Alan Boyle highlights the new books on show at the Association of Science Education's annual meeting. Britain leads the world in pinpointing the failures of its education system. Teachers are criticised for not supporting the new political correctness of streaming, setting, using phonics and whole class teaching. Meanwhile, the third international comparison of attainments in science shows that our pupils are performing quite well, compared with other countries.
Added to this, the national test in science for 11-year-olds had to be made more difficult because too many pupils got good results. That could never be right. Annoying isn't it? Yet, there is still a shortage of students studying science A-levels. Even fewer progress to do a science course at university.
It was in this frame of mind that I set out to visit the publishers' exhibition at the Association of Science Education annual meeting in Birmingham to look at what's new this year. As expected, following the Dearing post-16 review, A-level textbooks are plentiful. And the fashion for modular A-levels is reflected in many new titles.
Nelson has just published a new modular series to match the London board A-level science syllabuses. New titles in optional topics for advanced modules have been released by Collins, Stanley Thornes and Nelson for the Bath 16-19 series. Cambridge University Press is preparing a new A-level biology text in line with syllabus developments for 1998 aimed at the C grade student. Stanley Thornes has just published the first of its Upgrade A-level series written for students in their final A-level year.
They look useful for consolidation and revision. But why are A-level texts so boring? Is this the reason why students are turned off science? There was one exception - the Supported Learning in Physics Project published by Heinemann. This is an exciting curriculum development project sponsored by the Open University, the Institute of Physics, the Institute of Electrical Engineers, Ford, Esso, Nuclear Electric and other companies. It will motivate pupils following A-level, AS or GNVQ courses.
By comparison, teachers have a rich choice of stimulating, colourful and high quality texts to match the national curriculum. There are three major new series for primary schools. First, published by Ginn, are the infant materials for Star Science. This series uses a thematic approach to support pupils' progression in learning from age five to 11. The same 10 themes will be extended in the lower juniors and the upper juniors. The junior materials will be published this year.
Also coming this year are new primary science materials from Longman and Stanley Thornes, both providing complete coverage of the national curriculum and the primary sections of the Scottish 5-14 curriculum guidelines. Science Connections from Longman will be published in three packs for ages five to seven; seven to nine; and nine to 12. The new course from Stanley Thornes is organised in years with a teacher's book, photcopiable resources and posters for each year.
A new teacher's guide, Understanding Scientific Ideas, has just been published by Collins as part of the Nuffield Primary Science materials. This is a must for every science co-ordinator and complements the Science Co-ordinator's Handbook released last year.
My favourite new primary book was Science and Technology Ideas for the Under-8s from the ASE. This is a collection of activities written by teachers working with other organisations to provide authentic contexts. Try the "Hobo Oboe", originated by Urban Strawberry Lunch; your kids will love it.
For pupils at key stage 3 there are two new science series out this year. Go for Science, published by Nelson, has been written for middle and lower ability pupils aged 11-14. It will consist of a pupil's book, teacher's guide and photocopy masters for each of Years 7 to 9. Collins will launch their Science Connections in March. This has been written to bridge the gap between key stages 2 and 3; there are three pupil's books and three assessment and support packs.
By popular demand, Stanley Thornes has just published a new version of Science Companions, which covers national curriculum levels three to five. Of interest to those supporting pupils with special needs, will be Science for Special Needs, a differentiated bank of resources covering the key stage 3 programmes of study published by John Murray.
For GCSE courses in 1997 there is something for everybody. Suggesting that it may all end in tiers are Focus on Science, published by Hodder Stoughton, for students likely to achieve grades CDE; Science Foundations from Cambridge University Press aimed at lower tier GCSE double award and Science Plus for pupils below grade F, published by Collins to support the MEG basic skills certificate in science.
Changing Science Book 2 and teacher's guide from Hodder Stoughton will be out soon. This is a differentiated resource which will match any GCSE syllabus for double award science and covers the full range of grades. For those who are still following three separate science subjects to GCSE there are three new texts due from Collins later this year.
Added to these is the wealth of existing texts, some in second, third and even fifth editions. Written by teachers for teachers, the quality of these texts is high and the competition is tough.
The choice and diversity of these resources achieves two things. It acknowledges the expertise in curriculum development that is such a vibrant feature of our teaching profession and it provides an excellent foundation for the next generation of curriculum developers. We must preserve and nourish this expertise because without it our pupils will face the drudgery of boring textbooks like those for A-levels.
Alan Boyle is chief inspector for Haringey Council Education Services and co-author of Changing Science