Double or triple science? – questions your department should be asking

Combined science or triple science? Schools have been faced with this conundrum for years and debate over which pathway is best for which students is nothing new. The BBC published an article (with a nice interactive map) in 2015 suggesting that the curriculum offer varies according to where you live in the country including the number of science GCSEs you (can?) take.

The debate has continued with data analysed by Education Datalab of the 2016 results showing that pupil premium students are less likely to follow a triple science route (and an interesting relationship between KS2 data and rates of triple science entry). The data should not be surprising to anyone who has worked in a science department where entry decisions have been made.

Another worthwhile read is “Stratifying science: a Bourdieusian analysis of student views and experiences of school selective practices in relation to ‘Triple Science’ at KS4 in England” by Louise Archer, Julie Moote, Becky Francis, Jennifer DeWitt and Lucy Yeomans.  The paper concludes that very few students have a genuine choice over their choice of science qualification and this is largely down to the school.  The study also found that socially disadvantaged students were less likely to study triple science (this was quite pronounced).  The students involved had the perception that triple science was only for the ‘clever kids’ and not for them (which diminished the status of core science and BTEC science)

The debate over double and triple science was brought back into the headlines following the speech given at the ASE annual conference by Amanda Speilman.  Amanda said “And in most of the schools we visited, the option of taking triple or double science GCSE – and as a result, some key stage 5 courses – was almost entirely dependent on student results and overlooked pupils’ own aspirations. I get very upset about schools that only allow a pupil to study a subject if they are expected to get a grade C or certain level. It shouldn’t just be about grades; studying a subject is important in its own right.

This is such a waste of our talent. It means that too few pupils, especially the more disadvantaged ones, are sufficiently challenged and too many have their education and career options unnecessarily limited. Making sure there is a challenging science curriculum for all pupils, with clear pathways into a career, further or higher education, should be a priority for all secondary schools.”

At a meeting of heads of science last week we were discussing the entry policies of different schools.  Countywide data suggested a huge variation in entries between core/applied and triple. Of course, the choices are reduced this year with the introduction of the new science specifications. Whilst the discussion progressed I wrote down a series of questions that I could be asking of heads of science if I were representing Ofsted or a local authority.  It may be useful to consider how you would answer these if asked?

  • How much curriculum time do you give to triple science? Is it the same as other option blocks?
  • Do you use after school or lunchtime classes to fit in sufficient time for triple? If so has this affected outcomes?
  • Do you have an entry policy for triple/combined science? How do you ensure that lower attaining students are not left behind?
  • How does your tracking data inform curriculum choice and exam tier (and pathway) of entry? How do you evaluate the success of this policy?
  • Who makes the decision about curriculum choice? SLT, the science department or your learners?
  • How does the choice of triple relate to P16 destinations (or study options at P16?)
  • Do you use KS2 data to inform your processes? Do you do this for the benefit of your students or for progress 8?
  • How do you ensure that interested students aren’t barred from taking triple science?
  • How do you stream/organise the curriculum groups? Is it the same for triple and other options and if not what message does it give the other students?
  • How does the ethos of the school relate to policy for entry – is there a link?
  • Do you have students that follow less than three of the separate sciences? Is this mixed with computer science? How does this work for students?
  • How do you prepare students for the triple exams? Is this the same for double and triple routes?
  • How do you choose numbers for each route? Are you capped by subject teacher availability? Does the timetable limit the numbers for triple and force students to follow a double pathway?
  • Does availability of other subjects that share a bucket with science for progress 8 affect the choice of double vs triple?
  • How do you divide staff time by science teacher? Do you have the strongest teachers or subject specialists teaching triple science? How does this affect the results for double science?
  • If students have more than one subject teacher, how do you ensure that skills are taught across all the disciplines and given the same status by all teachers of science?

I hope you find these discussion points useful.

Should I renew my membership of the Chartered College of Teaching?

Coin Toss
Like many others that I mix with online and offline,  I am already an active member of a subject association and a member of many other education networks. I like to think that I’m fairly well informed about key issues in education.

