The importance of the curriculum – thank you Amanda Spielman

Last week the new Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman spoke at the ASCL conference.  She was setting out her stall as one of the most influential leaders in the world of education, and she told the conference of school leaders “Vitally important though a school’s examination results are, we must not allow curricula to be driven just by SATs, GCSEs and A levels. It is the substance of education that ultimately creates and changes life chances, not grade stickers from exams.

She also told her audience “I am determined to make sure that the curriculum receives the proper focus it deserves.

It’s hard to point the finger of blame at school leaders who, anxious to avoid being labelled coasting schools, have done everything they can to boost their progress 8 scores and EBacc results.  Fortunately, the governors at my school had the foresight to put the needs of the individual first when we built our curriculum so we aren’t pushing students through inappropriate exams to boost our school results.

Last week  I attended some CPD with the Institute of Physics discussing how to encourage more girls to follow a STEM career.  Whilst the advice they were giving wasn’t anything that you won’t have heard before it does make you appreciate the effect that teachers and the curriculum have on the long-term life chances of our students, regardless of phase or socioeconomic background.   Much of the language we use in class and the way we run our lessons could potentially have long-term implications for our learners (Stonewall give similar messages about gender neutrality which can influence attitudes from a very early age)

A fortnight ago I was part of a discussion with the 11-19 committee at the ASE talking about combined science vs triple science.  The options path decided at the end of KS3 (year 8 now in many schools) can determine, for better or worse, the life chances of students who may either choose or be guided towards an option that isn’t appropriate for them.  This decision could be made on experience in previous lessons (bringing us back to the message from the IoP) or could this choice could be restricted based on a flawed assessment system at KS3.    Those of you interested in the combined vs triple debate will be interested to read this article on education datalab.

My point is that the curriculum you offer, whether it be at departmental level or at a whole school level, will have long-lasting repercussions for your students and it is important you’ve got it right.  For this reason I commend Amanda Spielman for the tone she has set as she takes up the mantle of Chief Inspector and look forward to seeing the discussion about the curriculum develop as she continues in office.


The secret of #terrificscientific

We’ve just taken part in our first BBC #TerrificScientific investigation at the academy where I work.  We received a pack of test strips through the post and decided that we had nothing to lose by giving it a go.

My KS4 students were the most enthusiastic and were keen to take part in the experiment.  I’ve got plenty of plastic ‘test tubes’ with lids so students took one home and brought a sample of tap water into school, meaning we could all compare results and rank in order of water hardness.

It wasn’t only the students that were motivated, one member of staff brought in a sample of water from Barnsley, and because we have a huge catchment area we were able to test water samples from a large geographical area.

So what was it that caught the attention of the students and made them want to join in?  Whilst students knew about the interactive map they didn’t seem too bothered about it, but they were keen to find out something about their life and home.

Science is best taught when students can relate to it and see the relevance to their lives, whether it be a fuse in a three-pin plug or how magnetic field lines are useful for navigating with a compass.  Science is a wonderful subject to teach and the BBC have given us another tool to engage our learners – I’d recommend checking out the #TerrificScientific project.

New Year Resolution complete – new resources uploaded

I noticed that the TES resources have had a holiday sale.  I recently tweeted about paid-for TES resources as I find it totally bizarre how teachers are expected to purchase resources without being able to inspect them properly first.  Previewing is an important requirement as I reject 75% of the resources I download as they don’t suit my current setting.

Thinking about this I’ve spent a couple of evenings sorting through my resources and have uploaded many of them to the pages on this site. Unfortunately there are resources that I can’t upload, many have had to be compressed or have video clips removed in order to put them online.

Please take a moment to read the copyright information and get in touch if you find something that needs removing (for dodgy science or for any other reason) or if you can’t find what you are looking for.

I hope you find these resources useful – remember I don’t charge for these resources and would actively encourage others to do the same.

Why secondary teachers should know more about primary science

I attended a CPD event on Saturday.  I’ll admit I attended as a member of our regional committee (for the ASE) so the main reason I attended was to help with the organisation.  I wasn’t expecting to learn much but how wrong I was!

It’s been a while since I looked in depth at the primary curriculum (which is far more prescriptive that its KS3 equivalent).  It’s easy to write off primary school science because some schools (understandably) prioritise English and maths to the detriment of other subjects (and it’s not just the schools – Ofsted don’t pay much attention to primary science in their inspection reports)

Our event opened with a workshop looking at pulleys with an enquiry based approach.  Whilst we used professional equipment, delegates were told how to use cheaper alternatives if funding was insufficient.  The practical teaching strategies were explained and teachers left to find out how they work for themselves.

The second half of our morning looked at misconceptions in science and I was impressed to see reference to the rectilinear propagation of light, particle theory (explaining how sound moves through different materials), pitch & frequency and magnetism.  Our host (Tracy Tyrell) was careful to use the correct terminology and avoid seeding any misconceptions.  There was plenty of science there that secondary schools would be pleased to see their students arrive with.

What struck me was the depth of science covered in the primary years and how primary teachers manage to deliver this content without being subject specialists and still maintain an enquiry based approach.  My eyes have been opened and I’d urge secondary schools to link with primary schools and see some of the excellent practice that goes on there.