We’ve discussed the Good Science report several times at various committee meetings of the ASE. If you haven’t heard of it you must have been living in a remote cave or out of the country! A copy was sent to every school (I received one as the DHT) but quite often these haven’t been passed on. If you haven’t seen a copy before then you can download the report, summary and appendices from the Gatsby website. It is worth a read.
The authors of the report looked at practical science across the world and set out ten benchmarks for schools to use when planning how to do practical school. A school that achieves all ten should be delivering a world-class science education.
The reasons for doing practical science are
- Scientific enquiry
- Improve understanding through practising experience
- Teach specialist practical skills
- Motivate and engage
- Develop higher level skills like teamwork & communication
The ten benchmarks for good practical science are:
- Planned practical science
- Purposeful practical science
- Expert teachers
- Frequent and varied practical science
- Laboratory facilities and equipment
- Technical support
- Real experiments, virtual enhancements
- Investigative projects
- A balanced approach to risk
- Assessment fit for purpose
I was fortunate to be able to attend an excellent CPD seminar this week organised by the RSC, Nottingham EIB and the Gatsby Foundation. The event was structured to help participants benchmark practical science provision in their own schools and start to develop an improvement plan.
The scene was set by Professor Sir John Holman who was one of the authors of the report.
We learned during the keynote that teachers around the world value practical work in science. They told the report
- Teachers don’t interpret the purposes of practical science in exactly the same way as official documents.
- Practical work creates a shared experience – or a level playing field (regardless of science capital)
- Practical work is good for learning languages, through concrete experience
- Practical work helps to understand the links to real life
- A computer can’t reproduce the unpredictability of a live experiment that you get from practical work
- Practical work can foster a respect for living things
So if you are part of a busy science department where do you start? With GCSE and A-level results out soon that need unpicking and analysing, schemes of work that need updating and timetables that need final tweaks there isn’t much time to look at ten benchmarks in detail. Schools are advised to focus on benchmarks 1,3 & 6 as these are enablers to the other benchmarks. These are
(1) Planned practical science
(3) Expert teachers
which will help meet the target of 50% of science lessons containing a practical activity. Quite often 3 & 6 are out of the hands of the science department and are issues for government and the DfE.
Questions asked during the afternoon of the expert panel
The expert panel consisted of Professor Sir John Holman (Report author, RSC) John Dexter (Nottingham EIB, RSC) Marianne Cutler (ASE) Miranda Pye (Pye Tait Consultancy) and Dave Mangan (Nottinghamshire SLP)
- A model policy must be usable, short and not long, waffly and full of gobbledegook.
- We need time for CPD and to share information and good practice between departments
- Needs to go back to ITT, one school reported they are worried about SCITT students and exposure to practical work
- One school said they would share a practical session to department meetings as well as sharing good practice
- Technicians – increased funding won’t be ring-fenced so unlikely to reach science departments. How do you convince SLT (who often don’t understand what they do) of their worth?
- Would be useful to have specific examples of best practice in practical work
- Are departments becoming more compartmentalized as more subject-based teaching happens at KS4? Is this getting worse with the shortening of KS3?
Anecdotal reports are coming through of Ofsted inspectors asking about the report, however, this is likely to depend on the background, awareness and subject specialisms of the individual Ofsted inspection team. I would strongly recommend that heads of science are familiar with the content of the report and have started to consider its implications for their own departments.