Written evidence submitted by the Field
Studies Council (Sch Sci 07)|
The Field Studies Council (FSC) is delighted that
the Science and Technology Committee have chosen to undertake
an inquiry into the practical experiments in school science lessons
and science field trips. The FSC is the UK's only education charity
that specializes in field studies, working every year with over
3,000 school groups and 125,000 visitors to its national network
of 18 Field Centres.
The FSC's science related provision includes:
courses for 550 groups and 23,000 students studying mainly secondary
fieldwork training courses for students from over 30 colleges;
bioscience courses for universities;
outreach projects such as London Outdoor Science and Schools
in the Parks, to support secondary schools in Inner London
to carry out fieldwork in local parks and open spaces;
240 natural history courses for adult professional and leisure
learners in field skills such as habitat assessment, field surveying
140 teaching staff and over 200 Associate Tutors, many with bioscience
and environmental science degrees;
over 140,000 guides and resources to support fieldwork;
with partners such as Association for Science Education (ASE)
to support science fieldwork;
a founder member of the ASE's Outdoor Science Working Group; and
the Learning outside the Classroom Council's Quality badge for
the fieldwork sector.
The FSC believes that this experience gained over
nearly 70 years in the UK gives it a unique insight into trends
and influences in science fieldwork and field trips. All of the
following evidence is based on FSC's own experience and data sources.
Published references are quoted, but all other observations are
supported by FSC unpublished but attributable data.
Are science field trips in decline? If they are,
what are the reasons for the decline?
1. A review of 13 published surveysincluding
FSC published datahighlights a decline in fieldwork provision
in the UK between 1963 and 2009 (ref. 8).
2. FSC's view (derived from long-term membership
of organizations such as Institute for Outdoor Learning, English
Outdoor Council, Association of Field Studies Officers, Association
of Heads of Outdoor Education Centres) is that there has been
a reduction over 40 years in the capacity in residential centres
to offer taught upper secondary science fieldwork, mainly due
to a shift in capacity from field centres (with a secondary
fieldwork focus) to outdoor education centres (often with
a primary adventure focus).
3. Current national capacity to teach high quality
science fieldwork (remote residential and local day) is under
continuing threat. In 2011, over 72 field and outdoor education
centres are either closing or are "threatened" by current
funding reviews, 66% being Local Authority Centres. Together,
these have a combined visitor base of 310,000 primary and secondary
Field Studies Council
Trends in residential fieldwork
4. Science field courses in FSC residential Centres
have been in decline for 30 years, both in terms of number and
5. Secondary science groups in have been replaced
in FSC Field Centres by geography groups (54% of FSC groups in
1970 were science; 36% in 2003) (ref. 14).
6. Post Curriculum 2000, the "modular"
teaching of science A level has sharply constrained the months
in which science A level fieldwork is taught, often squeezing
fieldwork and field trips into three months of the academic year
(July, September, October).
7. The average FSC A level science residential
field course has halved in length in 15 years, from just under
seven days to 3.4 days (ref. 9). This trend is continuing today.
8. Shortening of courses leads to schools travelling
shorter distances to carry out fieldwork, reducing the opportunity
to visit contrasting and potentially inspiring locations such
as seashore, moorlands and montane habitats. The dramatic decline
in opportunities to visit such locations has also been published
elsewhere (ref. 7).
9. The decline in FSC residential A level biology
courses has accelerated recently, with a fall of 18% recorded
between 2008-10. The reasons given for this decline by FSC Heads
of Centres are:
groups (36 lost) not being replaced by new ones (22 gained) in
groups staying for shorter periods (3.3 nights compared to 4.5
groups dropping one or two nights of their stay.
The reasons given by visiting teachers for these
changes (in declining importance) are:
of coursework at A level;
support for science teachers wanting to do fieldwork from school
colleagues, including Head of Departments and senior managersoften
linked to the demise of coursework and consequent "devaluing"
of fieldwork's importance;
moving fieldwork from remote residential to local day activity
OR a total loss of fieldwork (sometimes replaced by laboratory
overall cost of fieldwork (particularly increasing transport costs
and supply cover costs (see h below));
narrow interpretation of the "rarely covers" guidance
in the teachers workforce agreement which has resulted in increasingly
complex timetabling and planning, and increasing cost for supply
10. The decline in UK residential fieldwork,
including FSC hosted, is also being replicated in universities,
where a general decline in whole-organism biology, modular teaching
and the growth of subject content in molecular and cellular biology
are often cited as causal factors (ref.13)
Trends in non-residential fieldwork
11. Surveys carried out during the FSC's London
Outdoor Science and Schools In The Parks projects,
which aimed to develop use of inner London parks and open spaces
by science teachers in local secondary schools, show that a minority
of secondary science departments in inner London schools use local
parks and open spaces for science fieldwork, with fewer than 20%
of schools carrying out GCSE science fieldwork locally (ref.4).
