Mike Bell is a Science teacher in St Ives, Cambs
Looking back over the decline of science education over 20 years, I think we have to conclude that the only solution is for practicing science teachers to form a new organisation and put forward well argued, evidence-based proposals directly. For some reason the professionals who should have represented us - IoP, RSC, ASE unions etc, - have all sat on their hands and allowed the current situation to develop.
The manifesto below is a distillation of ideas from various discussions and blogs. I do not put it forward as a “done deal”, but more as a discussion point. If such an organisation is created we could use our developed “manifesto” as the basis for creating the sort of science course we want.
Manifesto for the renewal of Science Education in the UK.
Problems with current science education
- Able pupils are not sufficiently prepared for A-level and careers which use science because GCSE courses are insufficiently stretching.
- The curriculum is not sufficiently attractive to pupils.
- Pupils following Foundation courses are receiving an education of little value.
- The constant change created by government “reforms” is undermining the quality of science teaching and learning.
- The established view of “what is science in school” is out of date. The decline in interest in science is linked to a view of science which will always be a minority view.
- The curricula taught in school are drawn up by “awarding bodies”. The quality of the schemes is low due to the lack of teaching expertise by the authors.
- Teachers are sometimes lured, by clever marketing, to purchase or use resources which appear “modern” but have no proven track record.
A science of science education
As science teachers we believe it is now possible to apply the scientific method to the process of science teaching.
The material made available to teachers shall be based on established evidence of successful teaching methods.
Science knowledge is hierarchical: some concepts (atoms and molecules) need to be taught and understood before others (compounds and reactions). Before starting to learn science concepts, pupils must become familiar with the materials, names and equipment they will use. There is a natural, logical teaching order which is not being followed in current curricula.
Science is difficult
Science is a difficult subject demanding good abstract thinking skills. Most pupils do not develop these skills by 16yrs old.
The difference between “Science for scientists” and “Science for citizens” should be clearer. There is little value in teaching abstract science watered down. The citizens’ course should focus on concrete knowledge which will directly benefit all citizens: health, energy saving, the natural world etc.
The curriculum in science should be closely related to the skills and knowledge which will really be needed in the world of work which science graduates will actually occupy. The curriculum is stuck in the past “pure science” focus. The science concepts should, as far as possible, be taught with reference to familiar objects and events: iPods, weather, cars, computers, fridges rather than in isolation.
That the course be developed as a shared resource, using web-based, tested resources based on sound, proven practice.
The current decline in standards results, in part from the fact that, unlike in medicine, science policy is mostly made by non-practitioners. Those making policy and advising government are out of touch with the realities of the classroom and industry. This manifesto will be drawn up by practicing science teachers in consultation with “end users” of science education.
Renewal of science: proposals.
- That a group be established to take these ideas forward.
- That this manifesto be developed and amended to create a shared, consensus among a group of practicing science teachers.
- That funding me sought to enable practicing teachers to take part in the process.
- That support for the manifesto be sought among practicing teachers.
- That the outline of a science course, based on these principles, be developed and shared.
- That, when an agreed vision and clear proposals are available, the ideas be communicated by all routes: education and general press, Teachers and documentary TV, directly to teachers, to government and shadow ministers and the select committees etc.