Fight Club

Is the science curriculum serving the needs of future scientists?

This was an online live debate that took place on The Times Online on 4 March 2010, between our own Alom Shaha and David McVean, the QCDA's Director of Curriculum. The original is available here and supporting articles from The Times' Eureka supplement are available here. The transcript is reproduced below in full, however, as it is unclear whether or not it will remain on The Times' website indefinitely.

Transcript [unedited]

Mark Henderson:

Hello and welcome to Eureka Fight Club Live. I'm Mark Henderson, Science Editor of The Times, and joining us today to discuss science education are David McVean, director of curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, and Alom Shaha, who teaches physics at a North London comprehensive.

Thursday March 4, 2010 12:57 Mark Henderson
12:57

Mark Henderson:

Today's question is: "Is the science curriculum service the needs of future scientists?"

Thursday March 4, 2010 12:57 Mark Henderson
12:58

Mark Henderson:

I thought I'd start by asking both Alom and David the same question. When I was at school 20 years ago, science was taught very much as a body of facts we know, rather than a way of finding out what is not known. What do you think is the proper role of science education?

Thursday March 4, 2010 12:58 Mark Henderson
13:02

Alom Shaha:

That's a big question…but one I thought might come up. From discussion with colleagues, I'd say that a good science education would at least:

excite and enthuse children with a sense of awe and wonder at the natural world

allow them to develop an appreciation of how science has contributed to the historical and cultural development of our society

give practical experience of how scientists make observations of the natural world, come up with hypotheses and do experiments to obtain evidence to support or disprove these hypotheses.

teach children to understand the importance of evidence when making decisions and to be able to judge whether the claims of the media, advertisers, politicians, journalists, etc, are evidence-based and reliable.

give pupils enough evidence-based knowledge to be able to make informed personal judgements in order to lead healthy, safe, comfortable and environmentally sustainable lives.

develop awareness of the conclusions of important scientific theories in a concrete and accessible way.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:02 Alom Shaha
13:04

Mark Henderson:

(we're having slight trouble with David's connection, but hope to have him live soon…)

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:04 Mark Henderson
13:04

Mark Henderson:

Alom, those are a lot of goals! How can the curriculum be structured to include them all? Are there conflicts between them when it comes to teaching.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:04 Mark Henderson
13:07

Alom Shaha:

Don't think there have to be conflicts. It's a matter of getting the balance right. At the moment, too much emphasis on exams. I believe that if the right people put their minds to it, we can meet the challenges of meeting the kind of goals I have described.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:07 Alom Shaha
13:08

Mark Henderson:

(Think we should have David with us any moment…)

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:08 Mark Henderson
13:08

David McVean:

Hello, Mark. Hello Alom. Hello all. Thank you for inviting us to this online debate. Apologises for our late arrival.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:08 David McVean
13:09

Alom Shaha:

Hello David.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:09 Alom Shaha
13:09

Mark Henderson:

Welcome David, thanks for joining us. Alom's already answered the first question about the balance of the curriculum. What's your view? Then we'll move onto readers' questions…

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:09 Mark Henderson
13:10

[Comment From MikeyMikey: ]

Don't you think that secondary school children are pushed into specialising far too early? I wasn't allowed to do Physics for A level because I was quite good at English….

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:10 Mikey
13:10

[Comment From Andrew UrwinAndrew Urwin: ]

The twin aims for the science curriculum: educating future scientists or developing a scientifically literate citizenry, have led to objectives which disadvantage the former by obscuring the vital opportunities to experience a sense of the central science concepts steadily building into a coherent whole. The explicit change of assessment focus from concepts to skills has produced a curriculum which devalues scientific knowledge, obscures theoretical coherence and has imposed a huge bureaucratic burden on hard pressed classroom teachers, already suffering from long standing ‘innovation fatigue’. The target setting requirements of the new regime, coupled with the pressure from the standards and accountability agenda is pushing teachers into ‘hoop jumping’ to fulfil rather dubious assessment criteria, further damaging a clear comprehension of the science being taught. The waters are being further muddied by the increasing requirement to use science lessons to deliver John Waters’ cross curricular social agenda (Every Child Matters, Social & Emotional Aspects of Learning etc) in which schools are increasingly being expected to contribute to the solution of wider social problems, again through a bureaucratic target setting regime.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:10 Andrew Urwin
13:10

[Comment From Stu BillingtonStu Billington: ]

