Bernard Dawson is a Head of Science
I can only agree with the comments already expressed, that the one size fits all approach leads to a ridiculous compromise for the most able, and for the integrity of the subjects themselves. I am Head of Science at a top school in England, and as a chemist I have viewed with bewilderment the recent alteration of double science.
When QCA came out with their programmes of study for KS3 a lot of emphasis was put on continuity and progression. This got thrown away with the introduction of core science and additional science. After KS3, the obvious thing to do on educational grounds is to teach atomic structure properly, the periodic table properly, and bonding properly. This is the only way to give students extended practice with and confidence at, manipulating chemical formulae and following that, equations. Yet all those topics are really left for additional science in year 11 under the new scheme.
The core science programme has now compromised the chemistry so badly, that the assessment exercises have yet to involve a proper simple chemical reaction. Apart from the proposed reaction of bromine with oils, which I do not feel should be done with year 10 on commonsense safety grounds, the only chemistry assessments have been of physical properties for example viscosity of an oil, strength of concrete (I kid you not), or stability of an emulsion.
The other thing that core science has really got badly wrong is the mapping of the curriculum. It really is quite ridiculous that in a chemistry exam marks are being awarded for answers that are basically geography. There are many examples of this but perhaps the worst one is the impact of a quarry on the environment, where marks were recently being awarded for answers that referred to more jobs for local people, noise pollution, and the loss of habitats - is any of that chemistry? Now, I am all for teaching relevance and how science works and the impact of science on society. It has always felt a bit of an insult to suggest that teachers don’t do this, and that this is why not enough are choosing science, but ultimately I am a chemistry teacher and that is what I ought to be teaching. By the way, did I mention that the powers that be decided to make the KS4 changes without building them up from KS3 first? Yes you guessed it, KS3 science has had to change too.
One of the reasons for the latest reforms was to encourage more students to follow science yet this cockeyed arrangement of teaching gives anyone wanting to follow the subject to any depth a very uncomfortable feel for the integrity of the subject. My heads of biology and physics also share this concern. In biology for example cells is not really meant to be taught fully until year 11 yet many lessons in y10 need to refer to cells! You can picture for yourself the y10 student who wants to get to grips with chemical formulae, and wants to understand biology in depth but has to wait until next year when it will all begin to make sense!! What we have had to do of course is unpick the topics to make them flow in a more coherent way, but then this plays havoc with the principle of module testing in y10, not to mention a student’s notes - ‘now make a note in the margin, this bit is not in the y10 exam…..’
There is no simple answer to getting more students to follow science but one important overlooked consideration is to make grades a true common standard across all subjects. There is nothing so powerful as peer pressure, and the impact of the comment “science is hard”. It cannot be a coincidence that at my previous school when media studies was first introduced in the sixth form it went from zero to being the most popular subject - immediately. The word was out it was easy to get good grades in the subject and of course it is very difficult for any science to battle against the double whammy of such a glamorous sounding subject and grade inequalities.
The pendulum has of course swung back with a move to triple science, which our school is now adopting. Let us hope that the politicians and other meddlers leave the curriculum alone for a good few years. In September, almost every year in my school (11-18) will have a science course that is less than two years old. It needs to bed down, draw breath, and gain a measure of stability so that we can truly see where we are. However the latest curriculum review of science and the likelihood of a new government do not inspire me with confidence.