Through the Association of Science Education I get subject-specific advice, access to regional and national CPD conferences at reduced rates, I get access to a network of science teachers, I get my Chartered Science Teacher status, I get two science-related magazines and I even get my professional insurance.  This is my benchmark of a professional organisation.

When I joined the Chartered College last year I saw it as taking a punt. I didn’t know what I was going to get but it was only £29 for me to join, so I signed up and became a founding member.

Time flies and a year later I find myself being asked to renew (although the price has crept up to £45, 65% more than I paid last time). I reflected on how much I’ve used my membership (it’s why I’m still a member of the National Trust, I visit their properties and car parks enough to justify the membership fee).

So how have I gained (or not) personally by being a member of the Chartered College?

  • I have received two (?) journals over the last twelve months
  • I’ve received a lapel badge and a notepad with the Chartered College logo on.
  • I once downloaded some of the summary materials from the University of Bristol (although this isn’t listed as a membership benefit any longer)
  • I’ve twice accessed the research database, once to write a blog post and once to research a presentation proposal.
  • I didn’t go to the annual conference – I couldn’t justify the cost plus the train ticket (more than the conference fee) to attend
  • I am already a Chartered Teacher at a fraction of the cost – I don’t see the recognition through the Science Council as being any less meaningful
  • I have only just discovered my ex-MAT is on the list of CCT founding networks…

Since I joined last time, my career path has taken a sudden and unexpected detour from the chalk face and although I’ve got more time to make use of the benefits they still haven’t been that useful. I love the Chartered College and all it stands for but in times when money is getting increasingly tighter for all in the profession, I join others in having to consider this purchase carefully before I make it.

Is your membership up for renewal? What decision have you made? How did you make your decision? Should I stay or should I go?

Image ©ICMA Photos

The rise of the identikit school is not good for learners with SEND

potatohead
It had been a long time since I visited the city where I went to university. In my memories the streets were vibrant and I remembered lots of small independent shops where everyone skipped around smiling (ok so I may have exaggerated this last one…)

I recently got the opportunity to revisit (after over fifteen years) and expected things to be just as they had been in my memories. Of course, my rose-tinted glasses now have ordinary glass in and I saw things how they are at present. It’s a sad reflection on our society that one city centre looks much like another, with most of the shops belonging to large chains and the only differences between towns and cities is how the same shops are arranged.

The same thing is happening to our schools and the government is embracing it as a positive thing. With the expansion of local multi-academy trusts (MATs) the same trustees/directors/governors may control most of the schools in a given area, and depending on the scheme of delegation, the schools could end up being extremely similar

On first appearances this may seem extremely positive with similar branding, sharing of good practice and a similar ethos. Naturally, these similarities extend to the treatment of students with special needs and schools tend to apply the same policies that have ‘worked’ elsewhere. For us, that meant a constant stream of referrals coming from schools that wanted rid of their special needs students. It got to the point where we could read the referral and guess the academy chain the student had attended previously.

With the schools in a given area being under the control of a relatively small number of MATs, and with the government’s desire to see the growth and expansion of existing MATs, there is less and less room for individuality between local schools.

Where does this leave learners with special needs who don’t fit the mould? I’m sure many of these schools would like to brand themselves as inclusive but they are unable and unwilling to cater for all but the least severe of needs.  The future of inclusion could be at risk and start to take a very different direction over the coming years and the government and local authorities seem powerless to do anything about it.

Have you seen similar in your school (mainstream or special)? Do you worry about the future of inclusion? Leave a comment below.

 

Image © Keith Hall

An open letter to the ASE – seven years later

Nearly seven years ago I wrote an open letter to the ASE which you can read here.  I complained that the ASE wasn’t listening to members and wasn’t delivering what science teachers wanted. I had many responses, some public which you can read in the comments and some private which you can’t! The resounding response was for me to become involved with the ASE and help steer it in the right direction.

So have I done since?

