NC43: Memorandum submitted by the ASSOCIATION FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION (ASE)

Summary

The Association for Science Education (ASE)[1] welcomes the opportunity to make this submission to the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Select Committee on its Enquiry into the National Curriculum. ASE has consulted widely with its members who are drawn from all phases and areas of science education in order to bring together a range of evidence from a variety of perspectives. In particular ASE's Council, 11-19 and primary committees and Special Interest group of National Advisers and Inspectors Group for Science (NAIGS)[2] have contributed to this response.

We have also drawn on ASE's previous recent consultation responses; in particular The Primary Review: the condition and future of primary education in England (April 2007)[3] and Testing and Assessment summary of evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Skills (June 2007)[4]. This submission also draws on the findings of a series of nationwide seminars with primary and secondary science teachers during 2006 under the heading of Engaging teachers, Engaging pupils, Engaging Science[5]. In addition ASE has contributed to and fully supports the joint statement as submitted by the SCORE partnership to this enquiry[6].

The Association's submission focuses on some of the questions raised on the principle and content of the National Curriculum and its fitness for purpose, and the management of the National Curriculum. The key messages are summarised below:

It is appropriate for all children, regardless of circumstances, to have an entitlement to certain opportunities to learn through a broad and balanced curriculum within the years of statutory education and that this should not be left to interpretation, resources and expertises of individual teachers and schools.

The National Curriculum should provide a basic framework of objectives for the development of subject knowledge, skills and conceptual understanding, around which teachers have the freedom to make decisions on how to achieve these objectives and to explore the subject with their students.

Science, with its focus on enquiry, objectivity and rationale, provides a unique contribution to the cognitive development of young people, from their early years onwards; and so fully justifies its core subject status within the whole curriculum.

With the current government emphasis on the need for top quality scientists to maintain our position amongst the world economic leaders for science and technological innovation, a science National Curriculum that is an entitlement to all and appeals to our future scientists, as well as an increasingly scientifically literate youth population, is now more necessary than in previous years.

Although the issues relating to testing and assessment are generally generic and apply across all subjects the impact of some practices has had a particularly detrimental effect on the teaching of science and has, in turn, contributed to the disaffection with the subject expressed by pupils across all phases of education.

ASE fully recognises that testing and assessment must meet a range of demands but would argue very strongly that in the current climate the balance is wrong with too much emphasis being placed on the demands for accountability to the detriment of the quality of pupils' learning, as a result of a narrowing of the curriculum experienced by pupils. Broadly teachers support the need to redress the balance in order to put more emphasis on formative assessment, often referred to as assessment for learning (AfL).

Any positive changes to the National Curriculum and its testing and assessment regime need to involve close consultation with teachers. Adequate time to fully consult on, pilot and evaluate the effect of proposed changed is required. Teachers are vital to the successful delivery of any curriculum change and they will need time to prepare for such changes. Relevant CPD is required so that teachers are able to implement the changes with confidence based on sound subject knowledge and professionalism.

Teachers have an important role in developing and taking ownership of the curriculum that they teach so they are instrumental in making it (science) engaging for their own pupils in their own circumstances.


House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Select Committee

Enquiry into the National Curriculum

A submission of evidence from

THE ASSOCIATION FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION

March 2008

Arguments for and against having a National Curriculum

It is appropriate for all children, regardless of circumstances, to have an entitlement to certain opportunities to learn through a broad and balanced curriculum within the years of statutory education and that this should not be left to interpretation, resources and expertises of individual teachers and schools.

1. Many of the arguments in favour of a National Curriculum, leading to the original National Curriculum still apply. For instance, it is appropriate for all children, regardless of circumstances, to have an entitlement to certain opportunities to learn through a broad and balanced curriculum within the years of statutory education and that this should not be left to interpretation, resources and expertises of individual teachers and schools. Additionally mobility across schools is aided by a common understanding of what 'knowledge, skills, understanding and aptitudes ...children should be expected to have acquired at or near certain ages'[7]. A National Curriculum also facilitates public discussion and consultation on children's education and is a guard against the curriculum being determined by groups with particular interests or political persuasions.

2. To this we might add the pragmatic point that, having had a National Curriculum for 20 years, to remove it might risk leaving teachers feeling either unsupported or that 'anything goes' with reversion to the undesirable situation of an overly wide range of science provision that gave rise to the National Curriculum in the first place.

The purpose of a National Curriculum

The National Curriculum should provide a basic framework of objectives for the development of subject knowledge, skills and conceptual understanding, around which teachers have the freedom to make decisions on how to achieve these objectives and to explore the subject with their students.

3. Assessment which is fit for purpose to make teaching, learning and progression more effective makes a valuable contribution to such a framework; but summative assessment to evaluate school effectiveness, set targets or monitor national standards is largely ineffective and has negative effects on both teachers and students.

4. The arguments against, and indeed those in favour of, a National Curriculum depend upon how 'curriculum' is understood. Some authors and commentators on the curriculum take it to mean all the experiences of learners - the 'how' as well as the 'what' of teaching. The intention of the original National Curriculum was to identify objectives (attainment targets) and the content through which they could be achieved (programmes of study) but leaving 'scope for teachers to use their professional talents and skills to develop schemes of work, within a set framework which is known to all'.[8] However, since the publication of the National Curriculum the government and its agency (QCA) have gone beyond this by providing schemes of work and, in the case of literacy and numeracy at the primary level, the 'strategies' which invade the areas where teachers' professional skills ought to be paramount. This has turned teachers into technicians instead of professionals.

The purpose of science as an area of learning within the National Curriculum

Science, with its focus on enquiry, objectivity and rationale, provides a unique contribution to the cognitive development of young people, from their early years onwards; and so fully justifies its core subject status within the whole curriculum.

5. ASE believes that science is a distinctive form of creative human activity that involves a way of seeing, exploring, understanding and explaining the natural and physical world. In science, ideas are exposed to refutation through experimentation and as such science has a unique contribution to make to education within the purpose of a National Curriculum. All pupils, therefore, should experience, and have access to, a broad, relevant science curriculum, which puts understanding of scientific concepts and their applications in a social and ethical context. Pupils should be encouraged to evaluate the nature of evidence from science and elsewhere in making judgments about the use of science. All pupils have an entitlement to a broad, relevant science education.

6. The unique contributions that science makes to the cognitive development of children starts from the early years and it is important that time and emphasis in the primary curriculum is maintained or ideally increased (to have parity with the other two core subjects) to enable the development of hands on scientific enquiry skills in particular, as a solid grounding for smooth progression into secondary science and which research shows clearly engages young children with science and its concepts.

7. ASE fully supports the principles underlying the current National Curriculum aims from the 'Big Picture of the Curriculum' which draw out the essential skills, attitudes and attributes plus knowledge and understanding that science uniquely brings to developing successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens.[9] We recommend that these principles are reflected in any developments to the National Curriculum, including the current independent reviews of the primary curriculum, to provide coherence and consistency to the experience of children throughout their years of statutory education.

8. Additionally ASE continues to argue the following, based on our earlier evidence to the Primary Review:

Enquiry and hands-on activities are central to teaching and learning in primary science but it must be well planned and resourced appropriately.

If the core curriculum is to be maintained the core subjects, including science, should have genuine parity in terms of status, curriculum time, support, access to CPD and funding.

Work needs to be done to more clearly identify what characterises primary science and the experience for pupils, and how these contribute to seamless transitions with true continuity and progression through and between phases or key stages, which have their own identities and contribution to make to the whole experience of pupils throughout their life in compulsory education.

There is a need for the primary science curriculum to follow the lead from the secondary science curriculum in more explicitly relating ideas to contemporary contexts and to introduce, at an appropriate level, some of the major issues of this century such as global citizenship and sustainability.

Making science more relevant to children's everyday lives is key to engaging them with science and helping them to become active and informed citizens, who understand and take decisions about the impact of scientific and technological developments.

More effective links are required between numeracy, literacy and science at primary level, and between science, mathematics and design and technology at secondary level in order to maximise the synergies and opportunities that such links support; and to address government targets for the STEM agenda at secondary level in particular.

The balance of central prescription and flexibility at the school/classroom level

With the current government emphasis on the need for top quality scientists to maintain our position amongst the world economic leaders for science and technological innovation, a science national curriculum that is an entitlement to all and appeals to our future scientists, as well as an increasingly scientifically literate youth population, is now more necessary than in previous years.

9. The effect of a science curriculum taught through hands-on, investigative activities with a good balance between process skills and appropriate science content makes a significant contribution to pupil engagement and enjoyment of learning.

10. To meet pupil needs we must build flexibility into the curriculum, otherwise risk ending up with another 'one-size fits all' model and many of the problems we face today will simply return at some point in the future. Providing that the curriculum is envisaged as providing a framework of objectives in which teachers can make decisions about how to achieve them, the balance of argument is in favour of having a National Curriculum. Hopefully, it is in this way that the terms of reference given to Sir Jim Rose for the independent review of the primary curriculum will be interpreted i.e. 'to enable schools to have even greater flexibility to meet pupils' individual needs and strengths...The content should be reviewed, reducing prescription where possible.'[10]

11. Central prescription should be kept to a minimum, stating for example that pupils should be given the opportunity to develop the ideas and skills expressed in the objectives (ideally, paragraphs) for the end of certain years (Y3, Y6, etc). Schools and teachers would be free to choose topics and contexts. Schools can be expected to develop their more detained plans that provide for continuity and progression from year to year and exploit local opportunities that make their work relevant and interesting to teachers and pupils alike. The result will be a programme of which teachers feel ownership and understand the underlying rationale, rather than receiving a package and delivering it passively.

12. An important argument against the over-detailed curriculum is that it inevitably becomes overcrowded. Subject interest groups guard their territories and are reluctant to omit reference to any area. Less detail would mean identifying the important over-arching skills and concepts, which can be developed through a number of alternative experiences to suit various circumstances, rather than a prescribed set confining all to the same pace and activities.

13. However, reducing the National Curriculum to general principles would probably not improve (science) education. There is evidence that when there are only broad principles, teachers take their lead from what is assessed. Since there are so many tests already available to serve as a ready source of guidance as to what to teach, this would be severely limiting to children's experience. The alternative need not be 'detailed' aims and objectives. The degree of detail is a crucial decision. The objectives must be so expressed that they encourage integration with other subjects and cannot be attained through a diet of formal teaching. Objectives can be identified as the knowledge and skills that pupils should have developed at the end of certain periods, say every three years (Y3, Y6, Y9), and expressed in terms that identify progression in inquiry skills and scientific ideas linked conceptually to the 'big' ideas that will be the attained later in secondary education. Objectives at more frequent intervals (e.g. Y2, 4 and 6) would restrict schools' freedom to work towards them at the pace that suits the children and fits into plans to develop other areas of the curriculum. It is also doubtful that there is the empirical evidence to set out progression at closer intervals.

To be specific, some 'big' ideas in science are:

That all matter is made of tiny particles

That living organisms are adapted to the physical and biological environments in which they are found.

14. Each of these can be expressed as what is it appropriate for pupils to know and understand, for instance, at Y3, Y6, Y9, etc., preferably expressed in terms of a paragraph indicating the kind of explanations expected at these points.[11] For years 3 and 6 these paragraphs could combine ideas from two or more science subject domains, thus encouraging links between curriculum areas.

The extent to which the National Strategies are effective in supporting the National Curriculum 

15. Our consultation with members suggests a picture of wide regional variation. There is a general consensus that the National Strategies are less effective at supporting the full National Curriculum at primary level. For subjects other than numeracy and literacy the strategy impact has been detrimental, as it has reduced attention to the full breadth of the curriculum by not making the natural links between different subject areas more explicit.

Others comment that:

'At secondary level support has been uneven, and has been subject to regional variations. Some useful materials have been produced but many are underused', and 'Changes in the strategy approaches over time have reduced effective support for science as whole school issues have had greater prominence'.

The impact of the current testing and assessment regime on the delivery and scope of the National Curriculum

Although the issues relating to testing and assessment are generally generic and apply across all subjects the impact of some practices has had a particularly detrimental effect on the teaching of science and has, in turn, contributed to the disaffection with the subject expressed by pupils across all phases of education.

ASE fully recognises that testing and assessment must meet a range of demands but would argue very strongly that in the current climate the balance is wrong with too much emphasis being placed on the demands for accountability to the detriment of the quality of pupils' learning as a result of a narrowing of the curriculum experienced by pupils. Broadly teachers support the need to redress the balance in order to put more emphasis on formative assessment, often referred to as assessment for learning (AfL).

16. There is overwhelming evidence that testing in the core subjects has a narrowing effect on both the content and teaching methods for the core subjects and the coverage of the other foundation subjects, which are marginalised particularly at the years where national tests take place. The latest evidence of this comes from a study of science teaching in Y6, funded by the Wellcome Trust which shows that in England, the Y6 curriculum is largely replaced by revision and practice testing which teachers find of no value to pupils' education.

17. There are two interconnected factors which bring about this strong impact of the tests. The first is the use of the test results for teacher and school target-setting and accountability, which makes the tests 'high stakes'. It is undeniable that we need good assessment to summarise learning in order to report achievements and progress in learning to parents, pupils and other teachers, for tracking pupil achievement and, at the secondary school level, for certification, accreditation and selection. These are uses that have direct importance for individual pupils. But the use of aggregated results for pupils in a class or school for other purposes, such as the sole basis for evaluation of school effectiveness, target-setting and monitoring national standards, is at the heart of the negative impact of summative assessment on teaching and learning. Although assessment for these purposes is not used to make decisions that directly affect individual students, nevertheless using the results of summative assessment for accountability and monitoring can, and does, affect students through impact on teaching and the curriculum and the loss of learning time through practising tests. There are also negative effects on teachers, some of whom feel constrained in the choice of teaching methods and content by what is tested, to the detriment of providing experiences which they value but which are not tested[12].

18. The second factor concerns the reliability and validity of the tests. Because of their high stakes, priority is given to accuracy in marking and so to aspects of the curriculum that can be accurately marked. This reduces the range of items and consequently the validity of the tests. Items requiring application of knowledge and problem solving where there may not be a single and simple correct answer are rarely included. Even when they are, their validity is reduced by the pressure to practice and memorise so that pupils correctly answer test items even though they may not have the understanding that the items purport to assess[13].

