Memorandum by the Field Studies Council
1. The Field Studies Council (FSC) is a
pioneering educational charity committed to bringing environmental
understanding to all. Established in 1943, the FSC has become
internationally respected for its national network of 17 education
centres. The FSC provides informative and enjoyable opportunities
for people of all ages and abilities to discover, explore, be
inspired by, and understand the natural environment.
2. The FSC welcomes the opportunity to contribute
to the inquiry into science teaching at schools and continue to
promote the importance of fieldwork, specifically within the science
curriculum, and the barriers which currently prevent its full
benefits from being realised.
3. Good quality residential fieldwork helps
to improve education standards. Despite this, fieldwork provision
in science and biology is declining in British secondary schools.
A minority of 11-16 students will now venture outside the classroom
and even in A-level biology nearly half the students will do no
fieldwork, or will only have a half-day experience near to their
schools. Residential science fieldwork is available to fewer than
5% of GCSE students and this provides a stark contrast with other
subjects such as history, music and geography where the levels
can be 10 times higher.
4. FSC believes that the decline in educational
field visits has a negative effect on the number of pupils choosing
science at A-level and that if the government is serious about
its commitment to attract more science teachers, science needs
to be made more attractive to GCSE pupils and a-level students.
Recent surveys by the Science Museum and Awarding Bodies have
shown consistently that practical hands on activity, visits and
excursions are the most enjoyable aspects of science education.
Yet, these are the very elements which are most at threat. The
potential for such activities for recruitment to the subject is
valued much more highly by teachers in other subjects, in geography
5. The decline in science fieldwork is now
extending to universities and appears to be leading to a shortfall
in people with the practical skills needed to support biodiversity
and teaching related careers and activities. It also undermines
the potential to raise the level of informed environmental awareness
at a time when there is an increasing demand for students, volunteers
and the general population to be aware of their impact on the
world around them. This is a strategic weakness for the government
because a great majority (76%) of its biodiversity field programmesincluding
those which are meeting EU statutory compliance needsare
dependent on volunteers.
6. Fieldwork can make a real difference
in enthusing and inspiring young people to take up the science
at A-level and at university. It helps students to develop their
understanding of science as an evidence-based discipline and to
acquire the hands-on experimental skills that are an essential
part of scientific inquiry. More importantly, there can be reinforcement
between the affective and the cognitive, with each influencing
the other and providing a bridge to higher order learning.
FSC therefore strongly encourages the inclusion of a fieldwork
element within the Science national curriculum for GCSE students
and would like it to be made a mandatory requirement for all A
level biology students.
7. As part of London Outdoor Science, a
two-year project to develop the use of local sites for secondary
science fieldwork, 60 secondary schools in 5 Inner-London boroughs
were surveyed to assess current levels of science fieldwork using
local sites (including school grounds). Evaluations of the project
have shown that, despite the repeated offers of external support
by an experience secondary science teacher to help schools in
developing local fieldwork opportunities and provide some school-based
or local training for science teachers, only a quarter of the
schools in the five borough project have responded.
8. Of those that did not respond, the key
barriers quoted for not doing fieldwork in science lessons were
lack of time within the syllabus/timetable, limited staff knowledge/expertise,
limited school equipment, lack of school grounds, time consuming
administration to complete before even attempting field trips;
finances, health and safety and administration, curriculum objectives
for outdoor work limited at key stage 4, pupil behaviour and staffing
9. Fieldwork provides an opportunity for
teachers to develop a different and, potentially, more positive
and productive relationship with their students. The dynamics
and interrelationships developed whilst working in groups can
have a huge influence on how students develop socially. This is
particularly true for residential experiences.
10. FSC was supported in this view by the
House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee Report
on Education Outside the Classroom which was published in 2004.
The report said: "outdoor learning can benefit pupils of
all ages and can be successful in a variety of settings. We are
convinced that out-of-classroom education enriches the curriculum
and can improve educational attainment."
11. FSC is concerned that fieldwork skills
are no longer passed on to science teachers as part of an informal
`mentoring' process. As a result, these skills could be lost entirely
as older teachers leave the profession. The DfES should therefore
engage teachers' professional bodies and subject associations
in the provision of fieldwork training for science and geography
teachers and ensuring that appropriate programmes of professional
development are on offer to all those teachers who might benefit.
12. FSC organises field trips for 11-14
year olds for London secondary schools through the London Challenge
project. Interviews with participating teachers and pupils have
shown that there is increased co-operation between pupils with
new friendships being established; improved relations with teachers;
increase in knowledge and skills base. Most significantly, those
pupils who often demonstrate challenging behaviour are reported
to have improved attention and show participation back in the
13. The government has identified Science
Learning Centres (SLCs) as being key to the delivery of fieldwork
training and continuing professional development to teachers.
The FSC has engaged fully in the important opportunity that SLCs
offer; developing and running a number of CPD courses. Despite
securing grants from the British Ecological Society to cover all
costs to teachers, we have been disappointed that almost all courses
have cancelled due to low take-up teachers.
14. We support the Schools Minister's decision
to reconsider the status of outdoor learning within Initial Teacher
Training (ITT). We support the House of Commons Education Select
Committee view that the DfES should work with the Training Development
Agency to ensure that ITT and CPD courses demonstrate the potential
benefits of education outside the classroom and point teachers
towards ways to develop their skills in this area as their career
progresses. We also welcome the government's forthcoming Outdoor
Learning manifesto. We are concerned, however, that science fieldwork
may not benefit from these initiatives unless changes are strongly
driven by policy, and supported by adequate resources and training.
15. The profile of fieldwork needs to be
raised; OFSTED should conduct spot inspections on quantity and
quality of fieldwork provision and fieldwork should be included
in school Self Evaluation Frameworks.
The FSC therefore proposes that:
Curricula must acknowledge the importance of
fieldwork in helping to deliver learning outcomes in science teaching.
The need for fieldwork should be strongly encouraged at KS3 and
GCSE, and mandatory for A-level students. OFSTED should conduct
spot inspections on quantity and quality of fieldwork provision
and fieldwork should be included in school Self Evaluation Frameworks.
The TDA, SLCs and Association for Science Education
should be encouraged and supported to build the competence and
confidence within science teaching to deliver high quality fieldworkthe
strongest way of bringing the subject to life.
19 A Review of Research on Outdoor Learning, National
Foundation for Educational Research, March 2004, page 2. Back
Education Outside the Classroom, House of Commons Education Select
Committee, February 2005. Back