Experimental steps

5th May 2000 at 01:00
Innovation can't thrive if teachers are afraid to take risks, says Daniel Sandford Smith of ASE.

The quality of teaching has improved and is satisfactory or better in nine schools out of 10." How does this statement make you feel? Contrast it with what the OFSTED report, Progress in Key Stage 3 Science, actually said:

"The quality of teaching has improved but remains unsatisfactory in one school in 10."

The report goes on to suggest that "all teachers should have the confidence to respond flexibly to the national curriculum; they need to be reassured that the responsibility for making decisions about how the national curriculum is applied in the curriculum is still theirs."

If we want teachers with the confidence to be flexible and creative then we must look for positive messages as well as the negative ones. I think the report is a good one: there are positive and negative messages but also ways forward. When you read it will you remember "pupils generally have a positive attitude towards science" and that "English 13-year-olds have a better grounding in scientific information and skills than many of their peers in other countries"? Or are you concetrating on the challenges it poses - how to ensure progression from KS2 and to maintain it through KS3?

The Association for Science Education exists to improve science education and believes that the key to achieving this is the science teacher. ASE encourages teachers to experiment and innovate and to share good practice. But this cannot happen if teachers are afraid to take risks.

Let's not assume that because science teaching can be improved it must be bad - have you ever taught a perfect lesson? We all know the value of balancing the roles of the stick and the carrot in helping students achieve their potential. Perhaps it is time we started applying the same balance to teachers.

Daniel Sandford Smith is director of curriculum support at ASE, College Lane, Hatfield, Herts AL10 9AA. Tel: 01707 283000E-mail: sandsmith@ase.org.ukWebsite: www.ase.org.uk Roar nerve: the MGM lion at a recording session in 1929, with camera and sound equipment typical of the day. From the revised edition of Trevor I Williams' A History of Invention, which explores everything from stone axes to silicon chips in cultural and scientific context (Little Brown pound;19.99).

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