I see no conflict. I am also a secondary science teacher.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:10 Stu Billington
13:11

[Comment From Josh ThomasJosh Thomas: ]

Science education pre-16 should about impiration no one is inspired by a large body of facts but many are inspired by practical work. Practical work is key to good science education not memory

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:11 Josh Thomas
13:11

David McVean:

We would agree with Alom's comments. We might also want to include that we wish to challenge and develop successful individuals who can make a postive contribution to society. We believe that both skills, knowledge and understanding of science all go into helping this happen.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:11 David McVean
13:13

Mark Henderson:

What would you both say to Mikey's question? Are students asked to specialise too early?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:13 Mark Henderson
13:14

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

Your question assumes there is an "either…or". There is no way to use the scientific method if you are not already familiar with what is already known.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:14 Mike Bell
13:14

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

There is always a problem with priorities, but the way we have to teach science at the moment leaves too little space for developing the use of the method - for instance, most adults could not explain why some buildings did not fall in the haiti earthquake - but it would have been lovely to spend a couple of lessons on earthquakes in the last few weeks - but we couldn't because the exam tomorrow is on electricity!

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:14 Mike Bell
13:15

Alom Shaha:

I don't think this has to be the case - I teach at a school where students can study Physics alongside English at A-level (which was not the case when I was at school).

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:15 Alom Shaha
13:15

[Comment From Anna StarkeyAnna Starkey: ]

For me, Alom's first point is the central core of science education - to inspire children with a sense of awe and wonder at the natural world. I simply don't believe that a curriculum that teaches the science of food and, for example, house insulation, will excite and engage students in place of proper chemical experiments in the lab, and challenging ideas about the universe. In my experience as a science communicator, pupils love to be presented with "the difficult" stuff, regardless of ability. They crave something to really engage with. Why does the current curriculum shy away from exciting students with the most creative, challenging science out there?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:15 Anna Starkey
13:16

David McVean:

Responding to Mikey's comment we don't believe schools are pushing secondary learners to specialise too early. The new curriculum for both primary and secondary allows individual schools to design a curriculum that best meets the demands from their students. These national curriculum provides outlines what science understanding, knowledge and skills learners should acquire as they progess through their education. Thsi also means loinking up ideas, relationships and understanding within and between subjects.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:16 David McVean
13:16

Alom Shaha:

I'm glad David agrees with me on what the aims of a science education should be…however, I am not convinced this is what the current system is achieving. How do we change things to address the many shortcomings that have been identified by teachers and official reports?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:16 Alom Shaha
13:18

[Comment From Michael de PodestaMichael de Podesta: ]

The QCDA response basically says 'there is not a problem'. There is, but QCDA don't see it because they are part of the problem. Currently Physics GCSE is worthless - it is not an indicator of physics talent, and it is not an indicator of general knowledge. This is QCDA's achievement: a worthless exam.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:18 Michael de Podesta
13:18

[Comment From Fiona MaciverFiona Maciver: ]

as another teacher i think the aims can be achieved together, also, in biology especially the theory side is imperatiev to pupils understanding of the practicals as biological systems behave differently than expected and cannot be as controlled as in chemistry

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:18 Fiona Maciver
13:18

[Comment From JessicaJessica: ]

I believe it is also important for students and their families to understand the opportunities science can give them so that they are encouraged.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:18 Jessica
13:18

[Comment From Stu BillingtonStu Billington: ]

By properly structuring a 5-year science curriculum across secondary education, to avoid repetition across the key stages, there is plenty of time to teach an engaging and stretching curriculum, without impact to other subjects.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:18 Stu Billington
13:19

[Comment From Josh ThomasJosh Thomas: ]

AS-levels are designed to prevent specialisation. Also GCSE science is a general course and that is what students are made to take

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:19 Josh Thomas
13:19

Mark Henderson:

Alom, it might be helpful to identify one or two particular shortcomings you'd like David to address…

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:19 Mark Henderson
13:19

[Comment From Stu BillingtonStu Billington: ]

Very well put, Anna!

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:19 Stu Billington
13:19

Alom Shaha:

I disagree with what David wrote in his piece in Eureka - schools do not use the national curriculum to "build their own curriculum to suit the needs of all their learners". Instead, they follow exam board specs. which are approved by QCDA. Current GCSE courses deeply problematic. It is surely the QCDA's role to rectify this.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:19 Alom Shaha
13:20

[Comment From Josh ThomasJosh Thomas: ]

I think anna has hit the nail on the head, children do like challenges

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:20 Josh Thomas
13:20

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

David says"The new curriculum for both primary and secondary allows individual schools to design a curriculum that best meets the demands from their students."