19. Further, a test can only sample the curriculum content. A different selection of items could easily produce a different result for particular pupils. For example, it has been estimated[14] that, in the case of the national tests at age 11 in England, even if the measured reliability of the test is 0.85, about 35% of students will be awarded the wrong grade level. If teachers' judgements were used instead of tests, taking evidence from across the whole range of work, this source of misclassification would be removed. Thus the tests fail to provide accurate information whilst distorting pupils learning experiences.

20. The reported rise in test scores is not supported by evidence that this really means a rise in standards of achievement. Comparison of national test results between 1995 and 2003[15] with results from international surveys carried out at the same time suggest that initial changes from year to year were followed by no increase. The initial rise can be accounted for by a combination of technical changes in procedures for determining cut-off scores for levels and teaching to the test. There is no support for the notion that 'testing drives up standards'.

21. These statements are echoed by many teachers during our discussions with comments such as:

'Assessment needs to be considered separately from the broader National Curriculum issues. Assessment of the National Curriculum has given rise to many diverse areas for concern. Our position is that teachers need to know how to help pupils progress. Current assessment policy and practice are not supporting this function.'

 

'We welcome the moves by QCA towards empowering teachers to assess pupils' progress lesson by lesson, but these aims are being overshadowed by a preoccupation with summative assessment. Currently summative assessment is governing children's curricular experience. This effect in primary schools has disenfranchised some pupils from science before they enter secondary education and meet specialist science teachers.'

 

'There needs to be more reliance on teacher assessment - teachers need to increase their expertise and their confidence to believe in their own judgements. Over the years various events and measures have eroded the credibility of teachers and their professionalism. Teachers need to know, in every lesson, what pupils have learned - this simple statement makes the use of long-term assessment redundant in the learning process.'

22. Based on our earlier evidence on Testing and Assessment, ASE continues to argue:

in order to encourage learning pupils' progress needs to be assessed, both in order to help learning (formative) and to report on learning (summative). Using assessment to help learning should be central to education and there is substantial evidence as to the effectiveness of formative assessment.

23. Whilst it is relatively easy to state the essence of the problem, finding solutions is not so straight forward. ASE argues that:

there is a need to reduce the overall burden of testing and assessment on teachers and pupils as well as to redress the balance between summative and formative assessments;

steps should be taken to remove the culture of 'teaching to the test' in favour of genuine support for learning through formative assessment approaches;

greater investment is needed for developing assessment strategies and pedagogy which use a wider range of styles and improved feedback which instils a greater sense of achievement and progress for students;

teachers and other staff need to be supported, through appropriate CPD, and the necessary time made available in order to develop and implement appropriate processes to ensure the value of testing and assessment is maximised to the benefit of students.

The likely impact of the single level tests currently being piloted

24. As long as the results of tests are used for evaluating schools and rewarding the attainment of targets based on test results, the potential advantages of single level tests will not be realised. The advantages include the potential for information to be used formatively as well as summatively, the matching of pupils to tests and the improved provision for tracking pupils' progress. However, there are serious concerns that the proposals in their current form will not contribute to the realisation of the goals they seek to achieve. Instead the amount of testing will increase. Although the formative use of assessment is intended, the assessment practice proposed is not formative assessment but frequent summative assessment. Repeated testing de-motives lower achieving pupils, thus increasing the gap between the lower and higher achieving pupils.

25. It is evident that the task of deciding which pupils to enter, and at what times, for the single-level tests, requiring extra summative assessments and consultations about every pupil, will add a new pressure on teachers' time. In such circumstances teachers will turn to tests rather than have to defend their own judgments. School managements may judge that they must press teachers to make as many entries as possible in the light of the rewards, in public status and in cash that will be at stake.

26. High-stakes uses of individual pupils' results are likely to distort teaching and learning. The use of single level tests is not a low-stakes 'assess when ready' model based essentially on teachers' judgments, but a high-stakes external assessment, conducted every six months in every school year, in which tests are seen as being 'underpinned' by teachers' assessment, but are nevertheless a mechanism for awarding levels without any use of such assessments. There is a grave risk that this will exacerbate the current narrowing influence that national tests have on teaching and learning. Instead of this influence being concentrated in years 2, 6 and 9, the frequency of testing will mean that the experience of pupils in every year will be dominated by these single-level tests which will be even narrower than those currently used at the end of key stages.

The role of teachers in the future development of the National Curriculum

Any positive changes to the National Curriculum and its testing and assessment regime need to involve close consultation with teachers. Adequate time to fully consult on, pilot and evaluate the effect of proposed changed is required. Teachers are vital to the successful delivery of any curriculum change and they will need time to prepare for such changes. Relevant CPD is required so that teachers are able to implement the changes with confidence based on sound subject knowledge and professionalism.

Teachers have an important role in developing and taking ownership of the curriculum that they teach so they are instrumental in making it (science) engaging for their own pupils in their own circumstances.

27. The Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education and Training[16] makes this point strongly 'The curriculum should be seen as a creative act within schools, not something handed on. Hence the teacher should be a curriculum developer, not a transmitter, translating the national framework into planning in classrooms and at school', Many teachers agree with these sentiments as discussed during the Engaging teachers, Engaging pupils, Engaging Science seminars[17] and have aspirations and valuable ideas to help create this ownership whilst overcoming the traditional barriers to doing so.

28. Lack of time is one such barrier. At this moment many science teachers are already engaged in teaching the second year of new GCSEs, preparing to deliver separate award science GCSEs and new A levels from 2008 as well as some science elements in the new diplomas. Any further curriculum changes will need to take this into account.


APPENDIX ONE:

 

The Association for Science Education

The Association for Science Education is the largest subject association in the UK, with approximately 18,000 members including teachers, technicians and others involved in science education. The Association plays a significant role in promoting excellence in teaching and learning science in schools and colleges. Working closely with the science professional bodies, industry and business, ASE provides a UK-wide network bringing together individuals and organisations to share good ideas, tackle challenges in science teaching, develop resources and foster high quality continuing professional development.

The objects and purposes of ASE are clearly stated in its Charter of Incorporation as the promoting of education by the following means.

Improving the teaching of science;

Providing an authoritative medium through which opinions of teachers of science may be expressed on educational matters; and

Affording a means of communication among all persons and bodies of persons concerned with the teaching of science in particular and education in general.

In a more modern context,

The Association for Science Education aims to promote excellence in science teaching and learning by:

a. Encouraging participation in science education and increasing both new membership and the retention of existing members.

b. Enhancing professionalism for teachers, technicians and others through provision of high quality continuing professional development and promotion of chartered status.

c. Working in partnership with other organisations, thus maintaining and strengthening its position in influencing policy and its reputation for delivering cutting edge initiatives for its members and, through them, to the wider science education community.

Further details of the ASE and its regional, national and international activities can be found on its web-site (www.ase.org.uk).


APPENDIX TWO:

 

National Advisers and Inspectors Group for Science (NAIGS)

 

This Special Interest Group of The Association for Science Education exists to:

further the aims of The Association for Science Education;

support the work of Science advisers, inspectors and others working in a science advisory or support capacity throughout the UK;

facilitate the exchange of ideas about science education, and alert national agencies to issues of concern to the membership.

 


APPENDIX THREE:

 

THE PRIMARY REVIEW

The condition and future of primary education in England

 

A SUBMISSION OF EVIDENCE FROM
THE ASSOCIATION FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION

April 2007

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

1. The Association for Science Education (ASE) welcomes the opportunity to make this submission to The Primary Review and has consulted widely with its members who are drawn from all phases and areas of science education in order to bring together a range of evidence from a variety of perspectives. The key messages are summarised below.

Purposes and Values

2. For all children Primary Education should engender an enthusiasm for learning that will stay with them throughout their lives. Through nurturing their curiosity, developing their skills and increasing their understanding of the world around them, Primary Education enables young children to engage with a broad balanced and meaningful curriculum and experiences that will provide a basis for future learning which in turn will lead to the health, safety, achievement, economic well-being and enjoyment of all young people as members of, and contributors to, the communities in which they live.

3. The ASE believes that science is a distinctive form of creative human activity that involves a way of seeing, exploring, understanding and explaining the natural and physical world. In science, ideas are exposed to refutation through experimentation and as such science has a unique contribution to make to primary education. All pupils, therefore, should experience, and have access to, a broad, relevant science curriculum, which puts understanding of scientific concepts and their applications in a social and ethical context. Pupils should be encouraged to evaluate the nature of evidence from science and elsewhere in making judgments about the use of science. All pupils have an entitlement to a broad, relevant science education.

4. Learning and teaching

In essence, a school's most valuable resource is not its equipment or facilities but a cadre of well-qualified, enthusiastic teachers who are justly remunerated for their skills.

Teachers have aspirations to improve the quality of their own teaching but they have concerns and perceive barriers which inhibit them taking appropriate action.

Recognition and reward for teachers who demonstrate high quality professional expertise is essential for retention.

The time available for preparing high quality teaching of science is limited and greater attention needs to be given to ensuring that programmes for trainees, their subsequent induction year, as a newly qualified teacher (NQT), and CPD opportunities are integrated much more closely.

NQTs would benefit from a staged introduction to full-time teaching and a planned programme for their continued development.

A blended approach to CPD, especially around increasing teacher confidence with subject knowledge, is required which has the support and commitment of all parties - the Government, school management and individual teachers.

Enquiry and hands-on activities are central to teaching and learning in primary science but it must be well planned and resourced appropriately.

Making science more relevant to children's everyday lives is key to engaging them with science and helping them to become active and informed citizens, who understand and take decisions about the impact of scientific and technological developments.

Pupils' views and existing ideas cannot be ignored. The teacher's role in adopting such a constructivist approach to learning requires support and professional development for teachers if they are to teach and assess an enquiry based creative science curriculum effectively and have the confidence to innovate and move away from recall of facts.

5. Curriculum and assessment

If the core curriculum is to be maintained the core subjects, including science, should have genuine parity in terms of status, curriculum time, support, access to CPD and funding.

The effect of a science curriculum taught through hands-on, investigative activities with a good balance between process skills and appropriate science content makes a significant contribution to pupil engagement and enjoyment of learning.

To meet pupil needs we must build flexibility into the curriculum otherwise risk ending up with another 'one-size fits all' model and many of the problems we face today will simply return at some point in the future.

'Teaching to the test' with a focus on content and factual knowledge leads to a narrowing of not only teaching approaches and activities but also to the quality of knowledge and understanding gained by pupils and their engagement with science as part of their overall learning.

A change in policy with regard to testing and target setting is the essential first step in providing our primary pupils with the experiences that will develop their understanding, interest in and enthusiasm for science.

A greater focus on assessment for learning and assessment of skills, and valuing the teachers' role in assessing pupil progress is required to support learning and give a meaningful measure of progress.

There is a need for the primary science curriculum to more explicitly relate ideas to contemporary contexts and introduce, at an appropriate level, some of the major issues of this century such as global citizenship and sustainability.

6. Structure and phases

As part of a wider curriculum review, work needs to be done to more clearly identify what characterises primary science and the experience for pupils, and how these contribute to seamless transitions with true continuity and progression through and between phases or key stages.

Transition issues that arise when students move from one to phase to another must be addressed and the lessons learnt from new transition initiatives must be brought together and acted upon by relevant parties.

There is a need to address the disengagement which appears to be increasing during Yrs 5/6 and seems to be linked, at least in part, to an overemphasis on SATS.

More effective links are required between numeracy, literacy and science in order to maximise the synergies and opportunities that such links support.

 


THE PRIMARY REVIEW

The condition and future of primary education in England

 

A SUBMISSION OF EVIDENCE FROM
THE ASSOCIATION FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION

April 2007

Introduction

7. The Association for Science Education[18] (ASE) welcomes the opportunity to make this submission to The Primary Review and has consulted widely with its members who are drawn from all phases and areas of science education in order to bring together a range of evidence from a variety of perspectives. In particular, in addition to the information from external sources, this submission has drawn on first hand contributions from members of ASE Council, our Primary, 11-19 and Research committees plus our two Special Interest Groups (National Advisers and Inspectors Group for Science[19] (NAIGS) and, Association of Tutors in Science Education[20] (ATSE). This submission also draws on the findings of a series of nationwide seminars with primary and secondary science teachers held last year under the heading of Engaging teachers, Engaging pupils, Engaging Science[21].

8. The Association's submission focuses on some of the questions raised in four of the Primary Review themes; Purposes and Values, Learning and Teaching, Curriculum and Assessment, and Structures and Phases.

Purposes and Values

Key Messages

9. For all children Primary Education should engender an enthusiasm for learning that will stay with them throughout their lives. Through nurturing their curiosity, developing their skills and increasing their understanding of the world around them, Primary Education enables young children to engage with a broad balanced and meaningful curriculum and experiences that will provide a basis for future learning which in turn will lead to the health, safety, achievement, economic well-being and enjoyment of all young people as members of, and contributors to, the communities in which they live.

10. The ASE believes that science is a distinctive form of creative human activity that involves a way of seeing, exploring, understanding and explaining the natural and physical world. In science, ideas are exposed to refutation through experimentation and as such science has a unique contribution to make to primary education. All pupils, therefore, should experience, and have access to, a broad, relevant science curriculum, which puts understanding of scientific concepts and their applications in a social and ethical context. Pupils should be encouraged to evaluate the nature of evidence from science and elsewhere in making judgments about the use of science. All pupils have an entitlement to a broad, relevant science education.

What core values and principles should it (primary education) uphold and advance?

11. Primary education should meet the ideals of the 'big picture of the curriculum' (QCA 2007) in order to enable all young people to become successful learners who enjoy learning, make progress and achieve, to become confident individuals who are able to lead safe and healthy lives, and to become responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society. Science, as a key part of primary education, should value informal learning as much as formal learning, encouraging children to develop as individuals, showing independent thinking and initiative, creativity and innovation as well as reflection. Shayer, M. & Adey, P. (2002).

12. Furthermore, to contribute effectively in tomorrow's society, primary education should provide children with more languages, scientific and technological awareness and confidence, cultural sensitivity and media awareness (Yapp 2003).

