Science and social subjects go under the microscope

21st September 2012 at 01:00
First review of CfE's impact says pupils' early specialisation hinders breadth and depth of learning

Offering subject choice at the end of S1 or S2 is "not in keeping with Curriculum for Excellence" - nor is it "in line with national expectations", school inspectors have warned.

Early specialisation is "impacting negatively on breadth and depth of learning" in some schools, Education Scotland reported, in the first of its new-style Curriculum Impact reviews published this week.

The reports are designed to present a subject-by- subject picture of how children and young people experience learning in different areas of the curriculum (see panel). Science and the social subjects were first under the microscope.

Low-level tasks such as copying notes, cutting out sections from handouts, pasting into jotters and colouring were less prevalent in Scottish science lessons than previously, inspectors reported in The Sciences 3-18. A greater variety of learning and teaching approaches were now being used; this was motivating pupils and developing their interest in science.

Even so, inspectors found primary teachers lacked confidence in science and "high quality" CPD was needed.

In primary, science was "too often predominantly or exclusively" delivered through a poorly planned interdisciplinary approach which resulted in "insufficient science being experienced" and "gaps in learning".

The inspectors also stated that "in too many cases", in both primary and secondary, lessons involved all pupils "carrying out the same activity at the same level of difficulty at the same time".

More able children in particular were "not being sufficiently challenged".

Staff in "most secondary schools" still did not have "sufficiently robust information" on children's prior learning to plan progression and there was "some way to go" in primary and secondary before assessment was "truly a part of learning and teaching".

Secondary teachers had to learn that personalisation and choice was not just about subject choice but had to take account of "individual progress, preferred ways of learning and learners' aspirations".

Several times inspectors flagged up a lack of awareness across all sectors of the Sciences: Concept development in the sciences (2009) paper.

Teachers were increasingly using the local environment and wider community to teach social subjects and field trips were being resurrected by many geography departments, inspectors reported in Social Studies 3-18.

But, as in science, there was a lack of differentiation; more CPD was required for nursery and primary staff; and approaches to assessing and recording progress needed to be developed.

In secondary, social studies faculty heads needed "more career-long learning across the subjects", continued the report. In around 20 per cent of secondaries, there was no modern studies specialist and this was affecting pupils' political literacy.

Schools were taking much better account of "the Scottish dimension", inspectors found, although most young people did not have "a good enough" understanding of Scotland's development as a nation or the role of the Scottish parliament.

Curricular impact

Education Scotland's new-style Curriculum Impact reviews provide subject- specific analysis and evaluation of current practice, based on a range of independent inspection activities. They identify innovative practice from schools across the country, while also highlighting areas for development under CfE principles. Following publication, the reviews will be updated online so they remain relevant.


Photo: Large Hadron Collider: the science review praises school trips to CERN, Switzerland.


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