Going beyond the scientific approach

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
FRANCA REID. Headteacher Longforgan Primary Perth and Kinross

"We are all holding our breath to see what comes out of the curriculum review. Science will be particularly affected as it's so full of prescribed content.

"In theory it should free us to motivate kids, teach in a variety of styles and be creative and flexible. People are wondering, though, how radical the changes will be, how much work schools will have in rewriting the curriculum and how much flexibility local authorities will allow because of having to get kids through national assessments. There's talk of an AAP-style national assessment. But that would mean children who don't study areas in the test will be disadvantaged, and the school will look as if it is not achieving. In essence, nothing will have changed.

"Formative assessment is great, but will we actually see a loosening of the assessment noose, or will the tension continue between being child-friendly - as proposed in A Curriculum for Excellence - and doing summative testing with scores that can easily be measured for government statistics?

"Teachers are engaging with formative assessment and A Curriculum for Excellence though, and it's an exciting time. I'm really pleased I'll get to see education being about children again.

JOY SNAPE. Chair, Association for Science Education, Scotland

"Teachers are used to a structured science curriculum. So although everybody welcomes the idea of de-cluttering, there is some apprehension.

"Borders and many other authorities developed detailed science courses, which were welcomed with open arms. They raised teachers'

confidence. To take that away is scary.

"There are serious questions, too, around how you measure progression.

Broad statements can be interpreted differently. Maybe facts will become less important and, in terms of the capacities, it'll be about processes, thinking scientifically, becoming confident learners who know how to acquire knowledge.

"Rather than teaching facts then doing an experiment to prove them, it is more important to take kids on a journey, do real experiments, look at scientific thinking.

"We've had real success in Borders with a thinking skills programme and every school cluster now has a thinking skills trainer.

"It will take time for people to absorb the new curriculum, but it's a fantastic opportunity to think about what science education should be and it's great that we are looking progressively from 3-18 in a way we have never done before."

TOM CLARK. Science development officer Inverclyde

"It will be good to have time for ethical and topical issues in science, so teachers can stop and look at the science of bird flu or nuclear power. But it will be a challenge to change the way science teachers work, which is very much teach a topic, do the test, give the marks and move on.

"To convince teachers of the benefits of studying topics in depth, without the headlong rush to an exam, they will have to engage with teachers up and down the country. It is going to be a culture shock and may take longer than they think.

"In Inverclyde we now have secondary teachers going into their cluster primaries to teach. It is hectic, because most primaries don't have the equipment you need, but it is very worthwhile. The enthusiasm of the children is refreshing and rewarding; you get to know the kids, so when they come to the secondary they already respect you; and the primary teachers learn a great deal.

"In terms of A Curriculum for Excellence, however, I believe there are things the secondary teachers can learn from their primary colleagues.

RHONA GOSS. Principal teacher of sciences, Monifieth High, Angus

"SQA exams are marked in a very itemised way. So teachers are wondering if reduced content in the new curriculum will allow kids to cope with Standard grade. If we can get away from needing to know a particular fact for a particular exam, that will free people.

"At our school we've been discussing the second year exam.

Should we all do exactly the same thing so we know what they've covered, or should we get rid of it and do more creative things?

"If pupils pass a Higher you know exactly what they've covered, and many people see this as a strength. But it doesn't sit easily with a flexible system that has everybody doing something slightly different.

"The other big issue is professional development. Teachers are being asked to teach in new ways, so a great deal of CPD will be needed. John Richardson, the director of projects at the SSERC, has been doing and co-ordinating lots of good things, but we need more and we need new models.

"Courses at the National Science Learning Centre in York look wonderful, but the distance puts people off.

"Lots of people are dipping their toes in the water with A Curriculum for Excellence, and it's great to hear them talking about what they've tried.

We need a mechanism for sharing good practice."

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