13. Primary science, in turn, should provide opportunities for spiritual development and conceptual awareness through the awe and wonder of the big science ideas that have shaped the world, to explore these within and beyond the classroom in a range of locations and environments. Pupils should have opportunities to develop the skills for an evidence based approach to science, collecting evidence by first hand observation and practical work and from secondary sources. This science enquiry learning can play an important role in reversing the apparent decline in young people's interest and engagement in school science (NESTA Real Science 2005). By looking at science and its applications in social and global contexts, pupils are better prepared to take a positive and active place in tomorrow's world.

14. The ASE believes that all pupils should experience a wide variety of teaching and learning methods, including practical work, in their development towards becoming scientifically literate individuals. By experiencing a variety of methods and approaches (which are transferable across all curriculum areas) pupils will extend, develop and adapt their knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes. The ability to learn throughout life and adapt to new situations is essential in a changing world increasingly influenced by science and technology.

Learning and teaching

15. Key Messages

In essence, a school's most valuable resource is not its equipment or facilities but a cadre of well-qualified, enthusiastic teachers who are justly remunerated for their skills.

Teachers have aspirations to improve the quality of their own teaching but they have concerns and perceive barriers which inhibit them taking appropriate action.

Recognition and reward for teachers who demonstrate high quality professional expertise is essential for retention.

The time available for preparing high quality teaching of science is limited and greater attention needs to be given to ensuring that programmes for trainees, their subsequent induction year, as a newly qualified teacher (NQT), and CPD opportunities are integrated much more closely.

NQTs would benefit from a staged introduction to full-time teaching and a planned programme for their continued development.

A blended approach to CPD, especially around increasing teacher confidence with subject knowledge, is required which has the support and commitment of all parties - the Government, school management and individual teachers.

Enquiry and hands-on activities are central to teaching and learning in primary science but it must be well planned and resourced appropriately.

Making science more relevant to children's everyday lives is key to engaging them with science and helping them to become active and informed citizens, who understand and take decisions about the impact of scientific and technological developments.

Pupils' views and existing ideas cannot be ignored The teacher's role in adopting such a constructivist approach to learning requires support and professional development for teachers if they are to teach and assess an enquiry based creative science curriculum effectively and have the confidence to innovate and move away from recall of facts.

Teacher concerns and aspirations

16. OfSTED has reported improvements in the overall quality of science teaching in recent years but there remain many concerns raised by teachers and their perceptions of their role. Against this background ASE, working with other partners notably the National Network of Science Learning Centres under took a seminar series[22] to explore both primary and secondary science teachers' views on their concerns and aspirations to improve the quality of their teaching and the learning experiences and achievements of their pupils.

17. The main concerns and barriers expressed by both primary and secondary teachers clustered around seven issues: lack of time, narrowness of teaching repertoire, assessment regimes, subject knowledge, lack of confidence and ownership, professional development and school management. As the discussion paper at Appendix 4 demonstrates they all are seen as major constraints to quality teacher and learning.

18. More positively teachers have aspirations in relation to their own teaching and what they feel they need in order to improve their own expertise, support their colleagues and enhance the learning of their students. Their aspirations fall into four areas - pedagogy and resources, assessment, leadership, continuing professional development - all of which need to be addressed. Appendix 4 again illustrates teachers' views. The discussion paper also outlines how, for one group of teachers, the barriers they identified impacted and restricted them in meeting their aspirations.

Professional Development: Initial Teacher Education Programmes (ITE)

19. Professional development for teachers commences with their pre-service training and should continue throughout their career. It is important therefore that the process is seen as a continuum and not as separate elements. The development by the TDA of standards for classroom teachers, which are currently awaiting approval by the Secretary of State for Education, may contribute to supporting a more holistic view of teachers' professional development. However, if used inappropriately such standards could place yet another burden on individual teachers.

20. Current ITE provision has contributed to improvements in the quality of newly qualified teachers entering the profession. However such programmes are not without their shortcomings which include:

the time to develop appropriate levels of subject knowledge, especially in science, is inadequate;

the balance of time between 'school-based' and 'college-based' work which needs to be reviewed to allow more quality time for reflection and trying out activities, notably practical experiments, with support;

21. In short the time available for preparing good teachers of primary science is brief and greater attention needs to be given to ensuring that programmes for trainees and their subsequent induction year, as a newly qualified teacher (NQT), are integrated much more closely.

Professional Development: Newly qualified teachers and induction

22. NQTs entering the profession take with them their career entry profile which sets out strengths and areas for development. In theory each individual has an entitlement to support during that first year but, in practice, the feedback we have received suggests that many do not receive the levels of support required. NQTs would benefit from a staged introduction to full-time teaching and a planned programme for their continued development.

23. Meeting individual needs of NQTs is a challenge for schools as programmes need, by definition, to be personalised through mentoring (in the region of 4 hours per week) feedback from lesson observations (GTP students often need additional support on pedagogy) and opportunities to meet with other NQTs and colleagues. All this takes time, which too often is not made available potentially contributing to higher than necessary 'dropout' rates.

Professional Development: continuing professional development

24. The importance of continuing professional development (CPD) is now widely accepted but, despite a wide range of CPD opportunities that are available through LEAs, ASE, CLEAPSS, NNSLC and others, the uptake, especially in subject-specific CPD, has declined in recent years.

25. From our experience of running the ASE Certificate of Professional Development, CPD needs to by tailored to individual needs in the context of their own school situation (hence making a contribution to the overall objectives of their school), develop classroom management, leadership and career development as well as their subject knowledge and pedagogy.

26. CPD requires a balance of elements including attendance on courses and conferences, time working with colleagues in school and personal reading and reflection. Such a blended approach requires commitment from a range of parties, the government, school management teams and individual teachers. CPD should be an entitlement with appropriate incentives but it also brings with it responsibilities for all those involved. Working towards achieving and maintaining the Chartered Science Teacher (CSciTeach) designation, developed by ASE in partnership with the Science Council (Bell and Lawrence 2006), is one way for individual teachers to demonstrate their commitment and acceptance of their responsibility for their CPD. This in combination with wider developments could make a significant contribution to the status and quality of science teaching by providing both recognition and, where appropriate, rewards. Currently discussions are taking place to explore the development of Chartered status in other areas of teaching.

27. The curriculum and assessment requirements have a significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning that takes place and this is no different for science. More importantly the way in which the requirements are implemented has more profound effects on the experiences and learning of students. Put simply 'teaching to the test' leads to a narrowing of not only teaching approaches and activities but also to the quality of knowledge and understanding gained by pupils and their engagement with the subject and their attitude to learning.

28. ASE promotes science for all students and therefore provision must be made for students with special educational needs in order to support those with learning difficulties, physical disabilities, behavioural problems as well as those who are gifted and talented.

Practical work in science

29. One of the key elements of learning in science is the central role of hands on practical work which offers opportunities for the development of a wide range of both subject specific and more general skills that are highly valued and contribute to students' learning and personal development. However in recent years there is evidence that the amount and quality of such activities has declined for a variety of reasons which include:

the demands of the assessment procedures which have lead to teachers restricting the range of activities undertaken thus reducing the variety and creativity that encourages student engagement;

the lack of confidence of teachers to undertake practical activities (including fieldwork)

because of their own restricted experience,

lack of time to try out experiments in advance and the perceptions that things are banned[23] on health and safety grounds;

class-sizes which make management of practical work more difficult;

30. Arguments[24] for the value of outdoor science and the potential for activities have been discussed at some length, elsewhere, and are not reiterated here. However it is obvious that there is enormous untapped potential for enhancing teaching and learning in science. The advent of the Outdoor Manifesto, the continuing activities of the Real World Learning Campaign[25] and the drive to address issues of sustainable development in science education all point to the need to encourage greater use to the outdoors in science teaching and learning. This however requires greater support from government and others in order to emphasise its importance and to make it affordable.

As children move developmentally through the primary phase how do they learn best and how are they most effectively taught?

31. Primary education is developmental, and should start with the child in mind as Rousseau eloquently stated in 1911, 'Education should accommodate the child not the child accommodate education.' Rousseau, J. J. (1911) Emile London: J. M. Dent and Sons. As individuals, different children think and learn in different ways and the skilled teacher will develop and tailor the different learning experiences accordingly. Gardner, H. (1983) Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. London: Heinemann

Learning with understanding

32. The aim of learning in a modern education should be for understanding - making sense of what is experienced. Learning with understanding is often contrasted with learning by rote, which is regarded as memorisation rather than understanding. This does not mean that knowledge of facts is unimportant; just that it is insufficient. We know that children can learn lists of facts and names and many enjoy learning the big science words; indeed Bransford et al (1999) point out that 'children can learn practically anything by sheer will and effort'. Information needs to be organised if it is to be useful, so the understanding of principles and development of concepts is a key aim. In relation to floating, for example, the important thing is to understand not just what floats by why some things float. These mental structures cannot be 'taught' as such; they have to be created by the active participation of the learner. The reason why some things float could only be memorised as a form of words unless there is understanding of the concepts involved. But 'big ideas' such as those that explain why some things float and others do not, or why some plants thrive only in particular places, cannot be taught directly. They need to be built up from 'small' ideas, through enquiry based broadly practical activities which, at each developmental step, are within the reach of the children's current ideas and ways of reasoning, but which also challenge them to consider and test out their own and other ideas. An important aim is to help children to reflect upon what and how they learn so that on-going learning helps them to develop effective strategies for learning.

The role of talk and discussion

33. The role of talk and discussion in learning has recently received renewed emphasis (Alexander, 2006) although it was recognised long ago by Barnes (1978). Children need not only to have direct experience but also to develop their understanding through negotiation, exchanging views with others. It is important, therefore, that teachers plan time for discussion into practical work. It also helps to structure that time so that ideas are shared and used to take the understanding of all beyond what each could achieve individually (social constructivism).

34. At each stage they should be able to make sense of their experiences (including what they are told) in some way that satisfies them. There is a good body of evidence 'showing that learners use their current knowledge to construct new knowledge and that what they know and believe at the moment affects how they interpret new information. Sometimes learners' current knowledge supports new learning; sometimes it hampers learning' (Bransford et al, 1999). Learning may be hampered because their existing ideas may contain misconceptions, arising from their underdeveloped logical reasoning. It is therefore necessary for teachers to be aware of the general principle of the importance of children's initial ideas and how they may have been formed. In relation to the particular children they teach they need to be aware of the particular ideas and reasoning of these children. Gardner, H (1993) and Johnston C (1996).

35. The implications of this for 'how children are most effectively taught' are summed up by Harlen (2006: p 9) as requiring teachers to:

find out the children's ideas and use these as a starting point for building towards more effective, scientific ideas

promote interaction of the children with the materials and resources through which they can develop understanding

help children to develop the skills needed to test out ideas scientifically

provide children with access to alternative ideas to their own, including the scientific ones

promote dialogue and the development of shared understanding

help children reflect on their ideas and on their ways of thinking

monitor progress and reflect on the effectiveness of the learning experience provided.

What is the proper place of ICT and other new technologies in teaching and learning?

36. Recent studies of the brain, such as reported by Greenfield (2000), have led to 'network' models of learning where the ability to make connections between apparently unrelated ideas (for instance the motion of the planets and the falling of an apple) lies at the heart of early scientific learning in terms of both creativity and understanding. This learning model predicts that when children are engaged in constructivist learning, more pervasive neural connectivity and hence enhanced learning occurs. Using ICT in primary education can facilitate more constructivist learning (Murphy 2005).

37. When used effectively ICT can open up new dimensions for pupils - seeing and wondering at the previously unseen, or bringing the outside world into the classroom. ICT can facilitate faster, more accurate and visual ways of measuring, recording, analysing and interpreting data, and ICT provides effective research mechanisms and visual ways of communicating pupils' knowledge, understanding and ideas about science. Additionally ICT can help pupils develop up-to-date science appreciation and global science perspectives through easy communications with others in different parts of the world. As Ball (2003) summarised, ICT can be used in primary science as a tool, reference source, a means of communication and for exploration.

38. However there is little systematic research on the use of ICT in primary science teaching other than how it is used to support specific projects such as those reported in the ASE journal, Primary Science Review (Jan/Feb 2003), (Murphy 2005).

39. From our discussions with teachers, it is clear however that ICT cannot and should not replace the hands-on experience: ICT may support investigations but is not the reason for undertaking the investigation. To be most effective ICT should be part of a planned experience and used by students collaboratively. When used less effectively, ICT is not interactive, providing a poor diet of PowerPoint presentations and virtual experiences which replace the first hand experiences needed by learners. There is anecdotal concern also that the positive impact of ICT may not be proportional to the costs involved and the expense of some equipment such as data loggers can lead to more teaching by demonstration rather than direct experience. Teacher familiarisation training with ICT may help improve the situation as, when used interactively, ICT can enhance the whole class learning experience.

In what ways might teaching, and the organisation of classrooms and schools, change in order to enhance young children's engagement and learning and maximise their educational prospects?

40. Our discussions with teachers highlight a general consensus around the following points:

More active learning would be promoted by reduced class sizes or larger and more versatile classrooms with easy access to appropriate technologies and stimulating outdoor facilities. Johnston, J. (2005).

Teaching needs to maximise opportunities for children to learn through talking and discussion. As a hangover from their own school days many parents see the good classroom as the quiet classroom where all pupils put their hand up to answer a question but otherwise are writing in silence. There is a need to persuade others of the importance of different ways of working. See, for example, Osborne, J., Erduran, S. & Simon, S. (2004).

The government's new personalised learning agenda is to be welcomed (DfES 2006), where pupils are partners in planning their own learning through setting targets with their teachers, working with their teachers to evaluate, achieve and set new targets and the classroom is arranged to suit their learning; see Schwienhart L.J, Weikart D.P, & Toderan R. (1993). However this has implications for staffing levels and ways of working in schools.

Some teachers, especially those with a non-specialist background in individual subjects, may need additional support and CPD to facilitate this agenda.

