We have come a long way since practical science teaching in special schools was considered dangerous, but there are still difficulties with the subject, not least because many of the teachers are not science specialists. This means pupils are missing out because teachers find it hard to plan appropriately.
A group of Cambridgeshire special school teachers applied for funding from the AstraZeneca Science Teaching Trust to develop their own materials. The Science to Raise and Track Achievement (Strata) project started in September 2000.
Penny Brewer, a teacher at the Rees Thomas School, Cambridge, and a member of the team says: "I found it such a relief that other teachers were in the same position with no idea where to turn. Working on the project was a stimulating experience and amazing professional development, because we were solving our own needs."
Strata is a scheme to support science teaching from performance level 1 (P1) to national curriculum level 4. Many teachers in special schools have a wide range of pupil ability in a class that may also contain a whole key stage.
As many of the children may have limited literacy and numeracy, lessons need to be practical and sensory. The Strata scheme, available on the AstraZeneca website, offers a broad range of age-appropriate sensory-based activities presented as Word documents that can be modified as required.
Each unit gives learning objectives, practical activities, vocabulary, ideas for ICT, resources, links to other curriculum areas and ideas for investigations and visits. But what makes the scheme distinctive is the assessment framework. Each unit has its own set of unique P-level indicators which makes it possible for pupils to show progression in small steps without repeating what they've done before. Detailed outcome sheets enable teachers to plan the children's learning and allow their progress to be tracked as they move from class to class.
Wakefield Pathways Special School in Castleford adopted the scheme 18 months ago. The school covers the primary range and includes children with severe and moderate learning difficulties and autistic spectrum disorder.
Kath Holwell is science co-ordinator, but not a science specialist. She says: "There was no progression two years ago. We can now see progression and continuity in science throughout the school and it links with other subjects. The built-in assessment saves time. We now have fabulous science resource boxes, as suggested in the scheme, linked to all the topics. Time is saved by not having to look for the resources and we have raised achievement."
At St Andrew's Special School in Derby, science co-ordinator Cheryl Brenkley took up the scheme after it was introduced to her by the LEA's KS3 science consultant Janet McCartney. Cheryl says: "The students enjoy the hands-on activities and I like the way learning is geared towards them discovering the practical applications of science, such as 'separating' - using filters for tea and coffee, sink drainers and vacuum cleaner filters.
This helps to build up their association of ideas and knowledge and helps them to generalise their learning which, for them, can be tremendously difficult."
Since completing the schemes of work and the assessment framework, the project team has created a small professional development package to help teachers become familiar with interpreting the P-levels in science. It includes a "drag and drop" activity to allow teachers to explore progression within the P-levels, video clips to develop assessment skills and examples of pupils' work.
These activities can be accessed on the AstraZeneca Science Teaching Trust website. A free CD is also available, with the activities presented in PowerPoint so science co-ordinators can modify them to create their own training packages for colleagues.
Shan Oswald is regional director for science for the KS3 strategy Keith Bishop is a senior lecturer at the University of Bath and external evaluator for Strata
For more details about Strata and the professional development package, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or SOswald@cfbt.com
* Schemes of work www.azteachscience.co.ukcodetrustcambridgenew_cambridge.htm
* Continuing professional development www.azteachscience.co.ukcodedevelopmentstrata.htm