Pupils 'short-changed' by poor lessons

29th March 1996 at 00:00
Many science lessons in primary schools are short-changing pupils, the director of the Scottish Council for Research in Education has warned.

Professor Wynne Harlen, summarising the findings of the council's study of 500 primary teachers, said she believed half of those in the survey used "coping strategies" to disguise their lack of confidence (TESS, November 10).

Echoing comments made in a report on science education issued this week by the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, Professor Harlen stressed the importance of teachers reflecting on their work and discussing scientific ideas with pupils. Her research indicated this was precisely the opposite of what was happening in some classrooms.

Many primary teachers taught as little science as they could get away with, substituting topics with which they felt more at ease, underplaying class discussion and questioning, avoiding all but the simplest practical work, placing heavy reliance on work cards with step-by-step instructions and borrowing ideas from colleagues.

Professor Harlen said: "If they are the only approaches used, think of what is happening to the pupils and the impoverished curriculum they are receiving. These strategies are selling short our pupils."

Science ranked eighth in primary teachers' confidence in handling subjects, the study found, with technology eleventh. A study south of the border in 1989 found similar ratings but science rose to third place in a follow-up survey two years later. The Scottish study will be repeated this year but Professor Harlen said: "I have no particular expectation of any change."

The most difficult aspects cited by teachers were organisation of practical work, obtaining equipment and continuous assessment.

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