41. Teachers were also in agreement with the following points made in the Primary Horizons report (Wellcome Trust 2005):

There should be a review of curriculum content to provide greater opportunities for teachers to focus on topics likely to develop scientific skills and generate enthusiasm. It is hoped that primary science will benefit from the latest moves in secondary science to reduce the prescribed course content in favour of developing broader skills. Complex scientific terminology should be used only when appropriate, for instance, when answering children's specific questions, when explaining the more scientific use of otherwise familiar terms (e.g. insulation) or when children introduce complex language themselves (such as names of dinosaurs).

The links between science and other subjects should be made more explicit and strengthened to help bring science to life and develop transferable skills.

There should be wider use of creative and innovative approaches such as role-plays, stories and co-teaching between existing teachers and specialist science training teachers. Many of these techniques have been shown to improve teachers' confidence and skills to teach science and to spark children's interest and enthusiasm.

Curriculum and assessment

42. Key Messages

If the core curriculum is to be maintained the core subjects, including science, should have genuine parity in terms of status, curriculum time, support, access to CPD and funding.

The effect of a science curriculum taught through hands-on, investigative activities with a good balance between process skills and appropriate science content makes a significant contribution to pupil engagement and enjoyment of learning.

To meet pupil needs we must build flexibility into the curriculum otherwise risk ending up with another 'one-size fits all' model and many of the problems we face today will simply return at some point in the future.

'Teaching to the test' with a focus on content and factual knowledge leads to a narrowing of not only teaching approaches and activities but also to the quality of knowledge and understanding gained by pupils and their engagement with science as part of their overall learning.

A change in policy with regard to testing and target setting is the essential first step in providing our primary pupils with the experiences that will develop their understanding, interest in and enthusiasm for science.

A greater focus on assessment for learning and assessment of skills, and valuing the teachers' role in assessing pupil progress is required to support learning and give a meaningful measure of progress.

There is a need for the primary science curriculum to more explicitly relate ideas to contemporary contexts and introduce, at an appropriate level, some of the major issues of this century such as global citizenship and sustainability.

What do children currently learn during the primary phase?

43. There is a wide range of practice in schools across England which includes teachers taking steps to find out children's ideas, observing their skills and providing formative feedback (Murphy and Beggs, 2005). Many schools offer their children an excellent grounding in science and also allow them opportunities to test out their own ideas and challenge evidence, whilst encouraging a sense of amazement of the things around them and the way they work. DfES (2003) Excellence and Enjoyment. A strategy for primary schools. London: DfES

44. However, there is far too much practice that is dominated by teachers telling and pupils copying. Teachers themselves recognise that the curriculum content is insufficiently relevant and interesting to pupils. This may result from relentlessly following the non-statutory QCA scheme of work which gives little incentive to build on pupils' questions and interests. Murphy and Beggs report on teachers' views and pupil experiences of primary science highlights the need for greater relevance of science activities to real life. This is more easily achieved in broader topics than when science is taught as a separate subject.

45. A major factor determining teachers' approaches to science is the existence of the national tests in science at the end of KS2. These are tests with 'high stakes' for teachers; pupils' performance in them is used as a basis for evaluating teachers and schools. The impact of this has lead to transmission teaching and drilling in what is tested, and now contributes one third to whole school Contextual Value Added measures, as used by OfSTED to provide a picture of the progress children make from KS1 to KS2. This extends not only throughout Y6 but often in Y5 as well. It is well documented that this happens in any situation where 'high stakes' tests are used. For example, research carried out by Johnston and McClune (2000) in Northern Ireland at the time of the 11+ examination, found that the teachers adopted a teaching style that had negative consequences for pupils' learning dispositions, self-esteem, locus of control and attitude to science. They investigated how pupils preferred to learn and found most with a strong preference for first-hand exploration and problem-solving. The teachers, however, were providing highly structured activities, very little opportunity for interaction with objects and materials and just giving children information. The teachers reported that they felt constrained to teach this way because of the important test. It is perhaps no wonder, then, that decline in pupils' positive attitudes to science, which was well know in the secondary school years, now starts in the last years of primary school (Osborne et al, 2003). This is echoed by many teachers during our discussions with comments such as:

By the end of KS2 too many children learn just what is tested - they learn to give 'right' answers though probing questions often reveal significant misconceptions in many of the pupils who score well in the tests.

They learn that passing tests is more important than making sense of things.

They tend to learn too much factual information and not enough enquiry or thinking skills to allow them to apply or understand the facts. Too many facts that can be acquired without activity and enquiry

The current regime of testing is producing superficial success. Unimaginative test preparation (drilling of facts etc) is having a detrimental effect on development of practical and enquiry skills and on pupils' engagement with the subject.

46. A further constraint on providing the kind of experiences that the valued learning requires (see Box under What should they learn? Page 11) is the subject knowledge of the teacher. This has been a problem since science has been taken seriously as part of the primary curriculum. Its effects have been well researched (Osborne and Simon, 1996; Turner-Bissett, 1999) and are known to include concentrating on topics where confidence is higher (often biological ones at the expense of physical science), heavy reliance on workcards and text books, emphasis on transmission of information and restricting discussion and pupils' questions (Holroyd and Harlen, 1996). However, changes in the training of primary teachers do seem to have eased this problem for the future (although it should be remembered that there are no national CPD schemes for primary teachers - the valuable GEST funded 20 day courses finished long ago!). Murphy and Beggs (2005) report from their survey that few teachers in their 20s felt that lack of science knowledge was an issue for them, whilst it remained so for over half of those in their 30s or older.

What should they learn?

47. Teachers had many contributions to make to these discussions including:

an excellent grounding in science ideas and opportunities to test out their own ideas and challenge evidence whilst developing a sense of amazement at the things around them and the way they work

skills for enquiry, problem solving, thinking, research, how to use technology

topical science issues which are of interest to them

minimal core content , taking into account what is appropriate preparation and grounding for the secondary phase, and the rest should be should be agreed at school level with the children.

48. Ideal experiences for primary children learning science are summarised in the box:

Gathering evidence by observing real events or using other sources

Pursuing questions which they have identified as their own even if introduced by the teacher

Raising further questions which can lead to investigations

Making predictions based on what they think or find out

Talking to each other or to the teacher about what they are observing or investigating

Expressing themselves using appropriate scientific terms and representations with understanding both in writing and talk

Suggesting ways of testing their own or others' ideas to see if there is evidence to support these ideas

Taking part in planning investigations with appropriate controls to answer specific questions

Attempting to solve problems for themselves

Using a variety of sources of information for facts that they need for their investigation

Assessing the validity and usefulness of different ideas in relation to evidence

Considering ideas other than their own

Reflecting self-critically about the processes and outcomes of their inquiry.

49. Current teaching methods are influenced by two opposing influences. On the one hand are the perceived requirements for meeting targets which put pressure on teachers to constrict content and teaching methods as already outlined. There is massive research evidence (some reviewed by Harlen and Deakin Crick, 2003; Black and Wiliam, 1998; Crooks, 1988) of this effect. Influences that would lead to greater emphasis on enquiry, using assessment for learning and developing thinking skills, are much less strong although also evidence-based. They are less influential because they are optional, whilst testing is a statutory requirement. Thus whilst many teachers would like to change their practices (James and Pedder (2006) provide evidence of this in relation to classroom assessment practices), it is only those who have close local support who are prepared to take the risk of going beyond what is tested.

50. This argument lays the blame with the policy-makers rather than the teachers. This is not to say that change can be readily effected by a change in policy. A generation of teachers has become used to the current situation of perceived prescription in the QCA scheme of work and lack the skills of teaching creatively and building on children's ideas and questions. However a change in policy in regard to testing and target setting is the essential first step in providing our primary pupils with the experiences that will develop their understanding, interest in and enthusiasm for science.

What is the proper relationship and balance of assessment for learning and assessment for accountability?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of current approaches to assessment, both national and local?

How should their (pupil) progress and attainment be assessed?

51. If we are really serious about developing critical thinking, problem-solving, understanding of and about science, etc., then the short answer to this is 'by their teachers'. Teachers we consulted had plenty of comments to add to this discussion, and on the balance of national and local in curriculum and assessment such as:

Assessment for learning (AfL) should be the prime business of schools - if you concentrate on AfL, with professional development for teachers to support this, then learning will improve and that will mean that everyone benefits.

Personal learning planning covers both learning and accountability.

Good teacher assessment requires teachers who have good pedagogical subject knowledge - there are issues of the need for CPD and teacher confidence in their ability to make judgements. Over reliance on summative tests may lead to de-skilling of teachers in assessment techniques, knowledge of level characteristics and ability to plan next steps in learning.

Within the key ideas there should be freedom to adapt the contexts for teaching of knowledge and skills to the locality and the location specific experiences and concerns of the pupils. This would allow links to local citizenship.

National is a set core, local is the topical interests of the children/ community. Local sets HOW the national outcomes are achieved.

52. If this is to happen then we must make sure that their progress in these areas is assessed, both in order to help learning (formative) and to report on learning (summative). Using assessment to help learning is central to enquiry-based education and there is evidence of its effectiveness (Black et al, 2003). Similarly, the introduction of thinking skills is known to lead to improved outcomes. In these cases assessment is part of teaching and there is a lesser role for grading, 'levelling', or making judgements. Whilst it is helpful to learners to have levels, understanding of progression of scientific skills and knowledge concepts is key to ensuring that teachers are able to move children on in their learning. The aim is for teachers and pupils to collect and use information that can be used to decide where children have reached, what their next steps are and how to take them.

53. In the case of summative assessment, we should also be able to report on all kinds of learning outcomes. At present this does not happen, because tests cannot do this. Even though tests (at present) only occur at the end of key stages, there are other, sometimes commercial, tests that are given at other times; and teachers tend to emulate these tests when making their own. Moreover, as the work of the Assessment systems for the Future (ASF), reported in ARG (2006) found that a system based on testing is flawed, because:

It fails to provide information about the full range of educational outcomes that are needed in a world of rapid social and technological change and therefore does not encourage the development of these skills

It inhibits the development of assessment for learning which is proven to raise achievement levels and reduce the gap between higher and lower achieving pupils (Pollard and Triggs, 2000).

The data it provides are less reliable than they are generally thought to be. For example it has been estimated that the key stage tests in England result in the wrong levels for at least a third of pupils at the end of KS2 and up to 40 per cent at the end of KS3 (Wiliam, 2001)

The weak reliability of tests means that unfair and incorrect decisions will be made about some pupils, affecting their progress both within and between schools (Black and Wiliam, 2006) and beyond school.

There is no firm evidence to support the claims that testing boosts standards of achievement (Tymms, 2004).

It reduces some pupils' motivation for learning (Harlen and Deakin Crick, 2003).

It imposes stressful conditions that prevent some children from performing as well as they can (Pollard et al, 2000; Reay and Wiliam, 2000).

It encourages methods of teaching that promote shallow and superficial learning rather than deep conceptual understanding (Harlen and James, 1997).

Apart from the anxiety caused by the tests, revision and practise tests take up a considerable amount of time in years 5 and 6 particularly, estimated by the ASF project to be the equivalent of three weeks of learning in each year (Harlen, 2007).

54. Comments from teachers such as these below contribute to the arguments for a reduced emphasis on summative assessment:

Summative assessment by testing, with results used for accountability, can lead to less creative teaching and learning, a narrower experience for pupils and pupils with less real understanding of or interest in science.

Skills would be more effectively assessed by using investigative activities with clear assessment criteria and an AfL approach.

Current assessment is too narrow and does not really assess the important aspects of creativity, thinking etc. at present we are teaching 'exam techniques'.

Teachers need CPD and continuing support to ensure they have a clear understanding of pupil progress in science skills and concepts.

55. The alternative to testing is to use teachers' judgments, which have the following advantages:

Teachers can assess a wider range of achievement and learning outcomes than formal tests. Teachers' assessment can provide information about learning processes as well as outcomes.

Freedom from test anxiety and from practice in test-taking means that assessment by teachers gives a more valid indication of pupils' achievement.

With appropriate training and moderation teachers' assessment can reach satisfactory levels of reliability.

Teachers have greater freedom to pursue learning goals in ways that suit their pupils.

When teachers are gathering evidence from pupils' on-going work, information can be used formatively, to help learning, as well as for summative purposes.

Moderation procedures provide valuable professional development for teachers.

Pupils can share in the process through self-assessment and derive a sense of progress towards "learning goals" as distinct from "performance goals".

Financial resources are released at the school level by reducing the number of commercial tests purchased.

Teachers can spend more time teaching rather than preparing for and marking tests.

Pupils' learning time is increased.

Structures and phases

56. Key Messages

As part of a wider curriculum review, work needs to be done to more clearly identify what characterises primary science and the experience for pupils, and how these contribute to seamless transitions with true continuity and progression through and between phases or key stages.

Transition issues that arise when students move from one phase to another must be addressed and the lessons learnt from new transition initiatives must be brought together and acted upon by relevant parties.

There is a need to address the disengagement which appears to be increasing during Yrs 5/6 and seems to be linked, at least in part, to an overemphasis on SATS.

More effective links are required between numeracy, literacy and science in order to maximise the synergies and opportunities that such links support.

Are there problems of coherence, transition and continuity within and between phases?

How can these be overcome?

What can the primary phase profitably learn from developments in the phases which precede and follow it?

57. A key element in the quality of science education must be the way in which the experiences available to students at different stages in their life link together. In terms of formal education this means the continuity and progression that develops between primary and secondary school, pre and post 16, school / college and University as well as, school / college / university and employment. In other words the transition issues that arise when students move from one phase to another must be addressed.

58. In well managed schools, the foundation stage emphasises doing, looking and talking. These foundation principles and practice continue during KS1, ensuring children move gradually and at the appropriate pace for them into a more highly structured curriculum. Pressure on Year 2 teachers to carry out teacher assessment for science, often without adequate training and support can also lead to formalising and narrowing the science curriculum in KS1 with the emphasis on content coverage at the expense of skills development.

59. Over recent years transition between primary and secondary phases has been improved - especially when secondary teachers know the contexts in which pupils had previously learned a concept - but there is still work to be done. It is early days but it is important that the lessons learnt from successful transition initiatives such as those funded by the AstraZeneca Science Teaching Trust must be brought together and acted upon.

