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In 2008 the Key Stage 3 SATs were no longer mandatory. Discuss in detail the possible impact to the delivery of Science in secondary schools.
'Global development means that the competition and market for the products of science, engineering and technology are greater than ever before. It is a truism to state that the future of the UK depends critically on the education of future generations' (Science and Learning Expert Group 2010).
Standard Assessment Tasks (SATs) are centrally created national tests that were initially aimed at 7, 11 and 14 year old pupils and were primarily designed to indicate levels of attainment. At the outset, the SATs were one part of a model consisting of two elements, the other being continuous teacher assessment, therefore encompassing both formative and summative assessment (Bennett 2003). There are many different views on this assessment model; however the majority, such as William and Black (1996), deemed the model a failure, as they believed the conflicting responsibilities imposed on teachers would have an adverse effect. This was further supported by Gipps and Stobart (1993), who believed that the dual role of teachers as a friend and judge could not be accomplished successfully.
Within two years, amendments were made to the model to minimise the teacher assessment aspect, therefore relying a lot more on the SATs as a means of assessment. However, there were still many critics in regards to the modified model, as it seemed that testing was being put ahead of teaching. The arguments against were numerous, the main ones being that the 'SATs are poorly marked, children are tested too much, teachers are teaching to the test (narrowing the curriculum) and that the existence of the tests causes teachers and schools to do things they shouldn't' (The Assignment Report 2009). Therefore, the model should be changed, as assessment should promote learning and the SATs are not doing that sufficiently. The strong resistance against the Key Stage 3 (KS3) SATs eventually led Ed Balls MP, Secretary of State for Children Schools and Families, to abolish them in 2008 for all 14 year old pupils. He believed that 'GCSE results gave the objective and independent measure of how secondary schools are doing alongside teacher assessments and OFSTED reports allowing for progress to be monitored' (Education Now 2009). This was met with critical acclaim throughout the educational realms; however, not everybody in education wanted this to be the case.
This has, and will, impact the delivery of Science in all schools in one way or another. Several schools, including reportedly outstanding schools such as Convent of Jesus and Mary Language College, which supported the SATs have taken testing into their own hands. They have brought in internally Assessed Standard Attainment Tests, since they believe that formal assessments provide sound preparation for GCSE exams and that the results of the ASATs are important in establishing targets and, where necessary, tiers of entry (Convent of Jesus and Mary Language College 2009). Therefore, the impact of delivery in such schools will not differ greatly. Regardless of such schools bringing in ASATs, it is important to remember that 'an excellent education depends on excellent teaching, a strong curriculum, and assessment that is fit for purpose' (Science and Learning Expert Group 2010). This is often forgotten in the politics of education, as is what happens in the classroom between teachers and students, which is undoubtedly the most important aspect of learning and progression. This is shown through an online study carried out by Planet Science which conveyed that even though most students perceived science to be 'useful', a huge 42% of the students considered their science lessons not to evoke their inquisitiveness and passion for pursuing greater knowledge about the world (Planet Science, et al 2003). Personally, during my time at school, I found science to be intriguing enough in itself to keep me motivated and engaged, regardless of delivery by the teacher. However, it was always clear to see the numbers of disengaged students around me as the classroom activities were bland and repetitive. Metaphorically, loosening the shackles on teachers could allow them to be more proactive in creating lessons that involve activities that not only keep the highly motivated students engaged, but also students with shorter attention spans that easily get bored. As a developing teacher, keeping this in mind and sticking to the important ethos that 'every child matters' will be vital in ensuring success for all students. Not to mention pushing the younger minds into having a lifelong interest in science through the use of activities that allow pupils to work independently, using their own initiative. I feel this has the greatest effect as evidenced by Rudduck et al. (1996), who showed that 'the meaningfulness of particular tasks is greater when pupils have a degree of control over the planning and execution of their work'.
