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A conference on 11 October 2003, jointly organized by BRLSI, the Royal Society of Arts (Wales and Western Region) and Clifton Scientific Trust.
Roy Pryke, FRSA, Director of the Virtual Staff College, University of Exeter, introduced the conference theme. Given the pace of change today, the lives of the next generation are now uniquely unpredictable. The curriculum adopted in the 1990s was based essentially upon that of the 1950s, but globalization, the ICT revolution and ‘the poverty gap’ across the world require us now to think globally as well as locally. How should formal education now be shaped to address preparation for the next century?
Professor John Holman, Director of the Science Curriculum Centre, University of York
discussed a new approach to science education. He began by affirming that Britain already was a ‘premier scientific nation’ and a leader in science education. Although Britain has but 1% of world population, it produces 4% of its scientists and 8% of its leading science publications.
An OECD study of the scientific literacy of 15-year-olds placed England as 4th in a list of developed countries. The idea of compulsory scientific education is relatively new globally, while in Britain its inclusion in a national curriculum ranging from primary schooling to 16-year-olds after 1989 has provided an educational opportunity, although it does not yet have the entrenched history of subjects such as maths and English. He reviewed the widespread adoption of ‘double award ’ GCSE science and commented that while all students took the same course, that was not necessarily the best provision for all students. While the current provision provided a reasonable preparation for study at A level, teachers should provide basic scientific literacy for others who would become ‘citizen voters’. Statistics showing comparisons between 1990 and 2002 showed that numbers seeking specialist science education are declining, whereas subjects such as Psychology are being sought. A science course for the 21st century is now being developed. Professor Holman gave illustrations of the need for change. Analysis of newspaper reports show that evidence is selectively offered by those who wish to make a case for or against a science-based issue. Correlations and causes are mishandled and early ‘leaks’ by some scientists are seized upon without adequate peer-review. The public is thus continuously misinformed and unjustifiable views are taken. Studies have shown that existing courses are charged with ‘irrelevancy’ and ‘boredom’ by those who take them and that the specialist students complain of levelling-down for the generalists.
The York Centre produced a model for a new course, the OCR exam board produced a syllabus and bodies such as the Nuffield and Wellcome Trusts have provided funds for books and other resources. From September 2003, 8000 students in 80 schools providing for Key Stage 4 (14-16) will be piloting the introduction of the new course. Many such reforms have come and gone in the past, but the National Curriculum itself was not piloted. A ‘core science course’ (for citizenship only) is provided for all students. Students then choose either an ‘additional general course (pre- ‘A’ level) or an ‘applied’ (vocational) course. Although problems arise from early choice (missing out the alternatives) it is hoped that eventually a ‘14-19’ basis will be adopted by government. At least one G.C.S.E. science course is an assured minimum, representing 10% of study.
Although a ‘body of knowledge’ encompassed by the sciences is generally agreed ‘the way scientists do science’ is not generally understood. The new course thus tries to encompass both. It covers some ‘big ideas’ which are complete in themselves, such as chemical reaction, the gene model of inheritance, the heliocentric model of the solar system, etc – 16 in all. Additionally, ‘how science works’ is also studied, through ‘data and its limitations, correlation and cause, theories and testability, the scientific community, risk (and its impact on public policy), how society makes its decisions in the light of scientific evidence’. Nine modules incorporate the two approaches.
The modules will change over time, as specific issues come and go, but the current
ones comprise the following – ‘Air quality, you and your genes, Earth and the universe, food matters, radiation and life, material choices, keeping healthy, radioactive materials, life on Earth’. (The ‘air quality’ module was then discussed.) Although time pressures make selection of items inevitable, he affirmed that ‘red herrings’ should judiciously be followed, provided that a suitable ‘balance’ is preserved.
