SCIENCE teachers have been demoralised by the national curriculum which they believe has damaged their professional autonomy, the Association for Science Education conference heard, writes Sarah Cassidy.
Professor Edgar Jenkins of Leeds University said that his research had shown that many science teachers found the national curriculum too restrictive and inflexible to allow them to meet the needs of all their pupils.
The introduction of the national curriculum had led to a reduction in the amount and significance of laboratory work undertaken by pupils and, in some cases, to science courses becoming much less enjoyable for both the teachers and their pupils, he said.
Teachers believed their professional authority had been severely curtailed, according to Professor Jenkins, director of the centre for studies in science and mathematics education at Leeds.
Not surprisingly, too many science teachers were demoralised and had begun to question the basis of their professional exertise, said Professor Jenkins.
The belief that the national curriculum told science teachers what to teach but left them to decide how to teach was being steadily eroded by the promotion of best practice, he added.
Professor Jenkins complained that best practice had become part of politicians' rhetoric and challenged the assumption that standards would rise if all teachers followed the same best practice.
He argued that what really mattered in science teaching could never be mandated and could only be acquired by experience of teaching.
Professor Jenkins urged teachers to reject the current view of science education and promote a more sophisticated and sympathetic understanding of the nature of their work with pupils in classrooms and laboratories.
He said: "Only then will policy-makers understand science teachers' fundamental and experience-based ownership of what they do and acknowledge the need to see them as partners in, rather than objects of, reform."