Curriculum issues in Science

Reading through the Ofsted Education Inspection Framework (EIF) [1] it’s clear that there are some implications for Science departments and teachers that need to be considered. In this blog I’ll identify three key issues and discuss them.

The three issues are:

  • The 3 Is: Intent, Implementation, Impact
  • Key Stage 3: Two Years vs Three Years
  • Science or Biology, Chemistry & Physics

The 3 Is: Intent, Implementation, Impact

This triplet has caught the imagination of senior management, middle leaders and teachers. Although Ofsted don’t grade these areas individually, they do form a framework of thinking about the quality of education in a school.

This is driven by the school’s curriculum which should be ‘ambitious and designed to give all learners… the knowledge and social capital they need to succeed in life’.

The intent is more than a school’s desire or vision for the curriculum. It’s a school school-level activity where a suitable challenging curriculum is constructed to give all learners the education they need to succeed. Science leads and teachers need to know how and why their subject fits into the overall intent of the curriculum.

Things to consider:

  • Is your curriculum coherently planned and sequenced, not only within Science, but with the other subjects? For example, do some topics overlap with Geography, Maths or English?
  • Do you know what those overlaps are and when these areas are taught?
  • Do you, the Science department, lay the foundations for those topics, build upon them, or leave them for the other subject to teach?

Implementation is concerned with how the curriculum is enacted. For a science department, the following questions need to be considered:

  • How do teachers improve their subject knowledge, particularly those teaching outside of their specialism?
  • How do teachers present Science knowledge and skills, engage learners in discussion, check understanding and feedback?
  • How do teachers ensure long-term knowledge retention and integration of that knowledge into larger concepts?
  • What assessment practices are used? How effective are they at checking knowledge fluency or understanding to inform teaching? How is assessment used in a way to minimize burdens on staff and learners?

Finally, impact focuses on what can be seen as a result of the implementation of the intended curriculum. For Science teachers, this means that learners know more, remember more and can do more as a result of the science they have been taught. This also deals with the future learning and employment that learners take on. Note that test results and progression pathways are not required.

Key Stage 3: Two Years vs Three Years

Over the past few years there has been a move by many schools to condense Key Stage 3 Science into two years and start GCSE courses earlier. This is often with the intention of either allowing learners to have more time to study the GCSE specifications or to do take more GCSE subjects over that period.

According to the National Curriculum, Key Stage 3 covers three years (Years 7-9) and Ofsted’s EIF requires a broad, balanced curriculum, stating that:

“learners study the full curriculum. Providers ensure this by teaching a full range of subjects for as long as possible, ‘specialising’ only when necessary.”

This raises implications for Science and other subjects.

Questions to consider:

  • Does starting GCSE Science early mean that access to the rest of the Key Stage 3 curriculum is restricted? For example, do learners stop doing Music, Art, Religious Education as a result of this?
  • Is any content from KS3 Science cut as it is not required by the GCSE specification? If this is the case, the learners are not getting their broad and balanced curriculum.
  • Within the EIF, inspectors will also consider whether all pupils have access to the full range of the curriculum – is this true for all sets and groups of pupils in KS3 in your school?

Science or Biology, Chemistry & Physics?

This question is an ongoing debate in Science education. It comes down to when we feel it is appropriate for learners to specialise and to study the separate disciplines of Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

The current National Curriculum is separated into Biology, Chemistry and Physics from Key Stage 3 onwards. There is a policy move to teach in each of the distinct disciplines, rather than ‘Science’. The implications are that learners need to know that there are (at least) three distinct disciplines in Science and what makes them different.

Questions for your department:

  • At what point do we specialise into Biology, Chemistry and Physics? Why? What are the implications for learners in KS3 and learners in KS4?
  • Does specialisation into Biology, Chemistry or Physics restrict access to the curriculum in KS4?
  • Are you using the expertise of your teachers to the best advantage? For example, if you are short of Physics expertise, is that expertise being directed to where it is needed most?

Summary

Considering the EIF and its implications for science, it raises some ‘old’ questions about how we organise and teach science. As long as we are making sensible decisions about maximising the opportunities for our learners by evidence evidence-informed sequencing of the curriculum, using the resources we have to their best advantage, and having an understanding of our whole school curriculum and where science fits, it will benefit the students we teach and hopefully satisfy Ofsted.

References

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/education-inspection-framework


Photo of Dr Andrew Chandler-Grevatt

Dr Andy Chandler-Grevatt has a doctorate in classroom assessment and a real passion for teaching and learning, particularly in Science. Having worked as a Science teacher for ten years, of which five were spent as an AST, Andy has a real understanding of the pressures and joys of teaching in the classroom. Alongside his national and international work in school assessment, Andy is a Senior Lecturer in Science Education on the ITE courses at the University of Brighton.

AQA Activate 1 Activate 1

Andy is the Assessment Editor of the KS3 Science schemes Activate and AQA Activate, which can both be used across 2 or 3 years depending on your school’s needs.

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