An open letter to the Association of Science Education (ASE)

An open letter to the ASE

I’m a member of the ASE, and I joined because I am passionate about science education.   I’m also active on the region 16 committee, again because I want to make a difference to the quality of our science education.  I’m writing to you because I’m concerned about the lack of direction shown by the ASE at the moment, and I’m sure if I have concerns about the ASE then members with less attachment to the ASE will also be having concerns (and the membership figures I’ve seen would seem to back me up!).

With the scaling back of the role of the local authorities, the ASE was handed the perfect opportunity to make itself heard as the authoritative voice of science education in the UK (and beyond).   Instead I’ve seen a couple of attempts at high profile media campaigns but very little of real day to day value to the teacher in the classroom, the very same teachers that keep the ASE afloat with their membership fees.  What teachers want is practical advice, ideas and guidance that will inform and improve their day to day practice, not the hot air and bureaucracy that the ASE has moved towards.  Given that members are the lifeblood of the ASE, scant attention has been paid to recruiting new ones and providing the service that they want.  In fact with the scaling back of the role of field officer, it’s more important than ever that the work of the ASE speaks for itself through its actions and media profile.

I am not confident in the ability of the ASE to change direction and bring in fresh blood (and fresh money).  It has come to my attention that there are several internal obstacles WITHIN the ASE, who seem resistant to positive change, and seem to think that the current stumbling around the dark is the way to go.  I’ve got news for those people – the ASE is at a turning point.  It’s make or break time and simply doing the same old thing will lead to the collapse of the ASE and their end of their cushy jobs or power trip.

What I want to see is more listening to members and what they want.  At the moment there is little incentive for science teachers to join and part with their cash.  The website offers very little distinction between members and non-members, and with the exception of a couple of periodicals that’s all you get.  Supporting resources and materials that are distributed by the ASE have been funded by industry and so must be available to all – whether you’ve paid or not.  I believe the comments in this thread on the TES website (http://fcr.me.uk/eVaNC1) sum it up perfectly!  The recent café ASE events in London are an excellent step in the right direction – but what about members across the country? It is a simple job to stream or even simply video these events and to bring this dialogue to members through the website but again there has been some internal resistance to this (hopefully due to change soon).

So where do we go from here?  My membership is due for renewal and I’ve thought long and hard about renewing.  My opinion of the ASE has dropped to the point where I do not think it is reasonable for my school to cover my membership fees as it has done so in the past.  I am going to stay a member of the ASE and pay the membership fee myself, but if there isn’t a significant change of ethos over the next year I will begrudgingly sever my links with the ASE.

Please ASE stop burying your head in the sand!  You need to change, consult your members and think about how you can best serve them and at the same time bring in new members.  The time for change is now before the ASE reaches the point where the diehard members like me can no longer keep it afloat.

 

I’d be interested in hearing from readers of my blog how their perceptions of the ASE, and what (if anything) they feel should change.

18 thoughts on “An open letter to the Association of Science Education (ASE)”

  1. Very interesting! You are echoing some of the thoughts we’ve been having in Region 9. I will share your letter with members of the Region 9 Committee. I think you should stay … because if the ASE loses people like you it really will be dead in the water!

  2. What do you need us to do to a) affect change and b) get the association moving in the right direction?

    1. Both! I’m involved at a regional level and our region is fortunate in having two members on council (at the moment) but I think the more people giving the ASE the same message, the more likely it is to listen!

  3. I am Chair of ASE
    I therefore take your comments quite personally.
    I am concerned about membership and the apparent stratification between members who do not get involved in committee, those that do, and HQ activity.
    Because of my concern I got onto Council and became chair to try and change things. It is not easy. From September the governance of the Association will be dealt with by a smaller separate Council. That will free the assembly to get on with science education. People who are not committee members will be able to get nominated and elected onto the assembly. Existing committees will be given more responsibility for communicating with and reflecting the views of membership groups. We will need people with vision and commitment to join us to make it happen. Are you up for it?

