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Keep Calm and Teach Science!
Amanda Spielman has announced that Ofsted has moved to change the way schools will be judged.
The proposed new Framework for Inspection of Schools was released for “consultation” in January of this year.
From September 2019 - schools will no longer be judged based just on results of statutory exams and tests but rather on the quality of their curriculum. That means that a school which has an excellent curriculum but less than perfect exam results could still be considered to be an “outstanding” school. Conversely, schools with great Maths and English results but a narrow curriculum could be in danger of a low category grading.
Ofsted considers that schools have been teaching to the tests. Their evidence suggests that schools have narrowed their curriculums in order to prepare children for their “Sats”. In Primary Schools - this is particularly the case in Year 6 and Year 2 where children focus almost exclusively on Maths and English as part of their preparation for their end of year assessments.
So - we want a curriculum that is balanced because it’s a good experience for children - yet we monitor schools only based on the outcomes of tests - which are a very narrow part of the pupil’s anticipated experience.
What do you expect?
Are headteachers now are going to be rubbing their hands in glee because Ofsted will be more considerate about test results?
Somehow, I don’t think so!
It’s very easy to detect children who have had little experience of the Science curriculum. I recently had the experience of marking approximately 750 papers of Year 7 children based upon the Year 6 objectives they had just completed.
Based upon children’s formal and sometimes informal (and genuinely quite funny) responses to the Year 6 tests - it would take an Ofsted Inspector approximately 15 seconds in discussion with Year 6 child to determine that said child had either a good experience or no experience of the year group objectives.
That is because the Science subject area has vocabulary which is very specific to the teaching of the objectives that the children will either understand or not.
Let me give a couple of examples:
“A child is an excellent footballer. Is this something which is inherited or acquired?”
Year 6 Child:
*Adopts puzzled look and stares at shoes*
“A slug is a vertebrate. Right or wrong?”
Year 6 Child:
*Seizes on the opportunity of a binary answer system*...”right!” *smiles uncomfortably*
So headteachers and science coordinators have got a problem. From September 2019 - children will be gently grilled about their experiences in school. Irrespective of whether young Jonny wants to be as loyal and helpful to the school as he can - his lack of experience in the subject ...an experience that he is entitled to - will instantly demonstrate that this school is focusing only on the Maths and English tests.
So why on earth are schools focusing on the tests - surely we all know that Fatima will truly benefit through her life from the wealth of experiences she could get with an excellent curriculum?
It’s not too difficult to work out is it? If you want children to have a great wealth of experience - judge schools on the wealth of experiences they receive; value and cherish those experiences and share the importance with the wider community so that children and parents also rate these factors.
However, if you wish to judge the quality of the whole house - don’t make schools and their staff social pariahs based purely upon the standard of the kitchen - when the living room, bedrooms and bathrooms are truly wonderful.
For far too long Ofsted’s view of education has been synonymous with “literacy and numeracy.” All that matters, it would seem, was that standards in language and mathematics should be the highest possible. The narrowest of narrow scrutinies - such that Ofsted’s judgements are made perhaps in 90% of cases or higher based upon how that school did in national tests. The judgement has already been made before the HMI has pulled up in the reserved spot in the car park. (The one which is furthest away from where the children climb the trees at the start of the school day whilst the parents chat!)
So just how concerned are Ofsted about Science Teaching?
Very, it appears!
In February 2019, following detailed research in 14 schools they published a stinging paper on the state of contemporary Science Teaching: “Intention and substance: further findings on primary school science from phase 3 of Ofsted’s curriculum research.”
They went on to explain:
“Our phase 3 curriculum research found differences in curriculum quality between subjects, particularly in primary schools. Inspectors found that science and most of the foundation subjects often had weaknesses in the curriculum design that were not present in English and mathematics. Because science is a core subject within the national curriculum, this is a particular worry. For that reason, we would like to provide some further detail on the science findings from the phase 3 research. These findings build on similar concerns that we identified in 2016.”