Challenged on opting for reform within the existing curriculum rather than going for an ‘alternative curriculum’, he maintained that he is adapting to the ‘real’ rather than a ‘fantasy’ world, although he conceded that ‘a tiny percentage of schools’ were likely to attempt to introduce an alternative curriculum. Nevertheless he declared that he wanted ‘to make a difference in all schools’. Since today, ‘if things are not assessed in schools they don’t get taught’, the piloting schools favour teacher-assessment of coursework, when students study an issue –e.g. through analysis of newspaper reports- representing 30% of assessments. After the period of pilot courses, review and revision will precede their national adoption from 2006. (Anyone wishing to study details of the schemes should access
The next speaker was Dr Eric Albone, FRSA, Director of the Clifton Scientific Trust, who agreed with Professor Holman that assessment is a condition for acceptance of innovations, but he thought some change is widely favoured. His Trust seeks that. In considering what kind of science education is needed, he put forward several basic ideas:
1.Since everything has ‘a science flavour’, including ‘life in general’, that education must be all-pervasive – relevant ‘across the board’. 2. A House of Commons Report (2002) declared that ‘a negative image of science arises from school experiences’. Only information is offered often, when debate is needed. Thus, science is seen as both dull and difficult.
3. A House of Lords Report (2002) entitled ‘Science and Society’ also emphasized ‘public mistrust, confusion and ambivalence’ about science. People want to know what ‘values’ lie behind the provided information.
4.The Roberts Report (April 2002) registered an increase in ‘A’ level science students, but also decline in numbers of students (particularly women) in higher education in maths, engineering and physical sciences, and it recommended concentration on ‘relevance’. Motivation is a central issue.
His Trust promotes links between schools and science professionals, through ‘teacher-scientist partnerships’. Although sought at all levels in all schools, working relationships are sought ‘without templates’. Opportunities for creative relationships are sought, in order to assure relevance. (As an aside he referred to Professor Slovoda’s BRLSI lecture , in which he had stressed that ‘peak experiences’ motivate music students much more strongly than formal courses.)
In order to make science ‘real’, students must undertake such studies themselves, to some extent. The Trust had arranged for 60 primary school pupils, from a range of schools, to undertake such studies over one day away from their schools. They presented work undertaken earlier to each other, then did ‘hands-on’ study with volunteer scientists, then (often on-site) interviewed scientists on their work and life. Both pupils and teachers were very enthusiastic – and there is evidence of relatively long-term effects.
Schools and teachers are usually very busy and such schemes have low priority, but they can be arranged upon occasion. An Ofsted report on primary schools (2002) emphasized that first-hand experience makes for success in education. In order to encourage teacher development the government is setting up Science Learning Centres and the Trust is now arranging four half-days of teacher-scientist encounters over two terms as pilot studies, with 20 Bristol primary school teachers working with 3 scientists, under the moderation of Manchester University. A local survey confirms that teachers feel ‘imprisoned’ by the current curriculum and do want such links.
From 1994, the Trust has brought Japanese teachers to Bristol for ‘workshops’ with British teachers. In 2001, 30 British and 30 Japanese students were brought to work in teams on ‘real life’ science projects, with specialist scientists, their work culminating in public presentations. Two-thirds of the many applicants in both countries were women. The projects ranged from archeology (unfamiliar to most), medical ethics, space science, volcanology, chemistry, etc. to how to use theatre in science communication exercises. Despite language and cultural difficulties, all were active and enthusiastic. The Japanese, used to didactic teaching, admired the British for asking questions and having opinions; the British admired the dedication of the Japanese. The Japanese authorities want to change from their ‘top-down’ approach and have introduced science partnerships and ‘superscience’, but are meeting teacher resistance. The Japanese Embassy was very impressed with the Bristol exercise and many reports followed. Dr Albone concluded that although science is ‘immensely creative’ in itself, few see it that way. Teaching also should be similarly creative, but prescriptive structures destroy creativity. The Trust is now developing scientist partnerships with Acton, Ealing and Sussex schools, with the aim eventually of further links with more Japanese schools.