Through the abolishment of the SATs, this has allowed for significant amendments to be made to the National Curriculum whereby the key aim now is to have all young people leaving secondary education to become successful learners that are confident individuals and responsible citizens (QCDA 2009). These more general aims now allow for a wider curriculum to be used by teachers, therefore allowing the involvement of a wide variety of teaching techniques. As the strains of the looming tests are no longer in place, the teacher has no excuse but to make their lessons as thought-provoking and inspiring for their students as possible. The aims of the national curriculum can be met through a wide range of teaching strategies; to become successful and confident learners, teachers can set the scene for scientific debates which allows learners to follow scientific issues and become confident as they voice their opinions. Literature supports the argument of having a scientifically literal society as, 'the ever-growing importance of scientific issues in our daily lives demands a populace who have sufficient knowledge and understanding to follow science and scientific debates' (Millar and Osborne 2006). This view shows that in turn we can create responsible citizens that can make life changing decisions in the future. As a student myself, I found lessons that allowed me to bounce ideas and thoughts off my peers proved to be the most successful in terms of understanding the underlying concepts behind a topic, as I was automatically corrected when I was wrong by peers that used the same terminology as me, which was most advantageous. Bearing this in mind as a developing teacher, the importance of discussions and pupil-to-pupil interactions will be at the top of my list when it comes to producing lesson plans. Yet, I will not be disregarding the importance of the simplicity of note-taking in lessons because I believe it is vital that pupils have written work to refer back to as any method of putting ideas through the pupils' minds will be beneficial as they will all have different learning styles.
Initially the argument for teaching science was for gaining 'reliable and useful knowledge' (Millar and Osborne 2006) which may be needed to some degree, however was specifically focused on to pass the upcoming tests. Most science taught for the purpose of passing exams will not relate to many situations faced on a daily basis, especially if a learner is following a profession which is non-science related. Further research shows that 'the majority are more interested in, and more attentive to medical and environmental rather than other scientific matters' (Jenkins 1999). Therefore teaching science for the purpose of giving reliable and useful knowledge will not reach the aim of producing a literate society; therefore a more practical approach is needed. Teachers will now have more time to spend on getting across their analogies and models in classrooms to ensure key concepts that may or may not be used by individuals in the future are fully understood without worrying about the ominous SATs. However, there are issues of whether pupils will be mentally prepared for their GCSE's when they come around as they will not have relevantly recent experience of taking life changing examinations. I believe this is an aspect where more can be asked of from teachers and as a developing teacher, to ensure pupils are prepared and ready for their GCSE's, taking steps such as rolling out programs such as 'How Science Works' earlier will be vital.
'How Science Works' is a process developed for learners at Key stage 4. The aim is to develop scientific knowledge which involves scientific methods to be applied through various skills (QCDA 2009). Some examples of these are:
· Collecting practical data and being able to analyse and communicate it in a scientific way using ICT. Learning to work safely with others allows learners to demonstrate these skills in a working environment.
· Provide evidence to support ideas and theories. This will allow learners to think critically about their findings and demonstrate scientific knowledge and cultural understanding.
· Understand that scientific ideas changes over time through scientific development. This context of learning will allow learners to become engaged in scientific debates. (Whiting, Edwards and Slade 2007).
Eradicating the SATs can possibly give teachers more freedom in teaching and can give them the liberty to roll out programmes such as 'How Science Works' earlier rather than waiting until the students reach KS4. Without the upcoming SATs they will be able to incorporate techniques such as debating and communicating scientific ideas using ICT a lot earlier without having to worry that they may be jeopardising exam results. Several schools have taken a similar approach by squashing KS3 into the first two years of secondary school allowing them to start the KS4 curriculum when they reach Year 9. Conversely, whether this turns out to be beneficial or not is yet to be seen as the underlying concepts delivered in KS3 are of the utmost importance when attempting to deliver KS4 science. During my time at school, I always felt that science was two-toned; it tended to vary either from practical experiments, which were always a joy, to theory work which was dominated by reading and copying out of textbooks. This may have been effective enough for me, but was not the case for numerous other students, and therefore, as a developing teacher, I would like to show young people that there is a lot more to science than practical experiments and theory work out of books. I intend to do this if possible by using aspects of programmes such as 'How Science Works' that are usually not available for students at KS3 and bringing them into their lessons so that they can reap the benefits. Not only will this help get across key scientific concepts which are undoubtedly essential, but the change in the delivery will also allow teachers to spend time giving students accurate information in regards to the possibilities of learning and achievement beyond science at school. This is an important area to look at when it comes to pupil engagement, as a study done on the public view of science saw that the majority of women with a non science background stating that they 'would have paid more attention if they had realised the significant part to be played by science in their future lives' (Collins and Osborne 2000).
There were many negatives to the SATs which were voiced repeatedly, which often related to the unfairness to the pupils, such as unnecessary pressure and stress being put onto them as well as the tests themselves being culturally biased towards the white and wealthy. However, through the abolishment of this type of assessment, another form of assessment is undeniably necessary as targets are always required to be met to monitor learning, progress and attainment. Experienced teachers are able to frequently assess their pupils; be it formative, summative or diagnostic assessment throughout their lessons in a variety of ways ranging from watching them work in practicals to listening in on them during discussions. However, judgment on levels can vary significantly from teacher to teacher, not giving an accurate indication to where a pupil may be at or how best to help them progress. Assessing Pupils' Progress (APP) has been an attempt to help make teachers feel more comfortable and confident about assigning levels to pupils with the knowledge that they are being fair and equal.