  • I am now the regional secretary for the East Midlands and help organise CPD events for members (and non-members) in our region. These are linked to hot-topics or changes to the curriculum which members are asking for
  • I’ve been involved more with the ASE at a national level. I’ve been a past member of their assembly (now called education group) and also a member of the publications committee. I’m currently a member of the 11-19 committee which meets three times a year and discusses topics like SEN, the new GCSEs and science teacher retention.
  • I’ve attended several annual conferences and this year I’ve presented at the ASE conference for the first time (on behalf of the 11-19 committee).  I’ve joined the organising committee for the annual conference next year which will be held at Birmingham University.
  • I’ve submitted articles for EiS, SSR and the ASE website, some of which have appeared in print.

Of course, the ASE hasn’t rested on its laurels over the last seven years:

  • The structure of the ASE has been streamlined to make it more responsive to members and secure its future
  • A new CEO took the reins and the ASE has a much higher profile, with the ASE appearing on the national news several times and communicating better with its members through social media (including launching the excellent #ASEchat)
  • The ASE has successfully promoted professional registration with more and more members signing up (I was awarded Chartered Science Teacher status in 2011)
  • The ASE has produced some excellent materials to support science teachers such as the excellent language of maths in science and the language of measurement.
  • We’ve had some excellent Presidents and Chairs of the ASE in the last seven years, with another excellent candidate waiting in the wings as Chair-Elect. These have helped to further strengthen the ASE and refocus it on its core purpose of improving the quality of science education for all
  • A new website is due to launch within the next two months

To some extent, the people who responded to my original post were right.  The more involved you become, the more you stand to get out of the ASE. However, there are still many science teachers who are not members and the challenge is to communicate the benefits of membership to those educators. With the loss of local authority influence and the rise of the multi-academy trust, it is getting harder and harder to reach individual science departments and therefore individual teachers.

This slideshow highlights some of the benefits of membership, if you aren’t a member have a look at what you are missing:

Are you a member of the ASE? What do you value about your membership? If you aren’t a member what is it that stops you signing up?

Moving away from a data intensive tracking system

I was inspired to write this post by seeing (again) this question from @teacherhead at a recent presentation

Educators who follow me on Twitter know my dislike of data collection – it’s the primary reason I left my previous job as a deputy head. The main reason these systems are introduced is linked to accountability to governors and those up above.

What we as teachers (really) want is students to achieve their potential and do their best in exams at KS4/5. What the school wants is the highest possible progress 8 score (especially now it takes only a couple of clicks to rank all the schools in an area by P8 score!) and for students to hit their targets. Hopefully, these two align but that isn’t always the case…

Unfortunately, we go about this process in a rather laborious way. We collect data at termly (or even half-termly!) intervals on current and predicted grades. We ask teachers for evidence to support this data and so teachers have to fit in extra tests, exam questions and other assessments. All these assessments need marking and grading so we take classroom time away from teaching and learning (how much of this assessment data is used formatively?) In addition, we add to the workload of teachers and so the exodus of teaching staff from the classroom continues.

Pig Scales

It’s common to hear the phrase “You don’t fatten the pig by weighing it” and anyone who works in education understands its relationship to what happens in the classroom.  So where do we go from here? How to move away from a culture that has become so intrinsic to school processes that school leaders can’t imagine a life without it? (When I started teaching, data manager was a job that hadn’t been thought of yet!)

So how do we replace data in the accountability cycle? What system do we use instead of (half)termly data drops?  One process that we used in my last school was to hold pupil progress meetings, we called ours i4 meetings (a name borrowed from another school)

  • Information gathering
  • Identify where you can make a difference
  • Intervene systematically
  • Impact measurement

You are able to run the whole process with or without assessment data. The only place a complete picture of a student will exist is in the subject teacher’s mind.  It’s called professional judgement and draws on everything that happens in the classroom, on knowledge of the individual and their circumstances, and on student performance with familiar and unfamiliar assessment material (note not necessarily test scores!)  As part of the process you can discuss who is performing below potential and what the school can or can’t do to support (interventions) When you run the next series of meetings you can determine impact. We tried this system using subject groups and using pastoral/year groups (in a small school the difference is the staff present, not the student groups)

This isn’t a perfect system and requires that there is trust in decisions made at all levels. What’s the alternative – spending teacher time testing students (weighing them) so that you can input data into a spreadsheet that has little impact?

I’d be interested to hear what schools have done that worked well and also contributed positively to the work-life balance of staff.