    1. Many people (including myself) look at what a society has to offer – I don’t think involvement at this level in the ASE is the answer for everyone. I personally have passed over attending Council because of the commitments I have at home – but I am confident that as a region we speak as a single voice, and that our Council member does an excellent job of representing our views – but are they listened to? I’m hoping the coming changes to the way the ASE is run and managed will make some positive changes but private comments in response to my letter would suggest not, and that we are simply rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic as the ship is sinking. Time will tell 🙂

  4. Another strand from me.
    You comment that more support is needed for schools:
    ‘What teachers want is practical advice, ideas and guidance that will inform and improve their day to day practice, not the hot air and bureaucracy that the ASE has moved towards.’
    Which teachers?(primary, KS3, GCSE, post 16)
    Do they all want the same support? (NQT, classroom teacher, AST, subject leader)
    Clearly one size does not fit all, so where is the need greatest?

    What type of support do you mean? Consultancy, resource banks, networking, cpd events, reference materials?

    I agree ASE does not have a clear focus on classroom support, but it needs to get unequivocal messages from its members about what is needed. Perhaps changes to the website will allow this dialogue to grow?

    So as a starter could I ask you to rate the following support mechanisms which the ASE currently is funding:

    new website with forums and interest groups
    Primary and secondary UPD8 + WIKID
    Journal and book archive on STEM e library
    Journals for members
    National Conference
    Regional Conferences
    Regional newsletters
    Books (eg secondary and primary science guides)
    Be Safe and other safety publications
    Schoolscience website (resources)
    Field Officers
    Region and section meetings
    Professional accreditation for members

    1. The teachers in question are the ones paying membership to the ASE. What do they get in return? I read your comments as I walked my dog along the Trent this morning and thought about some of the current issues faced by secondary schools at the moment (I don’t have any dialogue with primary schools so can’t speak for them). The science GCSE exams all change this year and schools have had to select new ones. Which one would suit me? How does the content and teaching pedagogy vary between them? What about assessment styles? Which ones are better matched to my student profile? The ASE has been silent on issues like this – but this is the kind of thing that the average secondary teacher wants to know! This is just one of the areas that teachers would like some kind of advice and guidance. We’ve raised the issue of leadership/advice/guidance as a region but we are just one voice amongst many louder ones.

      Looking at some of the ASE’s support mechanisms above –
      websites – good idea but not really used. Any issues raised are leapt on in a defensive manner rather than as an opportunity to move forward.

      UPD8/Wikid – I pay for both Primary UPD8 and Wikid (KS3) and recognise they are a good starting point (but far from perfect). I know the price has put several schools off the secondary scheme, and when I signed up there wasn’t differential pricing for members.

      Journals for members – I flick through my SSR and chuck it in the cupboard, as do many people who receive it. I find it too dry – and few long articles rather than shorter useful ones. Last time I complained it was suggested I write an article and change it, which I’m not interested in nor do I have time – and one article wouldn’t change the tone of it anyway. I’ve only ever come across one person (a fellow AST) who thought it was useful. I’d be interested to see a poll on the ASE site about what members want from their publications.

      Regional conferences/CPD are the (only) reason I’m remaining a member – ours are excellent, as is our field officer who does much behind the scenes.
      Books – being in a niche (special Ed) I can’t say many have caught my attention, but the discounts are small compared to the cost of membership (we can’t compete with Amazon!).

      Professional accreditation – I actually sat down and filled in most of the application to CSiTeach after being persuaded by our FO, but in the end I didn’t follow through because I wasn’t convinced of the value to employers (especially as my next career move would likely be into school management), and the CPD requirement concerned me too.

      For the average teacher, there needs to be clear benefits from being a member over not being a member. We aren’t providing enough incentive for people to sign up and stay members, otherwise the membership wouldn’t be falling.

  5. And finally, I want your views on whether we have the balance right between ‘national initiatives’ and local support.

    In the last twelve months ASE has been involved in many projects at national level. These include responding to National Curriculum review, responding to requests from Select Committees, Royal Society etc for evidence, responding to changes in GCSE science criteria, lobbying for better use of outdoors in science education, assessing the quality of GCSE HSW assessment, responding to Ofsted subject criteria documents, running a DfE project on improving school practical work, supporting Researchers in Residence, working with other subject associations. Each of these takes a lot of resourcing.

