Secondary Science

KS3 Science: Let’s hear it for Primary!

In the furore of news, updates and changes over the KS3 national curriculum, GCSE developments and A level announcements, secondary teachers could well be forgiven for not having had chance to peruse the Programme of Study for Science in KS1&2.  Well, it’s out and there are several things worthy of note (www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education/series/national-curriculum).

KS3 ScienceOne of the causes for celebration here is a clear and explicit recognition that “‘Working scientifically’ …… must always be taught through and clearly related to the teaching of substantive science content in the programme of study.”  In other words it’s a clear pointer that the polarisation of the science curriculum into either covering content or investigating ideas is not what’s expected.  Learning about forces should include investigating forces.  Experiments entirely based on the development of process skills and not leading to a greater understanding of concepts, such as properties of matter or the nature of ecosystems have less impact on pupil progress than ones that do.

Another feature I think is a really positive step forward is a clear reference to, and expectation of, different types of scientific enquiry.  In other words, practical work does not have to be either shoe horned into the ‘fair test’ template or discarded as being not very scientific.  Pupils shouldn’t have their only experience of experiments as being ones that involve all the variables being controlled.  There’s a real role for surveys, observations, pattern spotting and other investigative approaches.  Scientists work in different ways according to the challenge and pupils should experience that.

The primary programme is well worth a look.  Don’t assume it’s set out the same way as the KS3 one – it isn’t.  It’s also had a lot of development work done on it.  One of the strong features is that progression is built into it.  Materials and their properties, for example, come up in Years 1, 2, 4 & 5, with a different role in each case but with a clear sense of ‘the story developing’.

The need for these features doesn’t disappear when students transfer to KS3.  Study should be progressive, enquiry should be integrated with the delivery of content (it is, after all, showing how we know what we know) and students should experience scientific methods (in the plural).  There’s probably a feeling that secondary teachers need less guidance to make this happen.  I think that the primary community has set down a marker in terms of what good looks like.  There’s a challenge there to make it happen at secondary too.

Ed Walsh

Photo credit: www.bbc.co.uk

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