Practical experiments in school science lessons and science field trips - Science and Technology Committee Contents


Supplementary written evidence submitted by Field Studies Council (Sch Sci 07a)

The Field Studies Council (FSC) was delighted to have the opportunity to give oral evidence to the Science and Technology Committee on 29 June2011. Due to the time constraints of the session I felt that there were a number of issues which I was unable to fully bring to members attention. We have, therefore, pulled together this short document to expand on our oral evidence and would be most grateful if members of the committee would take a moment to read its contents.

PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS FOR TEACHERS

I raised the point about the weakness in the professional standards for teachers in relation to outdoor science but didn't have time to fill in the detail. The current standards are presented at five levels:

—  1.  Qualified Teacher Status

—  2.  Core

—  3.  Post Threshold

—  4.  Excellent Teacher

—  5.  Advanced Skills Teacher

Standards for out-of-school learning fall within the section labelled Teaching Skills—the Learning Environment. There are standards for The Learning Environment at QTS and Core levels, but no further professional development after that. In other words an AST is only expected to achieve the same standard as a QTS or C Teacher. The Learning Environment is the only teaching skill that isn't developed (unlike Planning, Assessment, Teamwork etc.) above Core level.

Without an obvious professional development underpinned by explicit standards, prospective PTs, ETs and ASTs won't value CPD courses associated with Teaching Skills—the Learning Environment as highly as the other areas. It sends the wrong message about this area of competency being valued.

The FSC supports a main recommendations in the Outdoor Science report recently published by the ASE's Outdoor Science Working Group which calls for "more experienced teachers to demonstrate their own role in providing fieldwork training for colleagues in other departments and schools (including across age phases and transitions)."

INITIAL TEACHER TRAINING

Another recent development (since the committee's call for evidence closed) is very worrying. Paul Cohen of the TDA referred to the current review into Professional Standards. The first drafts to emerge from this review show that any reference to learning in out-of-school contexts has disappeared completely from the teaching skills section (even at QTS level). This will represent a big setback for those of us who would like science teachers to develop skills which will enable them to employ the full range of teaching and learning approaches available, both inside and outside the classroom.

It is almost impossible to imagine how the current levels of professional development in teaching in out-of-school contexts will be improved when the standards are weakened, allied to the fact that a growth in number of initial teacher training locations could make inspection and monitoring even more difficult.

The FSC strongly recommends that the reference to learning in an out-of-school context should be retained in the QTS standards, and further developed through subsequent standards to ATS level.

PUPIL PREMIUM

The Chairman raised the issue of equitability, with uneven access by State and Independent schools. Published evidence (eg Power, 2007) clearly shows that schools with higher proportions of Free School Meals have fewer field trips, and these experiences tend to be narrower and less inspiring. Since the call for evidence closed the government has published its natural Environment White Paper (The Natural Choice). This states that "we have created a Pupil Premium, intended to raise the attainment of low-income families. This could be used to give fairer access to nature for pupils from deprived backgrounds, for example funding school trips to experience the natural environment". The Schools Minister, Nick Gibb MP, has repeated this in response to parliamentary questions. We feel that that the use of the Pupil Premium for this purpose is unlikely to happen without very clear and strong guidance from the government.

The FSC recommends that explicit guidance should be given to head teachers and governors, clearly stating that the pupil premium can, and should (when appropriate), be used to support science practicals and field trips.

The demise of science fieldwork for some inner city schools is likely to be exacerbated by a continuing (and possibly accelerating) closure of Local Authority run field centres upon which many secondary schools currently rely for science fieldwork. Recent surveys, including one broadcast by the BBC, show that 33% of such centres think that they are in imminent danger of closing.

Dr Stephen Tilling
Director of Communications
Field Studies Council

30 June 2011



 
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