Memorandum submitted by the National Union
of Teachers (NUT)
1. The National Union of Teachers (NUT)
is an independent trade union representing over 200,000 qualified
teachers in England and Wales.
2. The NUT welcomes the opportunity to make
a contribution to the Science and Technology Committee's inquiry
into the Science Curriculum for 14-19 education.
3. The NUT has welcomed in principle the
intention of Government and its agencies to develop a more coherent
stage of education for students aged 14-19. Advocacy of such a
curricular model is the established policy of the NUT.
4. The question of "what should be
taught [and] how" should be addressed taking full account
of the training and development needs of teachers both through
initial teacher education and opportunities for continuing professional
development as an entitlement for all teachers of science. This
should be on the basis of a dual approach focusing both on developing
teachers' pedagogical skills and ensuring that teachers are able
to remain updated in terms of subject knowledge within often rapidly
changing subject disciplines.
5. Within this context of providing opportunities
for teachers to ensure that they are fully equipped in terms of
knowledge and teaching skills, there is a need to reconsider the
trend over recent years for subject content and teaching practice
in science, as in all subjects, to be increasingly determined
at the level of Central Government.
6. While organisations such as the Department
for Education and Skills and the Qualifications and Curriculum
Authority are often well placed to identify and disseminate exemplification
materials and models of good practice, the experience of teachers
as identified by the NUT and Demos within the research document,
Classroom Assistance why teachers must transfer teaching
and learning (Horne, 2001) has been dominated by "externally
imposed, randomly timed and badly managed initiatives that they
had little constructive role in helping to shape." There
is now an urgent need to re-engage teachers in the process of
determining curricula, assessment instruments and teaching and
learning methods, utilising fully their professional and practical
knowledge and experience. This is particularly true in the context
that it is teachers who are best placed to help to identify, develop,
and meet the "needs of pupils with different abilities, aptitudes
and aspirations an relation to science".
7. Moreover, evidence collated by the NUT
from its members suggests that an education service dominated
by prescriptive, centrally produced directives can contribute
negatively to students' disengagement from learning and a propensity
to engage in disruptive behaviour liable to impact on students'
willingness or ability to continue their science education beyond
8. It is also necessary to take into account
the fact that difficulties of teacher supply have markedly impacted
upon science education. The effect of this has been not only a
shortage of science teachers in general but also the degree to
which it has become necessary for teachers to teach individual
disciplines in which they do not hold a specialism.
9. The difficulties of recruiting and retaining
sufficient numbers of science teachers need to be addressed within
the context of national negotiations on teachers' contracts, bureaucratic
burdens and levels of pay.
10. The ability of teachers of science to
teach science most effectively is also heavily influenced by issues
of the teaching and learning environment and the levels of support
11. While the NUT has maintained consistently
that teaching should properly be undertaken only by fully qualified
graduate teachers, there is a particular need within science education
for teachers to be supported fully by appropriately trained and
skilled technical support staff. The NUT would advocate that the
issue of recruitment and retention of such staff be evaluated,
including in terms of salary, conditions of service, professional
development opportunities and opportunities for career progression.
This should include all appropriate interested parties and might
take place as part of a wider review of the role of non teaching
staff in schools.
12. The learning environment, particularly
where practical science is taught, must be appropriate to facilitate
the effective teaching and learning of science. This is likely
to require a considerable investment in some cases to address
the complaints of many science teachers that laboratories in the
schools in which they work are old and insufficiently well equipped.
13. There are important health and safety
implications surrounding science education also. Not least of
these is the issue of class size where practical work is taking
place. The NUT would recommend strongly that consideration be
given to the establishment of a nationally agreed and enforced
upper class size limit for practical science lessons which is
both realistic and manageable. Many laboratories have been designed
to accommodate 21 individuals, and class sizes for practical activities
should be appropriate to these circumstances.
14. The NUT supports the Committee's intention
to consider links between the science curriculum and other relevant
National Curriculum subject areas.
15. The Committee would benefit however
from taking a still broader view of the Curriculum than that outlined
in the terms of reference. For example, the Citizenship and PHSE
curricula could make available opportunities to build on students'
entitlement to science education and to build upon "scientific
literacy" or "science for citizenship" through
the consideration of the impact and social and ethical implications
of scientific developments and practice such as human embryology,
cloning, or genetic engineering.
16. Similarly, the geography curriculum
provides opportunities to consider the implications of science
in application, for example in relation to developing students'
knowledge and understanding through environmental education and
education for sustainable development, and through considering
specific issues such as the possible causes and effects of global
warming. Through the history curriculum students have opportunities
to consider the impact of scientific advancement and achievement
on societies and the course of world events.
17. As a longer term development, therefore,
the NUT would welcome the initiation of a full debate, in which
teachers and their representatives should be fully involved, to
reconsider the secondary school curriculum in an holistic way
in order to guarantee a meaningful entitlement to a curriculum
defined in terms of balance and breadth. Presently, there is a
counter-productive "hierarchy" of subjects at Key Stage
4 in particular, whereby some subjects such as humanities subjects
cease to form part of a young person's guaranteed curricular entitlement
regardless of their merits individually or in terms of their capacity
to contextualise and reinforce learning within the broader curriculum.