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:20 Mike Bell
13:20

David McVean:

Alom, we have already made changes working closely with teachers, the science community, employers, universities to address the needs of learners. These are now feeding through into schools who have the power to design the curriculum that best meets the needs of their learners.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:20 David McVean
13:20

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

David says "The new curriculum for both primary and secondary allows individual schools to design a curriculum that best meets the demands from their students. " This is a myth which could only be repeated by someone out of touch with the classroom. In reality the course is dictated by the exam board.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:20 Mike Bell
13:20

[Comment From Stu BillingtonStu Billington: ]

Yes, David, we can design any curriculum we like (although the QCDA's curriculum defines the teaching order, which is hugely flawed, pedagogically), but even when we do our students walk into their higher tier exams and come out worried, asking if we've given them the foundation tier paper by mistake. This is WRONG on every level, and until you start seeking the wider opinion of practising science teachers you will forever know nothing of these issues that you are, ignorantly I think, defending.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:20 Stu Billington
13:21

Mark Henderson:

Alice, we're holding your q for a moment to let Alom and David answer this one… It's next up…

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:21 Mark Henderson
13:21

Alom Shaha:

David - I don't think teachers feel the recent changes are sufficient, as Mike and Stu's comments indicate.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:21 Alom Shaha
13:23

Mark Henderson:

David, Alom — might you spell out what has changed lately, for those participants who aren't up to speed?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:23 Mark Henderson
13:23

[Comment From Stu BillingtonStu Billington: ]

Short-comings: an entire GCSE's worth of overlap between the educations of those students who will never study science ever again and those who may make a career out of it. One glove does not fit all and you completely ignore the needs of our young people by ignoring this fact. It is not elitist to acknowledge that different learners have different needs — indeed, it is good educational practice to do so. I remain stunned that the QCDA do not recognise this.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:23 Stu Billington
13:23

[Comment From Andrew UrwinAndrew Urwin: ]

In my experience, students have a strong desire to learn science in a hands-on way. Instead of benefitting from teachers who can concentrate on effective methods of getting over scientific ideas in a concrete way, these students are faced with a dispiriting bureaucratic target setting system constantly asking them what they can do to improve in abstract skill areas they can’t understand, let alone relate to or be motivated by.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:23 Andrew Urwin
13:23

Alom Shaha:

I think David is better placed to answer the question about recent changes.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:23 Alom Shaha
13:25

David McVean:

Alom, as I'm sure you are aware we have recently developed the new GCSE sscience criteria, which awarding bodies will use to develop the new science GCSEs (2011) these will be regulated by Ofqual. Working with teachers, learned societies , HE and other partners these new criteria address the concerns raised. There are separate criteria for all science GCSEs, which include biology, chemistry and physics.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:25 David McVean
13:26

[Comment From AliceAlice: ]

On any possible "conflicts"… if there are any, isn't that a really important thing to teach the students too (and trust them to be able to cope with some of the complexities of science/ science in society…?)

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:26 Alice
13:26

[Comment From AliceAlice: ]

I want to ask both Alom and David who they think are the "experts" of science education? do they agree with Gove's statement this week saying that universities should have a central role in A-level curricula)

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:26 Alice
13:26

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

David says "working closely with teachers". Another myth! When, as a teacher, you finally manage to get time off to go to a consultation, you find the majority of people there are not practitioners. "Consultation" usually consists of some questionnaire on an obscure website.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:26 Mike Bell
13:26

[Comment From Andrew UrwinAndrew Urwin: ]

The current mess was introduced with no meaningful consultation with teachers, who know what works in the classroom, and from scientists in Higher Education, who know what scientific and mathematical knowledge is necessary for future scientists. This was strongly criticised in Sir Mark Walport’s Science and Learning Expert Group report of last week. Also, last week OFSTED instructed ministers to curb the relentless deluge of initiatives and guidance from the QCA, and Mike Tomlinson has declared the science and other academic diplomas to be unfit for purpose due to the amount of subject knowledge removed to fit in more of the issues discussed above. The best result from this belated outbreak of sanity will be the closure of QCA before its scheduled demise next year!