60. The proposed changes to the KS3 science curriculum and the recent changes at KS4 with their focus on reduced content, flexibility, different student interests and how science works are all positive directions for future primary science curriculum review.

61. Teachers in our discussion groups made the following observations:

We still have problems with transition to secondary and that mainly occurs because secondary still believe in a fresh start because primary can't possibly do science properly! We need to seriously talk more.

Using end of key stage tests to provide data for the next phase of education does not always provide an accurate indication of what pupils can do in science, especially where they have been drilled, or in the case of pupils with SEN or EAL who may have literacy levels below their scientific skills and understanding.

Pupils who have just revised the entire primary science curriculum do not come to the units of work in KS3 fresh and interested as they do when they have not met a particular area of science for several terms.

The recognised drop in pupil engagement Y7-9 is now being seen in Y5 and 6. It seems that dry test preparation and the lack of a broad and balanced curriculum are major contributory factors.

Transition projects often have limited success because they facilitate primary and secondary teachers working together for set up purposes. Successful transition is much more robust when teachers work together on a regular basis.

Transition problems may be overcome by following a more skills based curriculum. This would still require a core of knowledge and common practical and investigative experiences to avoid repetition (context rather than detailed content).

Better use of AfL could free teachers from needing to know in detail what had gone before; they could use elicitation activities/strategies to establish and work from pupils' actual starting points in each unit of work.

Foundation stage has an emphasis on doing, looking and talking - just because older pupils can write it down doesn't mean they have to!

Conclusion

62. Primary Science Education is not perfect but ASE has substantial evidence that there is much to be celebrated and that there are significant numbers of teachers in primary schools who are engaging students in science everyday. The challenge facing us all is ensure that the high quality teaching that exists is available to all pupils.

63. ASE, in accordance with it aims, is more than willing to continue to play its part in this endeavour and would be very pleased to discuss this submission, and any other issues, with the Primary Review team.

 


APPENDIX FOUR:

 

HOUSE OF COMMONS

SELECT COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND SKILLS

 

TESTING AND ASSESSMENT

 

SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE

from

THE ASSOCIATION FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION

June 2007

 

1. The Association for Science Education welcomes the opportunity to make this submission on Testing and Assessment and has consulted widely with its members and others who are drawn from all phases and areas of science education in order to bring together a range of evidence from a variety of perspectives.

 

2. Although the issues relating to testing and assessment are generally generic and apply across all subjects the impact of some practices has had a particularly detrimental effect on the teaching of science and has, in turn, contributed to the disaffection with the subject expressed by pupils across all phases of education.

 

3. ASE fully recognises that testing and assessment must meet a range of demands but would argue very strongly that in the current climate the balance is wrong with too much emphasis being placed on the demands for accountability to the detriment of the quality of pupils' learning as a result of a narrowing of the curriculum experienced by pupils. Broadly teachers support the need to redress the balance in order to put more emphasis on formative assessment, often referred to as assessment for learning (AfL).

 

4. In order to encourage learning pupils' progress needs to be assessed, both in order to help learning (formative) and to report on learning (summative). Using assessment to help learning should be central to education and there is substantial evidence as to the effectiveness of formative assessment.

 

5. Whilst it is relatively easy to state the essence of the problem, finding solutions is not so straight forward. ASE argues that:

a. there is a need to reduce the overall burden of testing and assessment on teachers and pupils as well as to redress the balance between summative and formative assessments;

b. steps should be taken to remove the culture of 'teaching to the test' in favour of genuine support for learning through formative assessment approaches;

c. greater investment is needed for developing assessment strategies and pedagogy which use a wider range of styles and improved feedback which instils a greater sense of achievement and progress for students;

d. teachers and other staff need to be supported, through appropriate CPD, and the necessary time made available in order to develop and implement appropriate processes to ensure the value of testing and assessment is maximised to the benefit of students.

6. With regard to testing and assessment in science specifically, in addition to the above, ASE argues that:

a. further consideration should be given to the issue of comparative difficulty of examinations across subjects and actions taken to address the current situation where certain subjects, especially sciences and maths, are perceived to be more difficult;

b. the place of 'coursework' and assessment of practical work needs to be revisited in order to reflect the investigative nature of science more strongly.


HOUSE OF COMMONS

SELECT COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND SKILLS

 

TESTING AND ASSESSMENT

 

A SUBMISSION OF EVIDENCE

from

THE ASSOCIATION FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION

JUNE 2007

 

Introduction

 

1. As stated in its Royal Charter The Association for Science Education[26] (ASE) exists, among other things, to provide 'an authoritative medium though which the opinions of teachers of science may be expressed on educational matters'. ASE therefore welcomes the opportunity to make this submission on Testing and Assessment and has consulted widely with its members and others who are drawn from all phases and areas of science education in order to bring together a range of evidence from a variety of perspectives. In particular, in addition to the information from external sources, this submission has drawn on first hand contributions from members of ASE Council, committees and our two Special Interest Groups (National Advisers and Inspectors Group for Science[27] (NAIGS) and, Association of Tutors in Science Education[28] (ATSE)). In addition ASE has contributed to and fully supports the joint statement which will be submitted by the SCORE[29] partnership.

 

2. Although the issues relating to testing and assessment are generally generic and apply across all subjects the impact of some practices has had a particularly detrimental effect on the teaching of science and has, in turn, contributed to the disaffection with the subject expressed by pupils across all phases of education. After an overview of assessment and its purposes, the submission which follows presents the key points that have been raised during our consultations in response to the questions set out in the call for evidence.

 

Assessment: an overview

 

3. Assessment is a complex issue that is a key element in education but, in its different forms is used to address the, often competing, demands of a wide range of stakeholders. Broadly these demands fall into two groupings:

 

a those which focus on learning and teaching aimed at supporting and encouraging the progress of individual students;

b those that are designed to provide 'accountability data' allowing for comparison of the performance of groups and institutions, regionally, nationally and internationally.

 

4. Although similar assessment approaches might be used the purpose to which they are put will often significantly alter the way in which the assessment is carried out, the way in which the assessment is perceived by students, and the manner in which the outcomes of the assessment are used. For example, a simple test might be used with an individual pupil or a class in order to find out how well they have understood some new vocabulary. The results might then be used by the teacher to plan activities that re-enforce the words in appropriate contexts, thereby helping pupils not only to remember the words but also to gain a better understanding of their meanings. On the other hand a similar test might be used to find out how many pupils have remembered the vocabulary and then the results used to compare one class with another, or the performance of schools in a region or nationally. In the latter case unless something else is done with the information there is no impact on pupils' learning but if used appropriately it might provide evidence of overall standards.

 

5. This somewhat simplistic example illustrates the key dilemma that exists in the UK, more specifically England, at the present time; i.e. the need to use assessment effectively in order to inform teaching and thereby support pupil learning yet, at the same time, to meet the demands for accountability and public assurance that overall standards are being maintained and, where possible, improved.

 

6. ASE fully recognises the need to meet both sets of demands but would argue very strongly that in the current climate the balance is wrong with too much emphasis being placed on the demands for accountability to the detriment of the quality of pupils' learning as a result of a narrowing of the curriculum experienced by pupils. There certainly is evidence of this happening in science and, from what teachers have said to us, they feel constrained by the pressure put on them, often in subtle ways, to increase the number of pupils getting Level 5, 6 or 7 in SATS or gaining 5 A*- C at GCSE, as the following quotes illustrate.

 

"After Christmas we do 3 or 4 mock SATs papers. No one seems to have the guts to just carry on teaching good science."

"Year 10 and 11 just seem to be on a treadmill of one module exam after another. That wouldn't have inspired me to take science (and it certainly doesn't inspire them.)"

 

7. More positively, teachers have also commented, they would like:

 

"to be able to continue teaching engaging science in year 6, rather than feel pressured to do endless SATs preparation"

"assessment to motivate my pupils and reward their success"

"assessment to encourage learning (and not be a full stop at the end of learning)."

 

8. If we are to encourage learning then we must make sure that pupils' progress is assessed, both in order to help learning (formative) and to report on learning (summative). Using assessment to help learning is central to enquiry-based education and there is substantial evidence of its effectiveness.[30] Similarly, the introduction of thinking skills is known to lead to improved outcomes. In both these cases assessment is part of teaching and there is a lesser role for grading, 'levelling', or making judgements. Whilst it is helpful to learners to have levels, understanding of progression of scientific skills and knowledge concepts is key to ensuring that teachers are able to move children on in their learning. The aim is for teachers and pupils to collect and use information that can be used to decide where children have reached, what their next steps are and how to take them.

9. In the case of summative assessment, we should also be able to report on the whole range of learning outcomes. At present this does not happen, because tests cannot do this. Even though tests (at present) only occur at the end of key stages, there are other, sometimes commercial, tests that are given at other times; and teachers tend to emulate these tests when making their own. Moreover, as the work of the Assessment Systems for the Future (ASF) reported,[31] a system based on testing is flawed, because:

It fails to provide information about the full range of educational outcomes that are needed in a world of rapid social and technological change and therefore does not encourage the development of these skills.

It inhibits the development of assessment for learning which is shown to raise achievement levels and reduce the gap between higher and lower achieving pupils.[32].

The data it provides are less reliable than they are generally thought to be. For example it has been estimated that the key stage tests in England result in the wrong levels for at least a third of pupils at the end of KS2 and up to 40 per cent at the end of KS3.[33]

The weak reliability of tests means that unfair and incorrect decisions will be made about some pupils, affecting their progress both within and between schools[34] and beyond school.

There is no firm evidence to support the claims that testing boosts standards of achievement.[35]

It reduces some pupils' motivation for learning.[36]

It imposes unnecessary stressful conditions that prevent some children from performing as well as they can.[37]

It encourages methods of teaching that promote shallow and superficial learning rather than deep conceptual understanding.[38]

Apart from the anxiety caused by the tests, revision and practise tests take up a considerable amount of time, for example, in years 5 and 6 this is estimated by the ASF project to be the equivalent of three weeks of learning in each year.[39]

 

10. Broadly teachers support the need to redress the balance in order to put more emphasis on formative assessment (often referred to as assessment for learning (AfL) as the following comments illustrate,

"Assessment for learning (AfL) should be the prime business of schools - if you concentrate on AfL, with professional development for teachers to support this, then learning will improve and that will mean that everyone benefits."

"Personal learning planning covers both learning and accountability."

"Good teacher assessment requires teachers who have good pedagogical subject knowledge - there are issues of the need for CPD and teacher confidence in their ability to make judgements. Over reliance on summative tests may lead to de-skilling of teachers in assessment techniques, knowledge of level characteristics and ability to plan next steps in learning."

"Summative assessment by testing, with results used for accountability, can lead to less creative teaching and learning, a narrower experience for pupils and pupils with less real understanding of, or interest in, science."

"Skills would be more effectively assessed by using investigative activities with clear assessment criteria and an AfL approach."

"Current assessment is too narrow and does not really assess the important aspects of creativity, thinking etc. at present we are teaching exam techniques".

"Teachers need CPD and continuing support to ensure they have a clear understanding of pupil progress in science skills and concepts."

 

11. Whilst it is relatively easy to state the essence of the problem, finding solutions is not so straight forward. In part this is because the situation is so complex that there is no single solution nor a simple causal relationship between pupil achievements and the way they are assessed or taught. However, based on information we have gathered some of which is presented in response to the questions addressed in the subsequent parts of this submission, ASE would argue that:

 

there is a need to reduce the overall burden of testing and assessment on teachers and pupils as well as to redress the balance between summative and formative assessments;

steps should be taken to remove the culture of 'teaching to the test' in favour of genuine support for learning through formative assessment approaches;

greater investment is needed for developing assessment strategies and pedagogy which use a wider range of styles and improved feedback which instils a greater sense of achievement and progress for students;

teachers and other staff need to be supported, through appropriate CPD, and the necessary time made available in order to develop and implement appropriate processes to ensure the value of testing and assessment is maximised to the benefit of students.

 

12. With regard to testing and assessment in science specifically, in addition to the above, ASE would argue that:

 

further consideration should be given to the issue of comparative difficulty of examinations across subjects and actions taken to address the current situation where certain subjects, especially sciences and maths, are perceived to be more difficult;

the place of 'coursework' and assessment of practical work needs to be revisited in order to reflect the investigative nature of science more strongly.

 

 

 


Enquiry questions: General Issues

 

Why do we have a centrally run system of testing and assessment?

Who is the QCA accountable to and is this accountability effective?

What role should exam boards have in testing and assessment?

 

13. Ultimately the existence of a centrally run system of testing and assessment is the result of a decision by Government that such arrangements should be in place. It would therefore be easy to take a cynical view as to why it was determined that such a system was / is necessary. However, there are advantages to having a centrally run system that endeavours to ensure consistency and comparability of testing and assessment across the country. It also provides the potential to monitor standards and, indirectly, provide evidence on the impact of policy changes that relate to the curriculum and other aspects of educational provision in schools and colleges. Furthermore a centrally run system of testing and assessment should help to provide a clarity and coherence as to the qualifications that are available to students as part of working to meet their aspirations, aptitudes and interests as well as meeting the needs of other stakeholders.

 

14. The major disadvantage of any system, particularly one that is run centrally, is the potential it provides for distortion of its original purposes so that, for example, monitoring of standards leads to enforced compliance in order to meet targets. This in turn results in a culture that limits innovation and enjoyment of learning (see paragraph 18). Avoiding such distortion of any system requires clear lines of responsibility and processes for monitoring the effectiveness of the procedures against the overall educational aims and objectives. This requires a much closer relationship between the development of the curriculum and the testing and assessment arrangements that are to be in place.

 

15. If a centrally run system is to work effectively then it is crucial that the body / bodies responsible should have clear transparent lines of accountability and that their independence is not compromised in any way. QCA currently has an overall responsibility for the curriculum, testing and assessment arrangements and reports to the Secretary of State. However the way in which this responsibility is exercised is not entirely clear to the vast majority of stakeholders. Further confusion arises with the establishment of the NAA (a subsidiary of QCA) to undertake matters relating to testing and assessment and also the regulatory role QCA has in relation to the Awarding Bodies. Although ASE enjoys good relations with QCA, which it values, we would argue that there is a need for greater clarity as to the ways in which QCA carries out its role and that there should be improved mechanisms for engagement with stakeholders in relation to matters of testing and assessment.

