and nourished by the national curriculum, its roots have taken such a firm hold that it now occupies the curriculum high table, with numeracy and literacy. How and why this has happened are issues which are documented and explored in this well-written book.

In their quest, the authors display exhaustive research which explores such issues as the growth of child-centred education and its influence on primary science. Their discussion of the contribution of Froebel, Pestalozzi, Armstrong, Montessori and Piaget is particularly engaging.

Similar attention is paid to other issues such as the problems generated by lack of teacher subject knowledge, the influence of teacher training, and the response of the curriculum to an ever-changing society. Perhaps its one weakness is a lack of recognition of the significance of the education support grants of the 1980s asa mechanism that provided funding for a large body of advisers who were to become relentless advocates for science in primary schools.

In many ways, Jenkins and Swinnerton remind us that when it comes to the science curriculum, we have been here before. Debates around such issues as content versus process, subject content and the role and value of science education are matters that have all been the subject of controversy in this, if not the last, century. Yet this is why books like this matter.

They provide a set of case studies to help us interpret the present and, at best, such scholarship can help us to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. This book should be read by all those with an interest in primary science who wish to learn the lessons of history.

Jonathan Osborne is a senior lecturer in science education at King's College London

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