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:26 Andrew Urwin
13:27

[Comment From Josh ThomasJosh Thomas: ]

Changes seem to be minimal tho it looks like u have copied and pasted the AQA course

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:27 Josh Thomas
13:27

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

Specialisation: a difficult balance to strike, but, unless we start scientists as specialists at around 16 yrs, they would not get qualified till mid-20s. There is always one's spare time and chances later in life to broaden your interest.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:27 Mike Bell
13:27

Alom Shaha:

Yes, I am aware of these new criteria. I felt the consultation process was very poor. In an age when we can sit at our desks and debate online, the QCA did not seem to be making best use of the tolls available to engage ALL stakeholders in the discussion. Many teachers feel the changes made as a result of the most recent "consultation" are inadequate and we need a major overhaul of the way we teach science.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:27 Alom Shaha
13:29

Mark Henderson:

What about Alice's questions? What's the role here for science and society? And who are the experts here? Should universities have more input?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:29 Mark Henderson
13:30

David McVean:

Alice, HE was directly involved in developing the current A level criteria and specifications, with the learned societies and awarding bodies. HE input was invaluable in ensuring that the science in the current A-levels is up to date and reflects the needs of higher education.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:30 David McVean
13:30

[Comment From Stu BillingtonStu Billington: ]

Question for David: QCDA do not consult the teaching profession very widely at all, either when constructing the curriculum or evaluating it afterwards (low-key online surveys that ask the wrong questions do not count). Why do you think that this is appropriate?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:30 Stu Billington
13:30

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

Most of the decision makers in education are not currently practitioners. Are QCDA staff practitioners?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:30 Mike Bell
13:30

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

Target setting: this has been the mantra of the Thatcher/Blair years - another myth. In reality doctors, teachers etc have to change what they do to try to hit the targets - which results in worse care/learning and a demoralised profession.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:30 Mike Bell
13:30

Alom Shaha:

Hi Alice, I'm slightly embarrassed to be here: I am a part-time Physics teacher. I certainly don't consider myself an "expert", but I feel I know enough to know that the current way we teach science is deeply, deeply flawed. I think we need new "experts" to bring a fresh eye to things. I think some of the academics who contribute to policy are out of touch. I think we need to facilitate things so that more teachers can become experts. NOT former teachers but current teachers. This may need a massive shift in the profession. I also think that we need to listen to the students who have just done the GCSEs and ask them how they feel about the courses they have studied.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:30 Alom Shaha
13:31

[Comment From Fiona MaciverFiona Maciver: ]

Alice mentioned the universities input into A levels. I went to university/school consultation and the outcome was that teh universities have no idea where the current alevel is pitched and there is a lot of repitition in the first year of university. Some input would ensure crossover not repitition

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:31 Fiona Maciver
13:31

[Comment From Stu BillingtonStu Billington: ]

Alice, universities and employers are end-users and should have perhaps the largest say in WHAT is taught. But practising teacher should be allowed to write the curriculum that decides when, how and in what order at what time. Whitehall should have very little say at all, as it lacks the experience and understanding to do so.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:31 Stu Billington
13:32

Alom Shaha:

There are MANY stakeholders when it comes to science education. Students, teachers, parents, scientists, science communicators, employers. How do we ensure that they all get a fair hearing and an appropriate level of input?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:32 Alom Shaha
13:32

[Comment From Michael de PodestaMichael de Podesta: ]

EXAMS:The recent report to BIS by the Science and Expert Learners Group highlight problems highlight problems with QCDA. The bland course specification followed by competition from Awarding bodies to set the easiest exam. These Awarding bodies - some wholly owned by publishing conglomorates then sell text book which only match their own awarding bodies schemes of work. It is a corrupt system presided over by QCDA. Their dumbing down of physics chemistry and biology is nothing short of cultural vandalism

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:32 Michael de Podesta
13:33

David McVean:

Andrew, QCDA does consult with in-service teachers frequently and have networks of over 300 schools who test and inform our thinking, not just of materials, but of pedagogy in both curriculum and assessment as well as qualification design.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:33 David McVean
13:33

Is the science curriculum too dominated by exams?
Yes
( 87% )
No
( 13% )

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:33
13:34

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

New criteria: !! every few years the powers that be tell us they have new and improved criteria/courses which are a great improvement and do this and that - but they wrote the last ones …and the ones before. What we need is PROFESSIONALISATION - involve the front-line practitioner.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:34 Mike Bell
13:34

[Comment From Michael de PodestaMichael de Podesta: ]