 

16. ASE would also argue for a greater clarity in the way in which Awarding Bodies conduct their role in testing and assessment. In particular there is concern that the changing character of Awarding Bodies, including their publishing activities as providers of educational resources, will lead to conflicts of interest and to compromising of their 'objective status' in relation to the development and implementation of testing and assessment arrangements.

 

What other systems of assessment are in place both internationally and across the UK?

 

17. There are trends across the UK towards making greater use of teachers' judgments and less testing for summative assessment. Scotland is well into a programme of reform in assessment, Assessment is for learning, developed through collaboration between teachers, researchers and policy-makers. The part of the system dealing with summative assessment of pupils depends on teachers using evidence from regular activities to decide when a pupil has reached a particular level. Quality assurance of teachers' judgments can be through moderation with other teachers or using a test drawn from a bank of assessment tasks. In Wales, where end of key stage tests were finally phased out in 2005, summative assessment is based on teachers' judgments moderated in inter-school groups at Key Stage 2 and by accreditation of schools at Key Stage 3. In Northern Ireland, too, revisions underway will lead to assessment at the end of Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 taking the form of moderated teachers' judgments. In England, since 2005, teachers have had more responsibility for assessment at the end of Key Stage 1. Thus there are examples of alternative approaches to testing and assessment within the UK that are seeking to redress the balance between formative and summative assessment. ASE would suggest that these are worthy of further consideration, however ASE is very concerned that recent proposals for England[40] to add single-level tests to be administered twice each year to those ready to take them, will increase rather than decrease the amount of testing.

 

Does a focus on national testing and assessment reduce the scope for creativity in the curriculum?

 

18. In essence the answer is 'Yes'. When a high stakes testing system is in place it is inevitable that teachers will teach what they think is needed to pass the tests. This has several effects. Within the tested subjects it narrows the focus to aspects of the curriculum which are easily testable and reduces the time available for other elements or for creative planning which extends beyond narrow subject boundaries. It creates a culture of compliance, where the child is not at the heart of the process and factual learning has precedence over skills, experiences and interest. Assessment gives messages about what is important e.g. there is no testing for KS1 science which is teacher assessed so end of key stage assessment data is not included in value added calculations. Non tested subjects in primary school are seen as lacking importance resulting in reduced time being given to them, especially towards the end of the key stage. The full value of a creative, linked curriculum which addresses the interests, needs and talents of all pupils is not exploited because many schools seem to be afraid to innovate when test scores might be affected (even if evidence shows they might actually go up).

 

National Key Stage Tests: the current situation

 

How effective are the current Key Stage tests?

Do they adequately reflect levels of performance of children and schools, and changes in performance over time?

Do they provide assessment for learning (enabling teachers to concentrate on areas of a pupil's performance that needs improvement)?

 

19. Tests that are designed to be taken by large numbers of pupils, with all those at a certain age or stage taking the same items, are clearly limited in the number and range of items that can be included. The number is limited by the time and length of test that it is reasonable for a pupil to be given. The range is limited because, where large numbers of pupils are tested, items require written answers that can be readily marked as unambiguously as possible. Otherwise they become impossibly expensive to process. These limitations mean that the items included can only be a small sample - and a particularly restricted sample - of the range of items theoretically necessary to cover the domain being assessed to give results of acceptable validity. The reliability of the assessment is also affected since many different selections of items could be made in creating the test, each likely to lead to a different result. A pupil achieving a certain level or score might have a higher or lower score on a different selection of items. Calculations based on Key Stage 2 test results indicate that this effect could result in at least a third of pupils being given the wrong level.[41] This evidence would argue that, National Tests have neither the high validity nor high reliability that they are widely assumed to have. They do not give good information about what individual pupils can do and they provide a poor estimate of the level of attainment at the national level because they sample such a small proportion of the relevant goals.

 

20. Science tests, for example, seem to measure literacy (reading comprehension), maths and logic as much as science which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, in terms of ensuring that pupils are enthused about science, have a genuine depth of knowledge and understanding across the whole subject, can investigate independently and can make connections and apply their knowledge existing tests are limited. Indeed high scores can mask underlying issues of poor practice in the school. For example, lengthy and intensive revision programmes can place over-emphasis on knowledge and understanding at the expense of Sc1 (potentially damaging to pupils' motivation and attitudes).

 

21. Interpretation of the impact and usefulness of tests is further complicated by the confusion between formative assessment that helps learning day to day (which national tests clearly cannot do) and the formative use of summative assessment in medium and long-term planning. Neither current tests not the proposed single-level tests support formative assessment in the former meaning. Indeed, the pressure they put on teachers, because of their use as targets, prevents attention being given to using such assessment to help learning. Research also shows that frequent testing reduces pupils' motivation for learning[42] and imposes stressful conditions[43] that prevent many from performing as well as they are able - a further source of low reliability of the outcomes

 

Does testing help to improve levels of attainment?

Are they effective in holding schools accountable for their performance?

How effective are performance measures such as value-added scores for schools?

Are league tables based on test results an accurate reflection of how well schools are performing

 

22. The rationale for national testing is that it raises standards and the initial rise in test scores for one or two years after the introduction of testing is taken as supporting this claim. However, there is no evidence that this implies real change in standards of achievement, but only the effect of greater familiarity with tests and of teaching that is strongly influenced by what is tested.[44] Experience in England since the introduction of national testing mirrors that in the USA and other countries, where initial increase in scores is followed by a levelling off and in some cases a decrease in scores.[45] also showed that when familiar tests are replaced by alternative but equivalent ones, scores fall back to their original level. The superficial learning that high stakes testing encourages does not generalise to new items. Initially they may have had a positive effect in raising the amount and quality of science teaching in schools where it was weak and raising the profile of the subject but it appears that it is being replaced by a plateau where current practice, geared to current assessments is not going to improve in most schools and innovation is considered too risky.

 

23. Valued-added measures can help but the definition of what is valuable, as determined by such measures, is narrow and may not remedy the situation. When used effectively such scores can have some benefit and act as an incentive for teachers to focus on moving some pupils to L5 or from L2-3 in Y6, for example, rather than focusing exclusively on L4. However, value-added measures in KS2 is not based solely on performance in science which distorts the outcomes at the subject level. Contextual value-added approaches provide a better measure of the impact of a school on its pupils than raw attainment data alone. As schools realize the significance of these in the making of judgements by Ofsted, and if these became more prominent (i.e. the main measure) in performance tables, parents and others could make their own, much better informed, judgements about the effectiveness of schools

 

To what extent is there 'teaching to the test'

How much of a factor is 'hot-housing' in the fall-off in pupil performance from Year 6 to Year 7?

Does the importance given to test results mean that teaching generally is narrowly focused

 

24. When aggregate test results for groups of pupils - classes or year groups in a school - are used for setting goals and evaluating teachers and schools, thus making them 'high stakes' tests, teaching to the test is encouraged and excessive practising for tests becomes common place. Given the narrowness of what can be included in tests meant for a 'mass market', this has serious implications for the learning experiences of pupils, a claim is widely supported by research evidence[46] [47] [48] [49] and by Ofsted reports

 

25. Teaching to the test appears to be widespread, especially in Y6, and, as stated previously (see paragraph 20), success of pupils in KS2 tests in science can mask underlying problems which affect the experiences of pupils at crucial stages in their education, for example transition from primary to secondary school. With reference to science there is evidence that some pupils have already lost interest during year 6 when test preparation dominates. Intensive revision of all the content makes it harder to find something fresh to start the next key stage. Pupils are also switched off science if they have been denied the fun and practical elements of it, drilled and tested, then taught very little of the subject from May onwards in order to catch up with other aspects of the curriculum and take part in some enjoyable activities. It is also very de-motivating for pupils, who have worked hard for tests and got L4/5, to move to a secondary school which takes no account of what they achieved, does not make connections with or build on the primary curriculum and may even test them again!

 

26. Teaching to the test also occurs in Y9, particularly in schools where KS2-3 conversion rates have been poor, however, some secondary schools continue to view GCSEs as vastly more important than KS3 tests.

 

What role does assessment by teachers have in teaching and learning?

 

27. Teachers have a central role in both formative and summative assessment. Assessment for the purpose of helping learning (formative assessment or assessment for learning) is obviously best carried out by those directly involved - the teacher and learners - who can gather evidence as work proceeds and use it to identify appropriate next steps, either to overcome problems or to build on what has been achieved. Those involved are in the best position because they have access to evidence from all activities relating to all learning goals. This is what is needed for valid assessment for any purpose: that the information provided reflects as far as possible all the intended outcomes of education.

 

28. The arguments for using evidence collected during teaching and learning also apply to assessment for the purpose of reporting and recording progress in learning (summative assessment or assessment of learning). Progress towards all important goals should be reported. In addition, the information has to be reliable so that those using it can depend upon it. But information that is technically of high reliability is not useful if it does not give a valid account of learning. To preserve validity, it would be possible to use teachers' judgments and indeed to use the evidence already collected and used for formative assessment. Because formative assessment is concerned with individuals and based on the teacher's knowledge of the pupil, steps would need to be taken to ensure reliability of the information if it were used for summative purposes. Good practice in quality assurance of teachers' judgments has already been built up in many primary schools in order to meet the requirement to report teachers' judgments as well as test results in the core subjects and in non-core subjects at the end of Key Stage 2. In addition, schools often choose to use levels in their annual reports to parents. Whilst there is guidance from QCA on moderation practices, moderation is not a requirement. Where it is carried out it may take the form of meetings where teachers examine evidence of different kinds and consider how they would judge it against the criteria for performance at different levels. Some schools have developed portfolios of assessed work that represent their agreed judgments of what work at different levels looks like. This can be used as a substitute for meetings for which time is often scarce. Those who do make this time for meeting, however, find that the experience leads to better understanding of the criteria and the goals of learning and supports collaborative and continuing learning by teachers.

 

29. When results are used to inform teachers in other schools, particularly in transition from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3, it is necessary for moderation to involve meetings of teachers from different schools. Such practice is, for example, being developed in Wales, where teachers from schools in clusters meet to moderate end of Key Stage 2 assessments.

 

30. Assessment for learning should be at the heart of everything that happens in the classroom but in the test driven climate it does not have as much importance as it should in many schools. Too many teachers/senior leaders lack confidence and so prefer to buy or create an end of year/term/unit test and make summative judgments against marks schemes rather than develop their skills in teacher assessment. Teachers who are required to use teacher assessment rather than tests have to engage more with the assessment criteria for the whole curriculum and ways of teaching it effectively and assessing it rather than how to prepare to answer test questions.

 

National Key Stage Tests: the future

 

Should the system of national tests be changed?

If so, should the tests be modified or abolished?

 

31. The main reasons for proposing use of teachers' assessment go beyond reliability and validity of the information. They take us back to the involvement of pupils and the use of assessment to help learning. This is learning that leads to understanding of the important broad ideas, key skills and attitudes in various subjects that are widely applicable. In addition, an important part of preparing young people for life and work in the rapidly changing society of today and tomorrow is to help them develop awareness and understanding of the process of learning - a key aspect of meta-cognition. This involves reflecting on their learning and how it takes place, itself a goal of education.

 

32. There is nothing new in suggesting that these competencies are important outcomes of modern education and that their development ought to be part of education from the earliest years. Reference to them abounds in official documents and in reports and recommendations from a number of influential groups and councils. But they are not well represented in what is assessed and in the way in which pupils' achievements are assessed. Unless attention is paid to this, they will remain only as rhetoric

 

33. The more intimately assessment is interwoven with learning, being about the process as well as the content of learning, the more important it is for assessment to be in the hands of those directly involved - the teachers and pupils. As pupils become more able to take part in their own assessment they will be able to participate in assessment for summative as well as formative purposes. Research shows that involvement in formative assessment can support the self-esteem and promote the further learning of pupils[50] [51] and there is every reason for confidence that involvement in summative assessment will have the same impact. It is far easier to see this as a possibility when the summative assessment is carried out by teachers and based on the regular work of pupils than when it is on the basis of tests or tasks that are given, unseen, solely for the purpose of grading or assigning a level

 

The Secretary of State has suggested that there should be a move to more personalised assessment to measure how a pupil's level of attainment has improved over time. Pilot areas to test proposals have just been announced. Would the introduction of this kind of assessment make it possible to make an overall judgment on a school's performance

Would it be possible to make meaningful comparisons between different schools

What effect would testing at different times have on pupils and schools?

Would it create pressure on schools to push pupils to take tests earlier?

 

34. A move towards a more personalised system of assessment would be welcomed but steps must be taken to ensure that the lessons of the past need to be learnt and that the replacement arrangements do not simply recreate the high stakes regime in a different form. ASE has concerns the recent proposals[52] will increase the burden of testing on pupils rather than ease it. The resulting pressures could, in some schools, have a detrimental effect on the curriculum and on the wellbeing of pupils as well as creating a sequence of 'testing weeks' each with intensive revision periods, further reducing actual teaching time and engagement.

 

35. Careful consideration needs to be given to the potential unintended consequences in the medium to long term leading to increased pressure on schools/departments to get more "points" by getting more children to reach specific levels in SATs and to do more GCSEs/AS and A-levels. The social impact of children who have been moved out of their age groups should be a key factor in decisions regarding the time at which children should take tests. The development of the "whole child" should be seen as more important than 'points accumulation' but the degree to which this would indeed take priority might vary from school to school depending on their objectives.

 

If Key Stage tests remain, what should they be seeking to measure?

If, for example, performance at Level 4 is the average level of attainment for an eleven year old, what proportion of children is it reasonable to expect to achieve at or above that level?

How are the different levels of performance expected at each age decided on? Is there broad agreement that the levels are appropriate and meaningful?

 

36. Any continuation of key stage tests should include more formative assessment, including oral and practical activities, to really get at what specific knowledge, understanding and skills pupils actually have. If comparisons are to be drawn then it is essential that the criteria on which they are made must be openly agreed, set and applied. Expectations regarding performance at particular levels is about the establishment of a clear understanding by all about what a particular level "looks like". It is unhelpful, for example, that L4+ are changing for KS3 but not for KS2 hence potentially fuelling a debate about when "Level 4 is not a Level 4".