John Abbott, President of the 21st Century Learning Initiative
, introduced the theme for the afternoon session. Reflecting on his experience as a Head of a large comprehensive school, he thought that William Smith, the self-taught ‘Father of English Geology’ (whose life and work have been examined in depth at BRLSI), would serve as an excellent role model for the ‘relatively large number of teenagers’ who expressed boredom at school and had made him ‘really depressed’. He thought that to discover more people with such passion ‘teachers have to talk less and pupils have to think more’. Considering the evolving relationship between teacher and student, he declared that ‘ it is wrong for a superior body to retain the right to make decisions that an inferior is already able to make for themselves’. Those observations led him directly to welcome the contribution to the conference to be made by the next speaker, whom he introduced.
Dr Patrick Hazlewood, FRSA, Head of St.John’s School, Marlborough,
began by noting that while managing a comprehensive school of 1500 students was complex and difficult, he yet managed to teach one-third of the timetable, since he believed that expectations of both staff and students must always be set high through example. He sketched the stages by which he had become involved with the ‘Opening Minds’ project, from the paper in 1997 by Valerie Bayliss for the R.S.A. which discussed the changing world of work, then the reference to the need for education to reflect that in 1999, through to the country-wide debates arranged by the R.S.A. over 1999 and 2000, which culminated in the proposition by Valerie Bayliss of the five ‘competences’ which young people would need to be effective learners in the 21st century and to be effective at work. For him, education is for the individual – it is what they ‘deserve’ as human beings.
He briefly discussed those ‘competences’. 1. Relate to people – now across the whole world. 2. Manage information. 3. Manage situations. 4. Citizenship. 5. Learn to learn – for him the most basic competence – and requiring ‘confidence and competence with that process’. Dr Hazlewood declared that up to now our education system has not provided ‘value for money’ since its products have not been enabled to learn effectively. Although ‘stuffed with knowledge’, they have produced only ‘occasional glimpses of understanding’. He has worked with John Holman and teaches science himself, but he has not encountered either a ‘philosophy of science’ nor one of education itself in the practice. Moreover, the 14-16 GCSE curriculum does not relate to the under-14s or the over-16s. ‘The everyday truth’ he stressed ‘ is that you must do as you are told and must believe what you are told, without question’. Also, as reported to Dr Albone, teachers consider themselves to be ‘imprisoned by the curriculum’.
While an OFSTED report declared his school to be ‘successful’, Dr Hazlewood considered it to be complacent and unchallenged. Between 1996 and 2000 he aimed at creating teams of inspirational teachers, partly through removing some and partly through recruiting others. Candidates were asked what motivated them and whether they could motivate others. He states his basic axiom as – ‘If you love your teacher you will learn really well and if you love the child you will want to make sure that
happens’. ‘If you pursue that’ he told candidates ‘whatever you do I will support’. He abandoned the established top-down management structure in his split-site school (and the hierarchy of teacher allocations by student worthiness) and required all staff to teach the range from 11 to 18, in order to understand the learning spectrum. Thus, ‘all managers teach a lot’ – his deputy has half a timetable, and there are only two assistant ‘heads’, the rest being trusted to do their best and all to learn through their mistakes.
By 2001, the school was prepared to undertake piloting the ‘Opening Minds’ project. Of the 12 schools which offered to run a ‘competence’ programme, 8 actually were able to undertake pilot – an Essex school with lower groups in Year Ten; a Birmingham school with science / maths / technology; Eltham Green with half a curriculum, etc. At St.John’s , when Dr Hazlewood asked staff to declare what was valuable in the Key Stage Three (11 / 13) curriculum nothing was offered, so he suggested its abandonment and the staff agreed. From the normal intake one-third were given an ‘integrated curriculum’, while the rest took the national curriculum.