5 Year Development Cycle: This cycle suits publishers and keeps QCDA cronies going, but it takes 4 years for a curriculam change to feed through to A level - how can the effects possibly be evaluated on a 5 year cycle. AS I say: its suits QCDA and publishers but is bad for teachers and students.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:34 Michael de Podesta
13:34

[Comment From Josh ThomasJosh Thomas: ]

If Science was so popular in the 80's then y don't we use the course from the 80's instead of trying and failing to find new ideas

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:34 Josh Thomas
13:34

[Comment From AliceAlice: ]

David: um, saying that HE was involved doesn't answer my question of whether you think they should have a larger role than they do, or a larger role than other stakeholders…?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:34 Alice
13:35

Mark Henderson:

Carol, your question up next…

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:35 Mark Henderson
13:36

David McVean:

Alom, sorry to hear you though the consultation was poor. QCDA is always looking for new ways to ensure that we hear from practitioners at all stages of the development of the science curriculum. Our experience and feedback from practitioners is that they do feel engaged and that the advice, guidance and materials we develop with them really do help them deliver an exciting, inspiration curriculum to their learners.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:36 David McVean
13:37

[Comment From Carol DavenportCarol Davenport: ]

I think that Alom is right, and we need to bring more teachers into the process. However, I'm not sure how we could do that, given the intensive nature of teaching, the lack of status of part-time teachers, and the rarely-cover rule.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:37 Carol Davenport
13:40

Alom Shaha:

David - the teachers taking part in this debate contradict your claims.

Carol - the teaching profession needs a shake-up to ensure that teaching becomes more "professionalised". I don't see why it should be that big of a deal to allow some teachers to teach part-time and pay them to use the rest of their time working on "education" in the wider sense?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:40 Alom Shaha
13:40

What would do most to improve the science curriculum?
Option of 3 separate sciences for all
( 15% )
More practical experiments
( 15% )
More science and society
( 23% )
More flexibility, less value on exams
( 15% )
Something else (add in comments)
( 31% )

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:40
13:41

David McVean:

Alom, agree with the list of stakeholders and QCDA does engage with them, often through representative organisation, such as teacher unions, subject associations and learned societies. Happy to look for new routes to enable all the views of all interested individuals to be heard.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:41 David McVean
13:41

[Comment From John SmithJohn Smith: ]

As a student that has finished GCSE's one year ago, I believe what the course (which was OCR 21st century science, a new curriculum for that year) lacked depth. Physics was taught assuming that the students had no ability of maths apart from to add two numbers, or multiply two numbers together-or in the more challenging question maybe even both. I think this is just stupid.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:41 John Smith
13:41

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

Question: should exam boards, QCDA, DCSF etc have practicing teachers seconded to work with them on a part-time bais to keep a "reality chackpoint"?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:41 Mike Bell
13:41

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

McVean on "consultation": David, you are living in a parallel universe! I have asked teachers in both schools I have worked in and a) no-one ever remembers ever being consulted and b) there is wide agreement among teachers about problems - and you would have heard these if your consultaion was good.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:41 Mike Bell
13:42

Alom Shaha:

Thank you for your comment John Smith - many of my students feel the same way.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:42 Alom Shaha
13:42

[Comment From Andrew UrwinAndrew Urwin: ]

The current science curriculum has shifted the focus of assessment from conceptual understanding to skills, contexts and issues. Instead of allowing the results of the acquisition of skills to be demonstrated through the understanding of scientific concepts, it was assumed, with no supporting evidence, that these skills are acquired in a linear manner and can be measured accurately. At GCSE it has proved very difficult for exam boards to produce questions that assess these abstract skills without being trivial, subjective and ambiguous. At KS3, the Assessing Pupil Performance programme comprises a hugely bureaucratic matrix of about 100 skills statements, with teachers being required to choose whatever bits of science context best illustrate them. This is producing woolly dreary lessons, bored students and intensely frustrated teachers. The same impression can be found on any exam board forum or training meeting.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:42 Andrew Urwin
13:42

[Comment From Declan FlemingDeclan Fleming: ]

As a science teacher, my experience has been dominated by whitehall meddling. In the first 4 years of my career I was contantly re-writing schemes of work (or schemes of learning for those who like to tow the line). Every time a change came in, we had to tear up what we did before and rush through a new scheme as the boards delayed the publishers leaving us constantly on the hop. 2006 the new spec for year 10 came in - rewrite … 2007 the new spec for year 11 .. rewrite .. 2008 the new KS3 Year 7 AND the new A-level … rewrites for both …. 2009 the NEW NEW KS3 built for APP … rewrite … and now of course what's on the horizon? REWRITE! We don't get a second to reflect on and improve on what we have before the goalposts are moved yet again. Thankfully I'm now in my 5th year in a school that performs well enough that we're heavily buffered from whitehall and I'm far more free to just do my job and teach science to my kids in the way that's right for them. We still have to dance to the exam board tune though at the end of the day ….