12. The main barriers and issues raised by 47
secondary teachers in the FSC's London Outdoor Science
and Schools In The Parks projects were (in diminishing
order): 1) Disruption to classes and other teachers; 2) Staff
cover; 3) Health and Safety; 4) Lack of access to suitable site;
5) Perceived lack of usefulness re. curriculum (refs. 4 &
13. An FSC survey of 36 Secondary Science PGCE
students from two leading university initial teacher education
courses (working with the FSC Schools In The Parks project)
have also cited similar barriers, as shown in the table below.
Nearly a third cited "School Systems" as being the main
prevention to completing outdoor activities with their classes
in the future. This included lack of support from mentors, administration,
bureaucracy, permissions, and attitudes of the school to outdoor
|Location of park near to school||7
|Health and Safety**||7
14. FSC's work in urban areas throughout the UK has consistently
shown that primary schools are much more likely to use local parks,
open spaces and resource centres for fieldwork compared to secondary
schools. There is a precipitous decline between upper primary
(KS2) and lower secondary (KS3). Inflexible timetabling is often
cited as a major barrier to secondary provision (see paragraph
13 and 14).
The role of teacher training
15. FSC work with partners, including through the ASE's Outdoor
Science Working Group (ASE OSWG), has consistently identified
that there is a shortage of secondary science teachers with the
confidence, competence and commitment to lead fieldwork. In response,
the ASE OSWG has released two reports which have made recommendations
to remedy this shortage (refs 10 & 11).
16. Any reversal in the decline in science fieldwork will
have to be led by teachers. The capacity and enthusiasm to teach
science in the field will need to be increased and ensuring a
high status for fieldwork in Initial Teacher Training and the
standards which underpin it will be the most effective way of
equipping future teachers of science with the skills to take their
students into the "outdoor classroom".
How important are field trips in science education?
17. A review of Outdoor Learning commissioned by the FSC shows
that science fieldwork which is well planned and effectively delivered
will have positive impacts on cognitive development, personal/social
skills and physical development (ref. 12).
18. Another review by the Institute of Education of residential
fieldwork courses (combined with adventure activity) at FSC centres
undertaken by inner-London secondary schools showed that pupils
had increased positive impacts in the following developmental
areas: cognitive; interpersonal and social; physical and behavioural
19. Teachers working with the FSC also note that the experience
of using "messy" primary data outside the classroom
(ie less easily sanitised, managed and orderly than its indoor
or virtual equivalent) is very powerful in demonstrating the real
strength of scientific methodology (How Science Works).
What part do health and safety concerns play in preventing
school pupils from going on field trips? What rules and regulations
apply to field trips and how are they being interpreted?
20. Health and safety concerns are cited as important by science
teachers and PGCE students, but often less important than other
barriers such as inflexible timetabling, lack of cover, lack of
training etc (see paragraphs 12 & 13).
21. Not surprisingly, there is a contrast between importance
attributed to health and safety between teachers who are leading
their own fieldwork and those who are using "external"
experts such as FSC. Over half of teachers using FSC Centres report
that Health and Safety has no negative influence on their decision
to offer fieldwork (ref. 14).
22. The ways in which rules and regulations are applied vary
considerably between Local Authorities, between schools in the
same Local Authority, and even between departments in the same
school. Science departments in London secondary schools will cite
H&S as a barrier even when history and geography teachers
are content to lead residential trips, even overseas.
23. The FSC welcomes many of the findings of Lord Young's
Review and his proposals to simplify the process that schools
and other organisations undertake before taking children on outdoor
Do examination boards adequately recognise science field trips?
24. The status and nature of field trips in secondary schools
are very much determined by national curricula and specifications:
this affects the views of teachers, examiners and inspectors.