    We need to decide on the balance between direct local support of teachers and our opportunity to influence the environment in which teachers operate. What are your views on getting the balance right?

    1. The future of the ASE depends on membership (unless you can find enough sponsorship to make the books balance). I do think the ASE should be out there lobbying for better quality science teaching, but that’s only one role and we need to be communicating with members more. I don’t know if I’m a typical member, the only other ASE members I know are the ones that I see at committee meetings (Which again speaks volumes for the state of the ASE, given that I visit secondary departments all over my local authority). Aside from Council and regional committees we should be asking members what they want from the ASE – clearly we aren’t delivering what many of them want (our membership figures prove this).

      I do appreciate you making the time and effort to respond publicly on my blog. I’ve been surprised by the number of people coming to read my open letter (currently in triple digits) and the number of responses (including those on Twitter and by private email), both of which make me think that the ASE still has a future, but only if we listen to what members want.

      1. “…listen to what members”.
        OK, I’m listening – or reading. So far, I’ve heard/seen one suggestion: ASE should have done an analysis of the new GCSEs, comparing assessment modes, etc. Good idea – we should have done. Probably, the 11-19 could have taken it on. Members could have slogged away, evenings and weekends, and done the analysis for the benefit of ASE members. But it does depend on people (ASE members – teachers, technicians, advisers) being willing to come up with ideas and put the work in, free, for the benefit of others.

        Now can we have some more suggestions about what ASE should be doing?

        “Communicate better”. OK – about what?

      2. I was also referring to internal communication between the various committees and bodies within the ASE. For example we are moving to paperless newsletters – and at the time this was announced I believe the publications committee were in the dark and didn’t know. There is also the issue of communication between ASE/members. I can’t say what everyone wants from the ASE – but I can say that they clearly aren’t getting it because the membership figures say so.

        What do YOU want from the ASE? Do you feel your needs are met? Do you feel the ASE is meeting the needs of members? What should they be doing to attract more members to sign up?

    2. Just to come in on Peter’s point.
      There has been an analysis on new GCSEs and the implications for teaching from September.
      We (myself and spouse) have run a well attended evening session on this in W Yorks section in last couple of weeks. Not everything can or should be done by HQ. It is for local groups to respond to local needs as well. If I had time I would write up key points from the GCSE session for wider dissemination if I knew there was an audience. Communication needs to be two way. How do we get cross fertilisation of ideas at local level?
      Good to get a clear suggestion about lesson ideas in EiS – we can now work on this for the future.

  6. Rob wrote:
    “What should they be doing to attract more members to sign up?”

    Have you seen Nick Swift’s reply on the ASE Forum? I want to move forward but surely that has be in partnership between members, their region committees, the elected Council Representatives, the committees such as 11-19. Primary etc. and, of course, those that ASE employs. Have you made your views known to ‘them’? I’m not sure who you mean by ‘them’.

    I have put suggestions on the ASE Forum as I believe that is the best place for that discussion. I have found it difficult to come up with any one strategy that works in recruiting and retaining members. I have found a multi-stranded approach works over several years with changes in focus on the different categories of membership, one year primary, the next teacher trainees etc based on membership data. This has had a positive impact. It’s not the complete answer or anywhere near because if it was I would not need to be contributing here nor would you be so concerned.

    1. I’ve just re-read Nick’s post and it reinforces what we’ve been saying at regional level for a while. The ASE isn’t very good at blowing its own trumpet – and showing (in no uncertain terms) what you can get from the ASE is definitely needed. Having said that members need to feel they are getting value for money. I’m a member of the National Trust – and I pay the membership regardless of whether or not I visit their properties, but I can see value for money in what I receive from them. One of the problems the ASE faces is that it isn’t providing what members want (or not telling them it does provide them with what they want!) and that is why members aren’t signing up. Changing this isn’t necessarily a hard or expensive job!