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:42 Declan Fleming
13:43

Mark Henderson:

"Something else" seems to be winning the next poll… Would you like to leave your suggestions in the "have your say" box below the chat?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:43 Mark Henderson
13:44

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

The only way to involve teachers would be for it to be "normal" for teachers to work part-time in school and part as a non-teaching professional.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:44 Mike Bell
13:44

What's your role in this debate?
Teacher
( 24% )
Scientist
( 19% )
Student
( 19% )
Education Administrator
( 0% )
Parent
( 5% )
Other
( 33% )

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:44
13:45

Alom Shaha:

I think this debate needs to take place in the real world, with lots more stakeholders taking part. I hope David has at least taken on the idea that perhaps the last QCA consultation did not provide an accurate reflection of teachers' views on the current state of affairs.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:45 Alom Shaha
13:45

[Comment From Fiona MaciverFiona Maciver: ]

ditto duncan - just as we get to grips wioth one thing - change it - including the GCSEs next year

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:45 Fiona Maciver
13:46

Mark Henderson:

Just 15 minutes left — keep the questions coming!

Interesting no parents seem to be debating here… Alom, David, what do you find is their attitude to this issue?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:46 Mark Henderson
13:46

Alom Shaha:

Just because we've "got to grips" with the current system does not mean we should stick with it. It is evident that we need to have a major re-think. Let's not shy away from this because it is inconvenient.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:46 Alom Shaha
13:46

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

Declan is right - if the change was gradual (and teacher led) we would gradually improve our materials and skills. As it is we have to mug-up on the latest OFSTED criteria, or the report from the exam board to see which what they are looking for this time.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:46 Mike Bell
13:46

[Comment From Adam FalkAdam Falk: ]

The main problem, I feel, is that the curriculum is too much of a compromise. It has to prepare the next generation of scientists for their degrees as well as create an inspired and scientifically literate population of non-scientists. As a second-year physics student I can say that A-level physics and maths in no way prepared me for studying science at university level. From the people I know, my fellow students who didn't go on to study science, it seems that the curriculum failed to inspire them too.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:46 Adam Falk
13:47

Alom Shaha:

To be honest, I don't know what parents think. But I know that many, many students feel that GCSE science is a joke.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:47 Alom Shaha
13:47

Mark Henderson:

Interesting comment from Adam. Who is the curriculum mainly for? Students who will go on to study science? Or those who won't, and need to be science literate…?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:47 Mark Henderson
13:48

[Comment From Andrew UrwinAndrew Urwin: ]

School science theory and content is now chosen for its suitability to illustrate How Science Works process skills and the ‘issues’ required to exemplify societal aspects of HSW. This means confusion as ‘conceptual security’ is removed by atomising the content into disconnected ‘contexts’ and that students are required to comment on issues without understanding the science behind them. By being required to deal with ‘issues’ on a superficial basis, false certainties are sown (such as Global warming is a certainty and is entirely caused by human activity AND that reducing human carbon emissions will prevent it)

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:48 Andrew Urwin
13:48

David McVean:

Alom and others who have commented about QCDA consultation processes. Certainly getting the message that there is more to be done to ensure that people know how to contribute and engage with QCDA, but as i said earlier we have just over the past three months alone consulted with more than 1000 active, in-service teachers in the development of the new primary curriculum, including science.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:48 David McVean
13:48

[Comment From Carol DavenportCarol Davenport: ]

Change is constant. I came back into teaching after a career break 7 years ago, and have had to rewrite something in the curriculum every year since then.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:48 Carol Davenport
13:48

[Comment From Anna starkeyAnna starkey: ]

Per mikes comment, if only it WERE normal for there to be part time Sci teachers, there would be many more of them I suspect.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:48 Anna starkey
13:48

[Comment From Fiona MaciverFiona Maciver: ]

Thats not what i meant Alom - but often it is change for the sake of it. As a HOD at KS3 i think teh APP has great scope could be very exciting but seems rushed and not well thought through

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:48 Fiona Maciver
13:49

[Comment From David SangDavid Sang: ]

