Science Question Time – Education

Last night CaSE (the Campaign for Science & Engineering in the UK) ran a ‘Science Question Time’ on education.  These Science Question times are designed to encourage discussions between those in the scientific community, the outcomes of which can then feed into the campaign work CaSE does.  The panel for the education  session was Alom Shaha (Physics Teacher), Prof Michael Reiss (Professor of Science Education) and a representative from CaSE.  Some interesting points were thrown up in discussion – including professional development for teachers and free schools.

The career pathway for teachers can seem to be unclear.  To progress, you are expected to take on management responsibilities, ie become head of department, head of year, etc.  The training courses provided work to assist with the progression.  If you have no aspiration to management then there seems to be no incentive to become better at what you do.  The school system rarely has a pathway that rewards becoming a better science teacher.  Alom suggested a model where teachers teach four days a week and have one day to spend on making themselves a better teacher – whether by doing scientific research or learning more about educational research.  This would be a fantastic model where teachers bring new experiences to the classroom, in the form of new pedagogies learnt  or more cutting edge science research.

We offer various sessions for teachers, and we have hosted sessions run by the Science Learning Centres.  These courses are fully funded, with transport bursaries, and often money for teacher cover and yet it is always a struggle to recruit teachers.  If time for such activities were timetabled in, then teachers could access the support currently offered more easily.  This is particularly the case when changes are introduced to the curriculum.  The ‘How Science Works’ theme has caused teachers problems because it is something they were not taught at school, frequently have no experience with and yet were not able to get suitable training before they had to teach it.  This makes changes to the curriculum harder to implement as teachers are not fully on board with the change.

Concern was raised over free schools for a number of reasons.  They are not bound by the national curriculum which has led to worry about what will be taught in science.  Many of the free schools are faith schools and a topic considered particularly at risk is evolution.  Michael Gove has been very clear that creationism will not be allowed to be taught in science but it is not yet clear how this will be monitored.  Free schools are frequently set up in more affluent areas and the grants for them can use up the education budget for a region.  Whilst it is great that parents are getting involved and interested in setting up schools for their children, I feel their effort would be better placed improving the current schools.  There are models in science education research, such as the Open Classroom model, which would offer parents the opportunity to offer their expertise to classes and improve the quality of the school we already have.

Science education is always open to controversy about the best way to approach it, as the Government will no doubt find with their National Curriculum Review.  The call for evidence is open until 14th April, and if you are involved in science education I would urge you to respond.