The heads up on climate change

No prizes for spotting that Tim Oates is a name to watch at the moment. Group Director of Assessment Research& Development at Cambridge Assessment, he is also author of Could do better: using international comparisons to refine the National Curriculum in England and is Chair of the expert review panel on the National Curriculum. His views are likely to have a significant influence upon the future direction of the National Curriculum and, therefore, what we teach in science in the next few years. The review is scheduled to take effect from September 2013 and to be available in ‘signed off’ form twelve months prior to that. This is not far away.

Tim was interviewed recently by Jessica Shepherd and the resulting article ran in The Guardian on June 12th. In it he was reported as saying that the National Curriculum shouldn’t require pupils to study climate change.

To be fair, he doesn’t have a problem with pupils studying climate change; the problem he has is with it being required by the National Curriculum. His view, as I understand it, is that the programme of study should clarify the underpinning concepts in, in this case, science and that schools should select the issues and contexts to deliver those concepts.

This is really altering the balance of what is in the National Curriculum and what is in a school’s curriculum. Tim Oates’ view is that the former should be a slim document that doesn’t attempt to define all, or even most of what a school does. Setting aside for a moment the question as to whether not covering climate change should even be an option, this perspective will increase the need for schools to get good at developing, as well as delivering, a curriculum. The challenge will shift from getting one’s head around the multiplicity of centrally generated required and recommended aspects of the curriculum to one of developing a series of effective learning experiences for pupils, based on some clear requirements for the fundamental ideas.

At a recent presentation, he recounted how he’d been accused of “trying to take the interesting bits out of science and leaving in the boring bits”. His response was that it wasn’t the job of the National Curriculum to find ways of engaging pupils. It wasn’t that pupils shouldn’t be engaged but rather that it was the function of teachers to find ways of doing it.

I think the next year or two are going to be interesting. I think that the schools that thrive will be those who have the capacity to exploit this freedom and develop, or participate in the development of, exciting and engaging schemes of learning. Difficult to do that by yourself; like many things in life more fun is to be had if done with others. Mr Oates waxes lyrical about curriculum projects such as those developed by Salters and Nuffield. Ladies and gentlemen, take your partners please. Decide who you’re going to tango with.

Ed Walsh, Science Advisor with Cornwall Learning.

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Improving student writing for Extended Response Questions in AQA GCSE Sciences

The last twelve months or so have affected many people in many different ways.  Apart from the appalling death toll and the long-term effects on the health of many others, the control measures put in place have changed the way that schooling has worked for entire cohorts.  The Extended Response Question resource I edited for Collins turned out to be a lockdown publication in more ways than one.  Though conceived prior to the pandemic, much of the writing was done during the first lockdown.  Although designed for use in a conventional classroom setting, it has much relevance for the situation we now find ourselves in. This article outlines why good literacy is a key skill in science, and how you can help develop your students' extended writing to successfully tackle extended response questions in AQA GCSE Sciences. Why is literacy important in science? 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One of the hallmarks of the last year has been the high profile given to scientists, some of whom have become regular guests on news programmes and many of whom have acquitted themselves well not only in terms of the grasp of their specialism but also their ability to explain complex ideas.  This is not new of course; I would argue that it is part and parcel of being a scientist to be able to construct a longer response.  Being able to describe a procedure, compare two different approaches, or evaluate an idea is in the job description. Furthermore, many teachers have come to realise that getting students to write longer responses has a value that goes beyond simply demonstrating a competence in dealing with that type of question.  It shows whether they have understood ideas in more detail, can use key terminology in context and draw ideas together from different parts of the course. How can I improve my students’ extended responses? 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