QCDA has presided over a system where A-level teachers complain that GCSE is a poor preparation for sixth-form studies, and University teachers complain that A-level is a poor preparation for university. Clearly, QCDA has failed to do its job and the exam boards need to be brought into line. We now have a situation where 'science' is whatever the examiners say it is; it has become disconnected from the real world of science. Solution: repopulate the exam boards with people who care about science and the next generation of scientists, rather than people who are looking for a way to push the pass rate up one percent each year.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:49 David Sang
13:49

Alom Shaha:

David, I don't want to go on about consultation. Please address some of the other issues raised by people taking part in this debate.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:49 Alom Shaha
13:50

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

Adam, its good to hear that the way it appears to us teachers is reflected in your student experience. I'm really sorry we could not stop the "professionals" from spoiling your education - we are trying to get them to hear sense, but they are hardly listening.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:50 Mike Bell
13:50

[Comment From Josh ThomasJosh Thomas: ]

I am an A-level student and my GCSE course was edexcel. We studied hardly any work onthe humanbody so when we did trasport in my first term at A-level it was almost impossible

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:50 Josh Thomas
13:50

[Comment From Laura PastorelliLaura Pastorelli: ]

I wanted to ask how Alom and especially David how they think we should be testing childrens scientific knowledge and whether exams need to be reviewed. Clearly there is a need for exams to measure progress but i think the format is all wrong, kids get taught how to respond to a particular question and learn the correct answers from memory but i don't believe this is a measure of what they truly understand. Children should have more opportunity to explore scientific concepts and idea's in exams, if we don't teach children to rationalize their argument & question particular ideas and to apply their knowledge how will they learn to deal with 'real science' in the research world.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:50 Laura Pastorelli
13:50

Alom Shaha:

David McVean: Please respond to David Sang's point.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:50 Alom Shaha
13:52

Mark Henderson:

I'd also be interested in answers to Laura's question… How best to test science?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:52 Mark Henderson
13:52

[Comment From Fiona MaciverFiona Maciver: ]

Our school had OCR for GCSE and unles they had triple science found exactly the same as josh. And even with triple the A level was hughly challenging

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:52 Fiona Maciver
13:52

David McVean:

Mark, as I mentioned in the article, some young people will go on to have careers in science, while others will have jobs requiring a science background. All need an understanding of science in their day to day lives. Science in the national curriculum has been developed for all those teachers.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:52 David McVean
13:53

Mark Henderson:

David, do you have something to say to David Sang?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:53 Mark Henderson
13:53

[Comment From Fiona MaciverFiona Maciver: ]

I think Laura is spot on but it is difficult to ensure consistent and fair assesment

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:53 Fiona Maciver
13:53

Alom Shaha:

Laura: don't get me started on the exams…some of the GCSE exams are so poor it is hard to believe that the people who wrote them have not hidden away in shame.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:53 Alom Shaha
13:53

[Comment From AliceAlice: ]

re: Adam's point Mark flagged up - Surely those who are going to be "publics" rather than scientists would benefit from learning what it is that scientists learn - it's a good way to get an idea of what scientists think/ do! (also, how many people really at the age of 14 knows which way they're going…?)

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:53 Alice
13:54

[Comment From Andrew UrwinAndrew Urwin: ]

We were getting to a reasonably good place in the early 2000s. QCA had usefully designed a detailed and coherent content based curriculum for 11-16. There was a helpful input into teaching styles that were PROVEN to work, ICT was becoming really helpful, better training for non specialist teachers was becoming available. Instead of letting us have a desperately needed period of CONSOLIDATION the endless tinkering and tide of bureaucracy continued unabated. We sacrificed the best chance so far of genuine improvement in state education because of the twin needs to justify the existence of the quangocracy and so a stream of useless ministers endlessly announce something “new” – the oldest cover for incompetence there is.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:54 Andrew Urwin
13:54

David McVean:

Alom, is it also worth mentioning that the national curriculum and qualifications, such as GCSEs have been lumped together. This debate is about the curriculum, GCSEs are only a component of the wider learning experience that learners should enjoy and feel challenged by.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:54 David McVean
13:55

Mark Henderson:

OK, five minutes to go… Any burning questions left? Alom, David, do you want to think about summing up?