Normally an 11-year-old child would move 25 times weekly, every hour, and would see between 12 and 14 teachers a week, throughout the year. Various items (such as graphs) would be taught by various subject teachers in succession and very few teachers would know what other teachers were teaching. The Head asked for 20 staff volunteers to write a new curriculum and 43 volunteered. The new curriculum was then prepared between June and September, when it was introduced. Modules of studies would be written by 6 teachers in a team, operating in timetabled blocks of time and each module would ‘tell a story’ over 30 periods, through 5 weeks. Evaluation of practice and results would be undertaken by an RSA team and staff researchers for Master’s degrees at Bath and Southampton Universities.
It soon became clear that teachers were inspired and excited by what came to be called the ‘alternative curriculum’. Children were to be found working through breaks and lunchtimes, since they were expected to take responsibility for their own learning and were keen to do that. Expectations were emphasized and they had largely to work things out for themselves through pupil team consultations. Dr Hazlewood analysed an example of a module on ‘Making the News’, which required pupils to consider how communications developed from the remote past to the present, often causing pupils to seek new information because they needed it and sometimes stretching studies well beyond the current year boundaries.
The speaker asserted that what was created were ‘learners who love learning’. There were problems, of course. One was how to assure continuity within the lengthy module periods, e.g. when supply teachers had to be used. Another was assessment of results. By Christmas of the introductory year 90 pupils in the pilot group and 160 in the normal (control) group were given standard maths and English tests. In maths over 75% of the pilot group performed between one and two levels better than others, probably because they had to work out their experienced problems. In English, the pilots scored between 10% and 12% better than others, probably because of their richer use of language when discussing module studies. In science, tests showed between 15% and 20% margins between control and pilot groups. Clearly, both attendance and behaviour of pilot pupils had improved markedly, probably because they knew that pupil teams needed dedication.
Governors and parents were very supportive. Indeed, parents of non-pilot pupils wanted their children to take the new curriculum. In response to a question Dr Hazlewood remarked that various people involved with government policy had shown interest recently. The alternative curriculum is now being introduced progressively through the age years and some compartmentalization is being introduced as the need for some particular depth of study in later years becomes apparent, but the basic principles of operation remain. GCSEs will be taken in Year Ten, which will allow a year without exams or a longer period for an approach to A level courses, thus vitally relieving pressures. Implications for both management of schools and for teacher education are considerable, but the concluding remarks of the speaker were that, hopefully, such approaches to learning would be to promote a lifelong love of learning and, ultimately, a better world, in which people would understand one another, would be tolerant and would be prepared to work with others creatively.
Four ‘workshop’ groups were set up to consider the themes of the day and report back in a plenary session as conclusion of the conference. Group One reported a general reaction against ‘compartmentalisation’ in education and supported the ‘Marlborough’ approach. Risks should be taken and innovations sought – people should be ‘learning in social contexts’ and there is a need to replace ‘fear of failure’ with the ‘excitement of discovery’ – thus the skills and status of teachers are very important. Many, however, wondered how the present undesirable ‘ mess’ had come about, with the imposition of the national curriculum and the failure of the university system to cater for differing talents and needs, since it served as a model for the rest of the educational system. Other problems arising from the media and peer-group pressures on the young were also mentioned.
Group Two emphasized its belief that every child wants to learn, but the emotional climate of the classroom is important – there should be a lack of fear and both contentment and trust are vital for learning. Considering problems of assessment of attainments, the group considered that pairing of weaker with stronger learners and peer-group assessments should supplement teacher assessment reports in Marlborough–style learning.
Group Three wanted more funding for the professional development of teachers and one member suggested that 10% of a school budget should initially be set aside for staff development purposes, before anything else is considered. Emphasis is needed on the importance of the early years of education and upon ‘learning’ rather than ‘knowledge’.
Group Four agreed that the early years, pre- secondary education, are very important and that education should not be driven ‘top-down’ by university requirements. We should ‘educate for life’ and while teachers must assure quality, they should be free to be creative within a framework of responsibility to help develop ‘competences’ (as seen also with reference to Howard Gardner’s ‘multiple intelligences’.).
It was announced during the final session that a CD Rom on the ‘Marlborough’ approach will be made available through the RSAs website.