Science alarm

6th February 1998 at 00:00
We are writing as members of the working group advising the Teacher Training Agency on the implementation of a secondary science initial teacher training national curriculum.

We share the TTA's hope that it will help improve standards and consistency in initial teacher training.

However, we have been informed that the TTA board intends to go against our recommendation that the core curriculum should train teachers to teach all three sciences to key stage 3 and only one science subject at key stage 4, and to consult on the proposal that all science teachers should be trained to teach a minimum of two subjects at KS4 and all sciences at KS3.

We are extremely alarmed as we believe that this would lead to a reduction in standards of science teaching and a decrease in the recruitment of science teachers of all specialisms, and particularly in the physical sciences where under-recruitment is an ongoing problem.

Up to one third of our students - predominantly physicists - only have one science subject at A-level. Within the time limits of a 36-week postgraduate certificate in education - where two-thirds of the time is devoted to school practice - it is impossible to raise such students' subject knowledge to the requisite level to teach the higher levels of KS4 effectively, while also ensuring that their information skills are commensurate with level 8 of the national curriculum.

Moreover, while subject matter knowledge is a necessary condition for effective teaching, it is not a sufficient condition. Teachers also need additional knowledge about how to teach their subject - that is the methods, strategies, resources and common difficulties encountered by children. It is inconceivable that all this knowledge and skills could be taught to students within an initial teacher training course unless entry was restricted to students with two science subjects at A-level.

With the rising number of students taking mixed combinations of A-levels, and the reduction in the number taking only science and mathematics, the supply of individuals with strong qualifications in more than one science subject is likely to become even more problematic. Some of the most successful teachers enter the profession with "unconventional" A-level combinations and degree subjects. It would be shortsighted to deter high-quality applicants on the grounds of lack of qualifications outside of their specialisms.

DR JOHN LEACH

School of Education The University of Leeds and three other members of the TTA working group on secondary science

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