The influence on teachers
Levels of fieldwork
25. Fieldwork has not been compulsory in the national curriculum
for science, unlike geography. As a result, geography numbers
have grown within the FSC over 20 years, replacing science as
the major contributing subject to FSC visitor numbers (ref. 14).
26. Geography teachers are twice as likely to do residential
fieldwork at Key Stage 3, and ten times more likely at GCSE level;
they were also twice as likely to do local fieldwork at both levels
27. In some years FSC sells more plant and animal identification
charts to geography teachers than to science teachersprobably
because geographers are doing more habitat related (environmental
geography) fieldwork than their science counterparts.
28. The heightened profile in specifications such as Edexcel
SNAB A level biology can increase the take up of fieldwork by
biologists. In a 2001 telephone survey carried out by FSC of secondary
teachers in 75 state schools who did not use FSC centres the proportion
doing A level biology fieldwork ranged from 62.5% in one specification
to 100% using the Edexcel specification (ref.14).
29. Another recent FSC example of curriculum having an immediate
impact on levels of fieldwork provision is provided by GCSE Geography
where the introduction of Controlled Assessments has led to a
sharp rise in GCSE Geography groups.
30. However, compulsion is not the only reason for differences
in level of fieldwork provision across subjects. Fieldwork seems
to be embedded more strongly in the culture of some subjects.
For example, the Key Stage 3 history curriculum does not include
compulsory fieldwork and yet a 2004 FSC survey of London secondary
schools showed that three times as many history groups embark
on residential fieldwork compared to science groups from the same
Nature of fieldwork
31. Whereas secondary geography teachers see fieldwork as
being integral to the whole course (the most important reason
they cite for continuing to do fieldwork), many science teachers
have a much narrower view of its purposeseeing it as an
activity which delivers a discrete part of the curriculum (usually
ecology related, and often with a very tight focus on data collecting,
handling and analysis, and associated skills and techniques) (ref.
32. These differences in perception result largely from curriculum
design which assigns fieldwork to a particular unit in the science
curriculum (particularly when it became very closely linked to
A level coursework after Curriculum 2000) whereas it reoccurs
throughout the whole geography curriculum.
The influence on inspectors
33. The statutory requirement for fieldwork in geography also
raises the profile of fieldwork in Ofsted subject inspections
in schools. Previous FSC research has shown that geography subject
inspections have been eight times more likely to comment on fieldwork
than science subject inspections. This will influence the importance
attributed to fieldwork by teachers and managers (see paragraph
34 below) (ref.14).
The influence on senior managers
34. At a meeting of A level Biology Chief Examiners hosted
by FSC the group strongly supported the view that the profile
of fieldwork in schools is driven very strongly by external inspection...
"if it's not inspected, it's not important" (ref. 3).
35. Teachers who have cancelled FSC field courses have cited
the perceived lowering of fieldwork's importance in the eyes of
senior managers and departmental colleaguesthe fact that
it is no longer essential (because coursework was no longer a
requirement for example)as one of the main reasons to cancel
(see paragraph 10e).
Influences on socio-economic accessibility
36. Compulsion also support attendance by a broader socio-economic
grouping of students. In some FSC projects, for example working
with KS3 and GCSE groups from disadvantaged urban City Challenge
schools (2009-10) up to 80% of the 14-16 year olds had never been
on a residential in their school careers (and neither had their
37. The probability that a stronger curriculum requirement
can lead to a more inclusive take up of fieldwork is supported
by FSC data: 75% of geography groups come from State funded schools,
compared to 68% of Science groups.
If the quality or number of field trips is declining, what
are the consequences for science education and career choices?
For example, what effects are there on the performance and achievement
of pupils and students in Higher Education
38. Fieldwork trends are being replicated in undergraduate
bioscience degrees (see paragraph 11 above (ref. 13).
39. This is reducing the number of bioscience graduates available
(to FSC and otherssee paragraph 38 below) to pursue professional
vocational careers in ecology throughout the UK (ref. 6).
40. The reduction in fieldwork will also lead to a decrease
in exposure to a range of data handling scenarios and the development
of associated skills which are highly valued by employers (and
identified as a current weakness) including the FSC. See also
paragraph 15 above.