 

Testing and assessment at 16 and after

 

Is the testing and assessment in "summative" tests (for example, GCSE, AS, A2) fit for purpose?

Are the changes to GCSE coursework due to come into effect in 2009 reasonable? What alternative forms of assessment might be used?

What are the benefits of exams and coursework? How should they work together?

What should the balance between them be?

Will the ways in which the new 14-19 diplomas are to be assessed impact on other qualifications, such as GCSE?

Is holding formal summative tests at ages 16, 17 and 18 imposing too great a burden on students? If so, what changes should be made?

To what extent is frequent, modular assessment altering both the scope of teaching and the style of teaching?

How does the national assessment system interact with university entrance? What does it mean for a national system of testing and assessment that universities are setting entrance tests as individual institutions

 

37. The testing and assessment arrangements at 16 and after suffer many of the short-comings described for the National Testing pre-16. In particular the balance between formative and summative assessment needs to revisited, as does the type and structure of questions that are set. Whilst there are good reasons to provide structured objective questions as part of a testing process, using them almost exclusively reduces the scope of what can be meaningfully assessed. Especially with higher level examinations the lack of opportunity to develop a full argument through an essay-type answer means there is little or no evidence to determine whether a student can indeed use their knowledge and understanding to reason and present a cogent case.

 

38. Despite the potential dangers of coursework there is a strong case that students should be required to produce extended reports of work they have undertaken. Science in particular is a subject that involves investigations which require extended thought and experimentation and therefore this should have a place within the assessment process in order to recognise students' achievements in this aspect of their studies.

 

39. Testing at post-16 is complicated by the plethora of qualifications that are available. In itself this is not a negative comment because a single style of qualification would be inappropriate to meet the wide range of needs. However, despite the efforts to develop a national qualifications framework, there is still much to be done to rationalise what is a very confusing situation. The introduction of the 14-19 Diplomas is in part an attempt to help this situation but as yet it is too early to say how effective they will be. One thing that is clear from everything that is happening 14-19 is the need to reduce the burden of assessment on students and to find ways of reducing the fragmentation and interruptions to learning that are, in part, the outcome of the type of modular system the currently exists.

 

40. Another consequence of a plethora of qualifications and the use of them to provide a nationwide system of testing is the problem of defining the level of difficulty for comparisons between qualifications as well as between different subjects within a particular set of qualifications. Science subjects along with mathematics, for example, are often claimed to be more difficult than other subjects but this is disputed by, among others, QCA. Such issues need further investigation in order to address the situation.

 


APPENDIX FIVE:

 

THE ASSOCIATION FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION

NATIONAL NETWORK OF SCIENCE LEARNING CENTRES

 

ENGAGING TEACHERS... ENGAGING PUPILS...ENGAGING SCIENCE

Teachers' views on teaching science in ways which will get pupils excited about the subject.

 

DISCUSSION PAPER

Introduction

If you were to walk into a science lesson in any school you may sense a buzz of excitement, observe pupils engaged in their work with enthusiastic, effective and engaged teachers delivering an engaging science curriculum. Alternatively you may experience the opposite - disaffected pupils, tired and dispirited teachers and an utterly tedious science curriculum - or something between these two extremes. You may well ask, "Why this disparity?" and "What can be done to ensure that all pupils (and teachers) are engaged in vibrant and engaging science lessons?"

In his Presidential Address to the ASE in January 2005, Sir Mike Tomlinson emphasised the importance of the role of teachers in developing the curriculum they teach and in making science exciting for their pupils. This idea was echoed by The Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education and Training in its second annual report when it argued that,

The curriculum should be seen as a creative act within schools, not something handed on. Hence the teacher should be a curriculum developer, not a transmitter, translating the national framework into planning in classrooms and at school. This creative aspect of teaching is undermined by the relentless pursuit of targets. (Executive Summary p2).

Despite the pressures, the majority of science teachers want to interest their students in science and there still exists the enthusiasm and determination to improve the situation. The recent revision of the KS4 programme of study and the review of KS3 curriculum in England provide opportunities for revitalising curriculum development at the level of the school and laboratory. Developments elsewhere in the UK offer similar opportunities, as do calls for more creativity in primary schools. These opportunities, however, may be lost if teachers in both primary and secondary schools are unable to take advantage of such changes due to the barriers, perceived or actual, that currently exist.

Aims

This discussion paper, which arises out of a 24 hour seminar held on 17-18 November 2005 at the National Science Learning Centre in York, aims to take the initial debate forward and provide the basis for further discussions throughout the country in order to determine the views of teachers as to how they, as teachers, can work to improve pupils' engagement with science and, crucially, what needs to be done to support them (nationally and locally) in their efforts.

Concerns and barriers

Despite the wide variety of ways of expressing the complex mix of factors that are involved in teaching science there is a fundamental commonality, regardless of phase - primary, secondary or tertiary - in the concerns expressed. In addition to the particular issues listed below it is clear that, for whatever reason, there are some very strong perceptions that are held by teachers regarding what is statuary and what is advisory. Three particular 'myths' are referred to frequently. The first is the belief that the QCA schemes of work at KS1, KS2 and KS3 are compulsory. The second is the misconception that many experiments are 'banned'. The third is the 'requirement' for a 'three-part lesson'.

The main concerns and barriers seem to cluster around seven issues: lack of time, narrowness of teaching repertoire, assessment regime, subject knowledge, lack of confidence and ownership, professional development and school management. Each of the items in itself can be a major inhibitor to effective teaching and the impact of each one varies from situation to situation. However, as the quotes reported below clearly illustrate, these issues are seen to be significant concerns and barriers for teachers.

Lack of time

"I never get time to think about my teaching."

"Our medium term plans are so restrictive that there just isn't time to experiment with new ideas "

Narrowness of teaching repertoire

"We have to follow the QCA scheme of work in my school. It is really frustrating as I don't think it is the best thing for some of my pupils, but the timing is so rigid that I can't change it."

"If you look at the technician order sheets in my department you'll find some of my colleagues are doing hardly any practicals. Surely science is essentially a practical subject."

Assessment regime

"After Christmas we do 3 or 4 mock SATs papers. No one seems to have the guts to just carry on teaching good interesting science."

"Year 10 and 11 just seem to be on a treadmill of one module exam after another. That wouldn't have inspired me to take science (and it certainly doesn't inspire them)"

Subject Knowledge

"I feel less confident in my science knowledge than with history or geography for example. My science co-ordinator does her best to help but she isn't very confident either."

"I'm all for science teachers teaching science (and not just their specialist area) but one or two colleagues are expected to do this when they obviously don't have the necessary background knowledge. I feel that they are really switching some pupils off."

Lack of confidence and ownership

"There is so much pressure to get results that I just daren't take risks."

"Everyone is so paranoid about results that they seem afraid to innovate in case things go wrong."

Professional development (CPD)

"It is always the same people who seem to go out on courses- those who are "in" with senior management"

"Most of our CPD budget was used up on whole school CPD i.e. getting in visiting speakers"

School management

"Senior management always seem to focus on "whole school" issues. These don't always match the needs of the science department."

"I don't think my head understands the needs of science at all, especially the practical nature of the subject."

Aspirations

Teachers have aspirations in relation to their teaching and what they feel they need in order to improve their own teaching, support their colleagues and enhance the learning of their students. Aspirations broadly fall into four areas - pedagogy and resources, assessment, leadership, continuing professional development (CPD) - all of which need to be addressed if progress is to be made in removing the barriers and allaying concerns. Again the quotes illustrate the issues clearly.

Pedagogy and resources

I would like...

my job to be creative and have time to try out new ideas.

to be involved in developing teaching strategies.

to reflect on my teaching so that I can make improvements myself.

time to get used to new initiatives and to get them working in my classroom (before being presented with the next).

the resources I need to make my lessons exciting (i.e. a working fume cupboard, enough beakers etc...).

our medium term planning to be more flexible so that I had space to experiment with new ideas.

Assessment

I would like...

assessment to motivate my pupils and reward their success.

assessment to encourage learning (and not be a full stop at the end of learning).

to be able to continue teaching engaging science in year 6, rather than feel pressured to do endless SATs preparation.

Leadership

I would like...

to be empowered to do a good job.

senior management to support my own professional development as well as the school's.

CPD

I would like...

to have the right to a certain amount of CPD, without needing to ask for it all the time.

CPD to support innovation and not just to encourage the following of a recommended method.

science specific CPD.

Table 1, attached as an appendix, indicates some of the ways in which, based on the discussions at the York seminar, the concerns and barriers impact on the four areas outlined above.

Furthermore it is widely accepted that the quality of teaching and learning is at the heart of any improvement that might be achieved by a school and this in turn is dependent on what constitutes teachers' professional knowledge. This, however, is not always reflected in the way in which priorities are addressed in schools and nationally. One of the difficulties is the lack of a 'common language' for discussing the issues and results in unnecessary tension and conflict which results from misunderstandings rather than fundamental differences in opinion.


Table 1: IMPACT OF CONCERNS/BARRIERS ON ASPIRATIONS: the notes in the boxes aim to indicate ways in which the aspirations are NOT being met. (The contents of this table are based on the discussions which took place during the 24-hour seminar held at the National Science Learning Centre, University of York on 17-18 November 2005.)

 

Concern / Barrier

Aspirations

Pedagogy and resources:

wish to be more creative

Assessment: should support learning better

Leadership: needs to empower more

CPD: appropriate to include subject focussed

Lack of time

Too much to do in the time available

Takes time away from teaching

Focus on results increase pressure to teach to the test

Not enough time for reflection or subject focussed work

Narrowness of teaching repertoire

Pressures to use specific schemes of work

Focus on tests

As above

Little opportunity to find out about and try new ideas

Assessment regime

Results driven pressures restricts activities

Emphasis on summative diminishes impact of formative

Demands of league tables and targets increase central control.

Geared to examination requirements

Subject knowledge

Lack of confidence in subject knowledge restricts range of activities.

Need to get 'right' terms - factual recall rather than understanding

Not always aware of needs at subject level.

Need for sustained study.

Lack of confidence / ownership

Risk averse - play safe in approach and activities

Focus on tests not subject understanding and enjoyment

Sense of needing permission to try something different

Feeling time cannot be taken to leave students (or they might miss something)

Lack of Professional development

Continue with standard activities. Few new ideas.

Re-enforces test focus

Different priorities linked to school targets

Lack of reflection and development

School management

Lack of encouragement to try different things

Demands for further increases in grades and test scores

Pressures on SMT get pushed onto others

Tension between different priorities and availability of staff

 


APPENDIX SIX:

 

 

House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee Inquiry into the National Curriculum - a response from SCORE (Science Community Representing Education)

 

Summary

As a guidance framework to ensure all young people have equal access to quality education in the sciences throughout their statutory schooling, a National Curriculum can be a positive influence on teaching and learning.

 

The effects of a high-stakes assessment system have distorted the positive influence of the National Curriculum, leaving a legacy of rigid adherence to its content by many science teachers whose practice would be much improved if they were more confident in using recent flexibility to meet the needs of their pupils.

 

If we accept the dominant role played by the National Curriculum, then we need to better understand how what is intended becomes reality in the classroom. We should ensure that all significant change is thoroughly piloted before introduction and sufficient support is available to teachers in order that they make positive impacts from the change.

 

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) have made welcome efforts to reduce the prescription of the National Curriculum, but there has been a tendency for that prescription merely to be shifted onto test papers and qualification specifications.

 

Changes to the English system of testing and assessment - learning lessons from change elsewhere in the UK and involving teachers from the start - could lead to significant improvements in science teaching and learning, and in the value of the National Curriculum.

 

This response has been prepared by the SCORE partnership and therefore represents the combined views of the following organisations: Association for Science Education, Biosciences Federation, Institute of Biology, Institute of Physics, Royal Society, Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Science Council.

 

The SCORE partnership aims to bring collective action and a strategic approach to strengthening science education, and believes that the key to maximising the impact of its efforts, especially their influence on government, lies in a greater degree of collaboration and in having a sense of common purpose. Through this collective action, the partnership aims to increase its influence over the direction of science education in the years to come, in particular over teacher supply and retention, curriculum development, assessment, delivery of support to teachers and students, and strategies for reaching all young people regardless of age, background, level of ability, gender, ethnic origin and geographical location.

 

Association for Science Education www.ase.org.uk

Biosciences Federation www.bsf.ac.uk

Institute of Biology www.iob.org

Institute of Physics www.iop.org

Royal Society www.royalsoc.ac.uk

Royal Society of Chemistry www.rsc.org

Science Council www.sciencecouncil.org


Arguments for and against a National Curriculum

 

1. SCORE considers that the provision of a National Curriculum gives schools a framework to ensure all pupils have an entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum in the years of statutory education. However, whilst such provision can do much to promote equality of opportunity, such as ensuring all girls have access to the physical sciences, it can constrain flexibility in teaching and learning.

 

2. As the National Curriculum is enshrined in law and bound by a high-stakes assessment system, changes have been difficult to pilot and therefore have had unpredictable consequences which a thorough system of trialling might have revealed before blanket introduction. For example, despite a much greater number of students being exposed to physics between the ages of 14-16 when the National Curriculum was introduced, there was a drop in the numbers taking the subject post-16.

 

3. The move towards science as a single subject across the 11-16 age range as opposed to separate sciences has had a profound effect on the recruitment and retention of specialist science teachers. It has also had a significant effect on the management of science within schools, where some head teachers do not appear to recognise the breadth that is covered by the sciences and the consequent challenge for teachers, support staff and students. There is some evidence to suggest that where schools have maintained the profile of the individual sciences they are more successful in recruiting to post-16 physics.

 

4. We would recommend that for the 14-16 age range the subject named Science in the National Curriculum becomes 'The Sciences' and explicit reference is made within any curriculum documentation to the nomenclature commonly used in the scientific community to name these subjects e.g. biology, chemistry and physics. SCORE also recommends that the importance of mathematics for science is made explicit in the teaching of both subjects.