'APP is a structured approach to in-school assessment which:
enables teachers to make judgments about their pupils' attainment, keyed into national standards
develops and refines teachers' understanding of progression in their subject
provides diagnostic information about the strengths and weaknesses of individual pupils and groups of pupils
enables teachers to track pupils' progress over time
informs curriculum planning
facilitates the setting of meaningful curricular targets that can be shared with pupils and parents
promotes teaching that is matched to pupils' needs
supports the transfer of meaningful information at key transitional points, e.g. from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3
is not a 'bolt-on' to existing arrangements' (Department for Education 2010).
As APP is being used instead as a form of assessment, teachers do not have to configure their lessons to match exam expectations, and are allowed to work with the vague yet definitive criteria giving them more room to make lessons their own in the most creative way possible. The democratic definition of creativity states that 'all people are capable of creative achievement, provided the conditions are right and they have acquired the relevant knowledge and skills' (NACCCE 1999). I feel teachers have acquired the relevant skills to make their lessons as creative as possible through the intense courses they must undertake to become a teacher. They have only been limited by the conditions which have been the constraints of exams, but with this not being the case anymore at KS3; teachers can include more imagination when creating activities as long as they are relevant and assessable. And with regular assessments, more comprehensive information can be presented to parents regarding their children's progress as parents play a pivotal role in supporting learning from home. As a developing teacher, I will try to incorporate all three different types of assessment (formative, summative and diagnostic) into my lessons, as well as involving parents regardless of if it is for positive or negative reasons. In the light of the abolishment of the SATs, I feel more importance should be given to summative assessment as 'teachers rarely used summative assessment information to identify strengths and weaknesses in learning, to inform future lesson planning or to provide pupils with advice on how to improve' (Department for Education 2008) and I feel this is crucial to support learning and to make the most efficient progress.
In conclusion, I feel the idea that teachers were restricted and stifled by the KS3 SATs, in terms of classroom activity was somewhat exaggerated but it is clear to see that aspects of the delivery of science have changed and will continue to change now that they have been abolished. The impact to the delivery of science in secondary schools has varied greatly depending on what direction each individual school has chosen to take. From schools creating in-school tests to replace the SATs; minimal change to the delivery has been evidenced. However, schools that have seen the abolishment of the SATs as an opportunity have taken different measures in changing the way science is delivered as the curriculum can tell us what to teach but not how to teach. Some schools have taken the approach of setting the main focus on the GCSE's and have taken steps such as shortening KS3 to the first two years of secondary school therefore extending KS4 to three years.
Teachers need to interest their pupils in science as 'it must not be forgotten that teachers have the greatest impact; this impacts acts on the pupils' enthusiasm and success' (Wellington and Ireson 2008). Many other schools have instead decided to take this opportunity in ensuring teachers are given the creative freedom to teach the way they find best to suit their learners needs and this is more often than not done by making sure pupils are engaged at all times and applying the relevant in-class assessments (APP) to further progress.
I personally believe that the use of synoptic questioning has not been used as effectively as it could have been at KS3. The first time I was posed with a synoptic exam as a student was during my A-levels; however, as a means to assessment instead of completely abolishing the SATs, synoptic exams can be used as it doesn't have the same effect on the delivery of science as the SATs did. The use of synoptic questioning would make sure that the pupils have understood the subject matter and key concepts rather than just remembering and regurgitating answers as many of my peers as well as I did during the SATs. Therefore as a developing teacher, I will not disregard the importance of exam based assessments even though the KS3 SATs have been abolished; I will instead change the way my own tests are written in relation to the APP national standards to maximise the potential of my pupils as this way, they will have recent exam experience when they come around to sitting their GCSEs and the feedback given from synoptic exams can be constructive rather than just a questionable grade.
Teachers and pupils require good subject knowledge, confidence and guidance. Schemes of work and commercial courses provide guidance through comprehensive planning of every science lesson variable possible. As a developing teacher, another important factor I will consider is differentiation: an important issue in modern lesson planning. I think that by using schemes of work I will be able to draw out where I can manipulate topics and I believe use of schemes will make my lessons more interesting by facilitating creative activity, improving pupil comprehension through interest and engagement and in time make me a superior teacher than I would be without such planning archives.
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