      1. It is interesting that you refer to the National Trust, I was a member and left because as a family we were not getting value for money. Throughout my career ASE has provided me with value for money but I can see that others may not think the same. So what is it about the National Trust that gives you value for money and can it be applied to ASE? I am really interested in the changes that you would like to see Rob. What I need to know is the changes you wish Rob. I have made my views clear on earlier postings on the ASE Forum under ‘Why are you an ASE member?’ and I know you have contributed there. I agree changing is not necessarily a hard or expensive job but it has to be initiated, lead, managed and monitored. Now is the time for you to become specific Rob. I’m listening. We must build on the positive. I’m not resistant to change; I want a successful ASE supporting the teaching of science just as I believe you do.

      2. Perhaps the National Trust thing is that its a charity, and they engage with members by writing to me and letting me know where my money is going, and there are very physical things to see for the money rather than endless meetings and committees that don’t seem to achieve anything.

        The most challenging part of changing is giving members something to pay for – there has to be a clear benefit for paying. The TES site has stolen a lead on us and is the place people go to discuss science teaching and share resources. That could have been the ASE. I think its clear to say that the publications in their present form don’t work – I’d like to see more the magazine filled with examples of lesson resources, perhaps an example from UPD8 and a commentary of how the lesson went. What about SEN in science. I get 400 hits a day on my site, many from people looking for SEN materials/advice. What does the ASE have to say about SEN in science? I’ve mentioned the GCSE changes and the silence of the ASE on these. I’m now the front line of science support for my LA – I should be turning to the ASE for guidance but all I see are media campaigns on field work and CSiTeach.

        The website gives us the opportunity to provide multimedia clips and resources for videos. I’m not talking about buying in expensive film crews but instead using recordings made from ASE events and by members (with free teasers to lure people in). The discussion forums are well hidden on the website – many members find them by accident. How about celebrating them and making them more prominent. We provide excellent CPD events – although getting the word out could be hard now we have lost many local authority contacts who did this for us. Again there needs to be a strong pricing incentive for people to come as members – I have been to nearly everything my region has organised in the last year (primary and secondary) and haven’t hit a bad session yet.

        I think the publications could be a large part of the solution but £80 for a few magazines means they have to be good and what people want. I’m afraid school science review is dry and unpalatable. For many people they are an expensive irrelevance – I want to improve my teaching but I’d prefer to read something a bit more light hearted and down to earth, not a journal. I’m actually tempted to change my membership category (either suits me as I teach in a special school) so that I don’t get SSR any more (and of course primary membership is £18 cheaper!).

        I don’t have all the answers. What frustrates me is the fact I’ve mentioned nothing on this web page that we haven’t suggested repeatedly as a region. You’d think with two members on council we might be making more progress at moving the ASE forwards 🙁

  7. On my way out now, so this will be quick. (Probably too quick!)
    Have read all the comments that have been made, and Rob is right, many of them have been discussed at regional meetings. On the journal front, SSR is a bit ‘heavy’ – the format of PSR is more friendly and it is easier to pick out things that might inform your practice.
    I think a key thing for the ASE is how we attract new science teachers … and then keep them. I’m not convinced we ‘sell’ ourselves to NQTs as well as we could … and I think we could look at how we might attract primary NQTs who otherwise get lost in all the other curriculum areas.
    I had some conversations with 3 or 4 Heads of Science before the end of term, and they felt that the ASE weren’t vocal enough in promoting discussion at a national level about either curriculum change or changes in assessment … this again may well be about the ASE communicating more effectively … but these are some of the people who are not renewing their membership!
    Sorry for the rather rushed comments – but, as I say, I’m on my way!

  8. I am chair elect of the ASE.I am reading the above with great interest. I believe that as members of ASE we are all passionate about science education and it is really important for the future of the association that members have a voice and an opportunity to discuss and work together on current issues such as the new GCSEs.The assembly will I hope fulfill this along with the forums currently on the ASE website. We really need to hear from the membership if we are to be empowered to do our role and to support and challenge HQ in thiers.

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