 

The purpose of a National Curriculum

 

5. A National Curriculum should provide a basic framework for subject knowledge, skills acquisition and conceptual development within which teachers have the freedom to explore the subject and enthuse their pupils. There should not be an assessment 'straitjacket' forcing teachers either to teach to the test or to narrow the emphases of their teaching because of the demands of league tables.

 

6. For a number of subjects, including science, it is not unreasonable to ask what is meant by the National Curriculum. Currently at Key Stage 3 many teachers use the QCA Scheme of Work to develop their teaching programmes. We understand that this is not being replicated for the new programme of study but that further guidance material is being produced by the Secondary Strategy. At Key Stage 4 the science that young people learn depends more on the specification chosen by their teachers than the stipulations of the National Curriculum. Whilst there is considerable consultation about the contents of the statutory National Curriculum there is much less opportunity to comment on the material that effectively determines the curriculum taken by young people.

 

The balance of central prescription and flexibility at the school/classroom level

 

7. In the sciences, the need to balance the development of a scientifically literate population with the provision of an adequate supply of scientists and engineers is worthy of careful consideration. The National Curriculum (and the way it is used in the classroom) needs to respond to individual and local needs, as well as those of the national workforce. This 'dual purpose' is well known in the science education community but has not been straightforward to reflect in the National Curriculum.

 

8. The right balance between prescription and flexibility can only be maintained by having confident and competent specialist teachers in place, and supporting them through professional development and adequate resource. Whilst SCORE is agreed that all pupils across the 5-16 age range should be exposed to teaching across the sciences, we are also convinced that this content should be delivered by subject specialists to students above the age of 14.

 

The impact of the current testing and assessment regime on the delivery and scope of the National Curriculum

 

9. Testing and assessment clearly have impacts on the teaching and learning of all subjects in the curriculum. However, we feel that the current system has had a particularly detrimental impact on science, and may thwart recent attempts to reflect the fact that science is as much about process as content. These positive changes to the science curriculum, associated with increased support for enquiry-based pedagogy, are undermined by a system which values factual recall and superficial conceptualisation over deeper understanding and engagement.

 

10. In particular, we are concerned that the assessment system has played a major role in the current perception among many young people that the sciences, along with some other subjects including mathematics and foreign languages, are more difficult than other subjects at A level. SCORE has recently commissioned some work from the Curriculum, Evaluation and Management (CEM) Centre at the University of Durham and we would be pleased to share this with the Committee once it is complete.

 

11. The resource-intensive assessment system adopted in England yields very little information of value in relation to improving achievement and explaining differences, for example on the basis of gender or socioeconomic status.

 

12. The pressure on teachers in both Primary and Secondary phases to 'teach to the test' and focus on increasing the number of pupils getting Level 5, 6 or 7 in Key Stage tests and gaining 5 A*- C at GCSE is immense. This has led to a severe imbalance between assessment for learning (formative assessment) and assessment for accountability (summative assessment), which represents an impoverishment in the quality of science teaching and learning.

 

13. Time which could otherwise be spent on long-term scientific investigations, enrichment and enhancement activities, debates about the wider significance of science and discussions about career prospects with science qualifications are to a considerable extent taken up with class revision, test administration and data management. Concerns have been raised that while the National Curriculum may be in part responsible for setting and raising standards at the lower end of the ability spectrum, it has at the same time capped expectations of those at the higher end. We note that the private sector is protected from statutory testing and therefore has much greater freedom to provide more tailored learning, especially regarding stretch and challenge for more able students.

 

The likely impact of the single level tests currently being piloted

 

14. Given that these tests are currently being piloted we feel it is somewhat premature to comment on their impact. We can only expect that should the pilot show serious deficiencies and unintended consequences of this proposed reform, particularly if they increase the burden and pressures of testing in England, the proposals will be amended or even rejected.

 

15. We are surprised that not more attention has been paid to the experiences of Wales and Northern Ireland in reducing external Key Stage tests, and suggest that these should be closely monitored and weighed against the proposals in the Making Good Progress consultation.

 

16. We question the value of blanket testing at Key Stages 2 and 3 and suggest sampling a statistically significant proportion of the cohort allied with a national requirement for teacher assessment, noting the efforts Scotland is making in this area through their 'Assessment is for Learning' programme.

 

How well the National Curriculum supports transition to and delivery of the 14-19 Diplomas

 

17. It is difficult to comment on this until we have a clearer view of the contents of the proposed Science Diploma. However, we are unsure of how the statutory content of the National Curriculum will articulate with the aims identified for science at level 1 & 2 within the Science Diploma. A related issue is how the recent drive to increase the numbers studying triple science can be incorporated within the Diploma structure, particularly at level 2.

 

18. There is also an issue about the relationship between diplomas with significant science content and existing science qualifications. For example will an engineering diploma at level 2 provide sufficient preparation for level 3 science qualifications?

 

The role of the new style Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in relation to the National Curriculum

 

19. We hope that the new arrangements increase clarity regarding which agency is responsible for improving the system of testing and assessment. We have been disappointed in the past with QCA's commitment to significant and ongoing attempts to moderate standards between awarding bodies and ensure equality across subjects and qualifications, and hope that, once operational, Ofqual will succeed where QCA have failed in this regard.

 

20. While the moves to a reduced National Curriculum have the potential to yield many benefits, we are increasingly concerned about the market forces operating in national qualifications at Key Stage 4 where awarding bodies attempt to sell their qualifications to schools keen to optimise their league table positions, particularly when those awarding bodies increasingly also operate as, or in close association with, commercial publishers.

 

21. While the competitive market in qualifications would be dissolved by creating one awarding body, it has been claimed that the current situation has advantages in maintaining a diversity of offer and ensuring a continued investment in curriculum development and innovation. We feel that this ongoing question about the optimal number of awarding bodies needs further discussion and prompt resolution.

22. We propose that the regulatory authority carries out a review of the current arrangements for the unitary awarding bodies to explore what impact the reduction in the number of awarding bodies has had in terms of value for money and innovation. We believe that reduction should have led to improved comparability across examinations without losing the benefit of the curriculum development through different specifications with their own particular flavour. But we are concerned that this curriculum development is being stifled by the awarding bodies' engagement in publishing. The fact that awarding bodies are in competition and are also generating revenue as publishers of educational resources casts some doubt over the whole examination system. In the current system, there is nothing to prevent an exam board from positioning itself as easier than its competitors with virtually no method of ensuring that they are not. It is difficult to see the benefits of competition in this environment.

 

23. We would also recommend that the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the QCA agree and publicise a best practice model of curriculum development - from initial research and consultation through to implementation and evaluating impact - which could be used as a quality standard for future change. We believe that Government must give more consideration to how concepts and skills are developed at different stages of science education. The current piecemeal approach to curriculum reform makes it almost impossible to provide a coherent approach.

 

The role of teachers in the future development of the National Curriculum.

 

24. The system of testing and assessment should be reviewed, in close consultation with teachers, in order to increase the positive role of assessment for learning. We have been disappointed with recent attempts from the QCA regarding teacher consultation which have seen mediocre use of technology severely constrain the number and diversity of respondents.

 

25. Positive results from any significant change in the nature and assessment of the National Curriculum will be dependent on equally positive developments in the culture of teaching. School and college teachers emerging from a period of centralised prescription will need more relevant, high-quality continuing professional development (CPD), and adequate time to develop and implement better practices, in order to feel confident about making decisions about what is right for their students and their school.

 

26. It is disappointing that the Government still does not seem to have accepted the fact that proper piloting and evaluation before national roll out is essential for effective curriculum change. It has been shown time and again how valuable this process is in ensuring that new qualifications are effective and we would be very disappointed to see any reduction in piloting. Indeed, we deeply regret that it was not possible to pilot aspects of the proposed national curriculum at KS3 before its implementation this September.

 

27. We note that, in 2007/8, science teachers are attempting to implement some or all of the following changes:

teaching the second year of new GCSEs;

preparing to teach separate award sciences at GCSE from 2008 in response to the non-statutory entitlement for pupils who attain level 6 at KS3 in science to be able to take triple science at GCSE;

preparing for the new A level courses to be taught from 2008;

preparing to deliver some science elements in the new diplomas.

 

March 2008



[1] Appendix 1 provides a summary of the aims of the Association for Science Education.

[2] Appendix 2 provides a summary of the aims of the National Advisers and Inspectors Group for Science

[3] Appendix 3 ASE submission of evidence to The Primary Review (April 2007)

[4] Appendix 4 ASE submission of evidence on Testing and Assessment to the House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Skills (June 2007)

[5] Appendix 5 Engaging Teacher, Engaging Pupil, Engaging Science: a discussion paper. (2006)

[6] Appendix 6 SCORE joint statement to the Enquiry into the National Curriculum (March 2008)

[7] From the Terms of Reference of Subject Working Groups for the development of the National Curriculum, 1987 p 153

[8] Ibid p 154

[9] Science and the National Curriculum Aims http://curriculum.qca.org.uk/subjects/science/keystage4/Science_and_the_national_curriculum.aspx?return=http%3A//curriculum.qca.org.uk/search/index.aspx%3FfldSiteSearch%3DA+levels+science%26btnGoSearch.x%3D15%26btnGoSearch.y%3D9

[10] Letter to Sir Jim Rose from the Minister, 9 Jan 2008

[11] Examples are given in Millar and Osborne Beyond 2000

[12] James, M and Pedder, D. (2006) Beyond measurement: assessment and learning practices and values, The Curriculum Journal, 17 (2) 109-38

[13] Gordon, S and Reese, M (1997) High stakes testing: worth the price? Journal of School Leadership 7, 345-368

[14] Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (2006) The reliability of assessments, in J. Gardner (ed) Assessment and Learning. London: Sage

[15] Tymms, P. (2004) Are standards rising in English Primary Schools? British Educational Research Journal, 30 (4) 477-94

[16] The Nuffield Review of 14 - 19 Education and Training. Second annual report, Executive Summary p2)

[17] Appendix 5 Engaging Teacher, Engaging Pupil, Engaging Science: a discussion paper. (2006)

[18] Appendix 1 provides a summary of the aims of The Association for Science Education

[19] Appendix 2 provides a summary of the aims of The National Advisers and Inspectors Group for Science

[20] Appendix 3 provides a summary of the aims of The Association of Tutors in Science Education

[21] Appendix 4 provides a discussion document prepared at an interim stage of the seminar series and highlights some of the findings.

[22] Appendix 4 Engaging teacher, Engaging pupil, Engaging Science: a discussion paper. Was prepared at an interim stage of the seminar series and highlights some of the findings. A full report with recommendations is currently being prepared

[23] Surely that's banned? A report for the Royal Society of Chemistry on chemicals and procedures thought to be banned from use in schools (2005)

[24] See for example - Outdoor Science, School Science Review 87(320) March 2006

[25] Out-of-Classroom Learning; Practical information and guidance for schools and teachers Real World Learning Partnership (2006)

[26] Appendix 1 provides a summary of the aims of The Association for Science Education (ASE)

[27] Appendix 1 provides a summary of the aims of The National Advisers and Inspectors Group for Science (NAIGS)

[28] Appendix 1 provides a summary of the aims of The Association of Tutors in Science Education (ATSE)

[29] Appendix 1 provides a summary of the aims of the SCORE partnership

[30] Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B, and Wiliam, D. (2003) Assessment for Learning: Putting it into Practice. Maidenhead: Open University Press

[31] ARG (Assessment Reform Group) (2006) The Role of Teachers in the Assessment of Learning. Obtainable from the ARG website: www.assessment-reform-group.org and from the CPA office of the Institute of Education, University of London

[32] Pollard, A. and Triggs, P. (2000) Policy, Practice and Pupil Experience. London: Continuum International Publishing Group

[33] Wiliam, D. (2001) Reliability, validity, and all that jazz. Education 3-13, 29(3) 17-21

[34] Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (2006) The reliability of assessment, in J. Gardner (ed) Assessment and Learning. London: Sage

[35] Tymms, P. (2004) Are standards rising in English primary schools? British Educational Research Journal, 30 (4):477-494

[36] Harlen, W. and Deakin Crick, R. (2003) Testing and motivation for learning, Assessment in Education, 10 (2): 169-208

[37] Reay, D. and Wiliam, D. (1999) 'I'll be a nothing': structure, agency and the construction of identity through assessment, British Educational Research Journal, 25: 343-345

[38] Harlen, W. and James, M. (1997) Assessment and learning: differences and relationships between formative and summative assessment, Assessment in Education, 4(3) 365-80

[39] Harlen, W. (2007) Assessment of Learning. London: Sage

[40] DfES (2007) Making Good Progress Consultation. London: Department for Education and Skills

[41] Wiliam, D. (2001) Reliability, validity and all that jazz, Education 3-13, 29 (3) 17-21

[42] Harlen, W. and Deakin Crick, R. (2003) Testing and motivation for learning, Assessment in Education, 10 (2): 169-208

[43] Neill, S. R. (2002) National Curriculum Tests: a Survey Analysed for the National Union of Teachers, Leadership, Policy and Development Unit, University of Warwick

[44] Tymms, P. (2004) Are standards rising in English primary schools? British Educational Research Journal, 30 (4):477-494

[45] Linn, R.L. (2000) Assessments and Accountability, Educational Researcher, 29 (2):4-16

[46] Crooks, T.J. (1988) The impact of classroom evaluation practices on students, Review of Educational Research, 58: 438-481

[47] Reay, D. and Wiliam, D. (1999) 'I'll be a nothing': structure, agency and the construction of identity through assessment, British Educational Research Journal, 25: 343-345

[48] Gipps, C. (2005) Accountability Testing and the Implications for Teacher Professionalism, in (ed.) C.A. Dwyer, Measurement and Research in the Accountability Era. New Jersey: Laurence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 99-111

[49] ARG (Assessment Reform Group) (2002) Testing, Motivation and Learning. Obtainable from the ARG website: www.assessment-reform-group.org and from the CPA office of the Institute of Education, University of London

[50] Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998) Assessment and Classroom Learning, Assessment in Education, 5: 1-74

[51] Wiliam, D., Lee, C., Harrison, C. and Black, P. (2004) Teachers developing assessment for learning: impact on student achievement, Assessment in Education, 11 (1) 49-65

[52] DfES (2007) Making Good Progress Consultation. London: Department for Education and Skills