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:55 Mark Henderson
13:55

Alom Shaha:

O.k., David. I take your point. But please respond to points made by others in this debate. For example, the points made by David Sang.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:55 Alom Shaha
13:56

[Comment From Adam FalkAdam Falk: ]

The problem is that to help scientists at university the syllabus would have to be a lot more mathematical and intensive, what most non-scientists would find dull and uninspiring. However, the qualitative study that would be more interesting for non-scientists is a near-useless foundation for a degree.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:56 Adam Falk
13:56

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

David: re "Science in the national curriculum has been developed for all those teachers. Do you really believe this? Have you actually been in school recently?? The needs of the 2 groups are TOTALLY DIFFERENT . Try teaching "structure and bonding" to a lower set! Watch what happens to the top set when you don't cover the science properly. One size does not fit all. You think that one set of criteria can be adapted - in reality half get it dumbed down and the other half don't see the point.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:56 Mike Bell
13:56

[Comment From Carol DavenportCarol Davenport: ]

David McVean - Whilst curriculum change has been made, it is the exam pressure of GCSEs/Alevels that drive the system. So what could have been an opportunity to free up teaching at KS3, has been taken in many places as an opportunity to start KS4 earlier.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:56 Carol Davenport
13:57

[Comment From David SangDavid Sang: ]

David McV points to the curriculum for future non-scientists. This includes the 'How Science Works' (HSW) strand. But, as far as I can see, none of the GCSE specifications had much of a clue about HSW with the honourable exception of the 21st Century package. And no-one had much of an idea of how to examine it.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:57 David Sang
13:57

[Comment From SamanthaSamantha: ]

As an A Level Student, it's clear that the GCSE curriculum has nothing to offer. It didn't give us enough knowledge or understanding, and the gap between GCSE and A Level was and still remains to be horrendous. More needs to be done to ensure that students are properly taught the basic prinicples of all three areas of science, and that they learn to develop their own understanding about the hows and whys with scientific principles curving those understandings. Moreover, students need to be forced to exceed what is expected of their knowledge. Exam Boards do not except answers of higher knowledge than required - that just tells you what's wrong!

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:57 Samantha
13:59

David McVean:

Responding to David Sang's point. i think it is important to recognise that QCDA develops, in colloboration, the national curriculum and also qualification criteria. It is Ofqual, who now have the regulatory powers over the exam boards and, while not being able to speak for them directly, would imagine they will be carefully scrutinising any materials developed by them to ensure standards are maintained and demonstrate the spirit of the GCSE criteria for science.

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:59 David McVean
13:59

[Comment From Andrew UrwinAndrew Urwin: ]

All we have heard from David McVean so far is a repeated restatement of John Waters' curriculum aims from the QCDA website. Simply restating the party line over and over is no way in which to engage with the real concerns of everyone here

Thursday March 4, 2010 13:59 Andrew Urwin
14:00

Alom Shaha:

I'd like to thank The Times for organising this debate. I'm sad it's over as I feel many of the points raised have not been addressed. This debate needs to continue. We must not pretend that science education is not in a mess. It is. Let's do something about it, even if that means admitting past failures and facing up to a daunting challenge. And let's work together to make sure that we hear from everybody who should be heard, not just self-selecting "experts". And let me be clear: I am not an "expert", just a very concerned teacher who loves my subject.

Thursday March 4, 2010 14:00 Alom Shaha
14:00

Mark Henderson:

Well, that's all we have time for today. Thank you all for your comments, and to David and Alom for leading the debate. You can, of course, read their arguments at greater length in Eureka, out with The Times today. Please feel free to continue the debate in the comments thread below.

Thank you for coming!

Thursday March 4, 2010 14:00 Mark Henderson
14:01

[Comment From Mike BellMike Bell: ]

David, please go back to QDCA with a copy of this discussion - can you see? this is what you would have discovered if you had consulted properly. The solution is not hard to find. Make a proper science course for future scientists with lots of challenge and abstract thinking and something based on concrte experinece, real-life knowledge, like health, energy saving and spotting rubbish claims in the press for the non-academoc. Sure there is a problem of the middle groups - but lets fudge there, not at the two ends.

Thursday March 4, 2010 14:01 Mike Bell
14:02

David McVean:

Absolutely agree with Mike Bell's last comment. One size, does not fit all which is why our curriculum development is to provide tools that complement individual schools decision on what and how their students should be taught and when.

Thursday March 4, 2010 14:02 David McVean
14:02

Mark Henderson:

Thanks again. See you for next month's fight club on the first Thursday.

Thursday March 4, 2010 14:02 Mark Henderson
14:02

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