Numerous reasons were provided for the shocking state of Science Teaching including a lack of coherence, poor teacher subject knowledge and the inability to plan effectively for the subject.
“It shows that inspectors found the provision for English and mathematics to be much stronger than for science.”
Not especially groundbreaking - but now based on good research and formally noted.
Perhaps the most acerbic line of all:
“In fact, a few headteachers were shocked to find during the research fieldwork just how limited their science curriculum really was.”
Of the 14 schools selected at random for the project, only one school was carrying out something close to an acceptable science curriculum. Based on that random check, only 7 per cent of schools are delivering an acceptable Science curriculum. Or put another way, 93 per cent of schools are not delivering an acceptable Science curriculum.
So the writing is on the wall. And since we’re all so well versed with literacy - we can read the message “loud and clear!”
Ofsted are coming after science!
Like the ominous warning from the film Poltergeist….”T h e y ’r e h e r e!”
The dodgiest of dodgy car dealers have known since the combustion engine first spluttered into life that you could fool a customer into thinking that the 15 year old jalopy in the corner which has been T Cutted and polished within an inch of its life can disguise the fact that the engine, brakes and exhaust system were shot 40,000 miles ago Yet for decades we have boasted a National Curriculum that is “broad and balanced” and spent countless millions of GB Pounds checking on...about a tenth of it...disregarding the significance and importance of enriching experiences which will spark curiosity, interest, motivation and spark self induced learning and research. Irrespective of that we have judged schools on how “shiny” our numbers and words are!
As a nation, Brexit or no Brexit, our future depends upon children who have learned about creative arts, geography and history. Who learn the importance of tolerance, respect and mutual appreciation. Our nation’s wealth depends upon us producing adults skilled and equipped in science to ensure we can be world leaders in an increasingly technical, digital world. An absence of science teaching, in short, is a threat to our children’s future economy
When we ditched the Science National Curriculum tests for all year 6 children in 2009 - research determined that standards dropped significantly in the subject after this - and still did nothing.
In 2014, some time after Science Tests had been dropped from the “Sats” process, randomly selected schools still carried out formal assessments as part of a government study, the Standards and Testing Agency confirmed that pupils achieving level 4 science had dropped from 84 per cent in 2012 to 63 percent in 2014. At the same time, level 5 performance went from 36 percent in 2012 to 11 per cent at the time of publication. Shocking? Yes! Surprising? Not one bit!
Approaching September 2019 is going to be a huge challenge (yet another huge challenge) for headteachers, science coordinators and classroom practitioners because, as photographers of the world would be aware, we are suddenly moving from scrutiny which is “fully zoomed in” at narrow disciplines to a distinctly “wide angled” view of our schools. – Patently, this is a good thing - especially in Year 2 and Year 6 where, apparently, tests have previously been all that mattered.
We said to anyone who cared to look in that direction. Science. Is. Not. Important. We. Don’t. Care. About. It….Until now!
Unfortunately schools have been “T Cutting” and “polishing” their literacy and numeracy so much that the “engine” of science is going to need some pretty impressive and rapid maintenance. The “gear box” of foundation subjects will need a few cogs replacing.
Hopefully then, Jonny will be able to confidently explain, that whilst an offspring’s hair colour is determined by the hair colour of the parents and is hereditary, footballing ability is something which a child has developed and learned independently and is therefore acquired.
And a slug is most certainly not a vertebrate because, among other reasons, it hasn’t got a spine. A little bit like one or two Education Secretaries of the last two decades methinks!
I only hope, that whilst this sensible move for the better, in education scrutiny commences, that the other stakeholders including parents and the children themselves, are persuaded that there may be an acceptable pay off in terms of test results for the broader benefit of full educational experiences.
It will be a while before we hear…”Oh I’m so delighted. Since whilst Fatima didn’t quite achieve the Year 6 standard in Maths, she has been enthralled and engaged by her research and study on the Battle of Britain.”
Good luck with that one!
It may well be time to get your foundation subjects in order. It is unquestionably the moment to book your science curriculum in for its 12,000 mile service and MOT.
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