41. The low level of fieldwork training in Initial Teacher
Education and CPD is failing to sufficient numbers of science
teachers with the confidence, competence and commitment to lead
fieldwork. See also paragraphs 12 & 13 above (refs. 10 &
Field Studies Council
42. The decline in fieldwork experience is reducing the number
of bioscience graduates with practical fieldwork skills, thus
reducing the pool of potential tutors recruited by the FSC.
43. One area in which the demise of practical fieldwork has
had a noticeable effect on A level students and trainee teachers
is in field surveying and identification skills (ref 2) (research
carried out in FSC centres).
What changes should be made?
44. The FSC recommends that the following changes are needed
to ensure that the full potential of fieldwork is developed in
the science curriculum:
should be a statutory or strongly stated requirement in
the science (particularly upper secondary) curriculum;
inspections by Ofsted should comment on the level and quality
of fieldwork being taught in schools, and it should be a requirement
for school science departments to achieve good or outstanding
reversal in the decline in science fieldwork will have to be led
by teachers and we feel that the Qualified Teacher Standards
(which are currently the subject of Sally Coates' Independent
review) should include a requirement for all trainee science teachers
(including chemists and physicists, as well as biologists and
earth scientists) to have prepared and taught at least one fieldwork
lesson as part of their training;
progression in science teaching should recognize the value
of fieldwork experience, including the role of teachers in training
colleagues to build school capacity;
Bodies should adopt assessment methods which are appropriate
for fieldwork, rather than formulaic summative tasks which diminish
its potential; and
to schools should clearly state that the pupil premium
can be used for fieldwork to proved equitable access by all students
to the full range of effective science teaching and learning approaches.
Is the experience of schools in England in line
with schools in the devolved administrations and other countries?
45. FSC has Field Centres in Northern Ireland
(one centre), Scotland (one centre) and Wales (four centres) as
well as England (12 centres). Our very strong evidence is that
the trends described above are happening throughout the UK. For
example, in 2002 FSC took over Kindrogan Field Centre in Scotland
following many years of continuing decline in school and HE visits.
1. Amos, R & Reiss (2008). M. What contribution
can residential field courses make to the education of 11-14 year
olds. School Science Review 88: 37-44.
2. Bebbington, A (2005). The ability of A level
biology students in the UK to name plants. Journal of Biological
3. Field Studies Council/British Ecological Society
(2004). Creating the right balance: delivering fieldwork for
effective 16-19 ecology teaching. Field Studies Council Occasional
4. Glackin, M (2007). Using urban green space
to teach science. School Science Review 89: 1-8
5. Glackin, M & Jones, B (2011). Park and
learn: Improving opportunities for learning in local open spaces.
School Science Review (in press).
6. Hillcox, S (2004). The Graduate Ecologist's
Skills Base. Unpublished M.Sc, University of Bristol.
7. Lock, R (2010). Teaching time and approaches
to teaching and learning: the post-16 Nuffield Biology and Salters
Nuffield Advanced Biology experience. Paper presented at the
8th Conference of European Researchers in Didactics of Biology.
University of Minho, Braga, Portugal.
8. Lock, R (2010). Biology fieldwork in schools
and colleges in the UK: an analysis of empirical research from
1963-2009. Journal for Biological Education 2: 58-34.
9. Lock, R & Tilling, S (2002). Ecology
Fieldwork in 16 to 19 biology. School Science Review 84 (307):
10. Outdoor Science Working Group (2007).
Initial Teacher Education and the Outdoor Classroom: Standards
for the Future. Field Studies Council and Association for
Science Education. Field Studies Council Occasional Publication
11. Outdoor Science Working Group (2011).
Outdoor Science. A co-ordinated approach to high-quality teaching
and learning in fieldwork for science education. Association
for Science Education/Nuffield Foundation. Field Studies Council
Occasional Publication 144.
12. Rickinson, M et al. (2004). A review of
research on outdoor learning. NFER/King's College London.
Field Studies Council Occasional Publication 87.
13. Smith, D (2004). Issues and trends in higher
education biology fieldwork. Journal of Biological Education
14. Tilling, S (2004). Fieldwork in UK secondary
schools: influences and provision. Journal of Biological Education
38 (2): 54-58.
15. National Assembly for Wales (2011). The STEM
Agenda. Enterprise and Learning Committee.
Field Studies Council
9 May 2011