It seems that there is always one, if not multiple, issues which are being debated within education. Education is something that every child in Scotland has a stake in, and as children are the future of this country, we strive to achieve what is best for them. Therefore current practice is always scrutinised in order to find best practice and new policies are put in place in attempt to find the best way to proceed within education. While my experience in schools is limited, it seems that there is always something new being implemented in schools and Humes and Bryce (2008) state "Education is - and should be - a developing, dynamic process in which existing ideas are examined, criticised and refined and new ideas are advanced, scrutinised and tested" (pg 905). With the implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), the whole curriculum changed, although similarities to the Primary Memorandum of 1965 have been pointed out including both curriculums using a child-centred approach and a focus on experiential learning (Cassidy, 2008). There are lots of issues within education that are currently the focus of debate. For example inclusion, mainly with the confusion over what exactly inclusion means and how it is different from integration (Allan, 2008). The lack of teaching jobs in Scotland and what is going to happen now they have cut the intake of student teachers. Attainment is yet another current issue, in particular how attainment is measured and officials worrying about attainment figures. However, there are far too many current debates to be able to discuss them critically in this short essay. Therefore I plan to only look at Curriculum for Excellence and how it affects the way lessons are taught, assessment and finance within education. I plan to look at these issues and discuss how they relate to key concerns of teaching primary science.
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Curriculum for Excellence has been at been at the heart of school debate for the last six years. It was developed because the previous curriculum, 5-14, was thought to be over-crowded and outdated (Curriculum Review Group, 2004) and not child-focused (Reid, 2008). This curriculum was split into discrete subject areas with a set amount of time for teaching each subject area. There became a focus on attainment and achieving good test results in National Assessments, which led to teachers spending more time on mathematics and writing to improve test results (Reid, 2008). Curriculum for Excellence was to take the strengths of 5-14 and construct a new curriculum which would take into account new research and promote cross-curricular learning (Reid, 2008), providing children with an education that would give them the skills necessary to deal with adult life in the 21st century (The Curriculum Review Group, 2004). From the beginning it was accepted by the government as the way forward without being scrutinised by the public or even by parliament (Humes, 2008). However, while schools are embracing the change that this new curriculum brings, CfE has received a mixed reception. A quick search of the TES forum (see www.tes.co.uk) indicates questions, worries and annoyance from everything from the experience and outcomes to assessment.
The change in the curriculum has resulted in a significant change in subject areas from five discrete areas within the 5-14 guidelines, to eight in CfE. Reid (2008) states that the new subject areas "reflected ongoing societal and political changes and were responsive to the global and national pressures" (pg 337) and allow the curriculum to become more child-centred. Science was one subject area that benefited from this change. Under the 5-14 guidelines science was embedded within 'environmental education' and in my experience was generally studied as a 'topic'. This meant that science had to compete with other aspects of environmental studies, including history and geography related topics. In my current placement, where the school is well on their way with developing CfE, the class have a designated time for science timetabled into their weekly schedule in addition to their social studies 'topic'. However I am aware that this is not the case for every school and it was recognised at the School Science Summit in 2009 that "science should be made a greater priority in education", allowing the population to become better informed about the environment, health care and energy policy (HM Inspectorate of education (HMIE), 2009). HMIE (2008) also point out how important science is saying how dependent Scotland's economic future is on it.
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Within the school environment HMIE (2008) report "children are generally well motivated and enthusiastic about science". This is probably due to the active and interactive nature of science which HMIE (2008) promote as a positive way to learn. They also report that the standards of teaching have improved over the last ten years (see HMIE, 2005 and HMIE, 2008). This could be due to the implementation of 'Improving Science Education 5-14' introduced in 1999 (Scottish Executive, 1999) which outlined specific action points to increase the effectiveness of science teaching. However the introduction of CfE also promotes using best practice to improve the science curriculum. The Curriculum for Excellence document Building the Curriculum 1 (Scottish Government, 2006) states that "the most important goal for science education is to stimulate, nurture and sustain the curiosity, wonder and questioning of children and young people" (pg 30) and promotes doing this through play, investigation, discussion and hands on experience. However, I have yet to see how teachers have changed their teaching of science. As previously mentioned I have limited experience in schools, however in my previous placement I was provided with a topic pack on 'friction' that looked as old as I was. Within this booklet were tried and tested lesson plans, that to be honest were not very interesting. The teacher allowed me to teach this topic in whatever way I found suitable and even with my limited background of science, I was able to provide interesting, thought-provoking lessons that the children continued to talk about the next day. Although the fundamental basis of science has not changed, I believe that teachers should be making use of new developments in science to engage children - especially older children. Again, it is more than likely that some teachers are taking this opportunity, however it makes sense that teachers provide lessons that are relevant to the children. I believe it is also important to focus on the aim of investigating and encouraging children to ask questions. Science will no doubt continue to change and it is important that we provide children with the skills they require in order to understand developments in science rather than static science facts alone. Curriculum for Excellence promotes this and focuses on the basic skills children need to be able to understand science.
However there is one major concern about the curriculum and teaching primary science - the lack of continuity between teaching science in the later years of primary and the early years of secondary. HMIE (2005) reported that secondary schools were not building on children's previous science knowledge meaning that there was no progression in the children's learning. Primary teachers need to build relationships with their secondary school and work with them to provide a curriculum which runs smoothly between primary and secondary school. After all, that is what Curriculum for Excellence hopes to achieve (Curriculum Review Group, 2004). In a school I previously worked in, the link between primary and secondary science was improving. Primary 6 and 7 pupils would attend the local secondary school to spend the afternoon in a science lab at least once a year. In 2008, HMIE reported that one local authority had established firm relationships between primary teachers and secondary science teachers to provide a secondary science programme which extended the children's learning using their prior knowledge and attainment to guide their future progress. I think that this is very beneficial to children, especially the visits to the secondary school as it allows children to experience science in a lab as opposed to science in the classroom. It also allows science teachers to build on what the children already know, providing breadth, depth and progression. It was suggested at the School Science Summit (HMIE, 2009) that it may be beneficial to create a small pool of specialist science teachers, similar to what schools have already in terms of expressive arts and physical education specialists. This would allow a group of teachers to pass on their specialised knowledge and enable them to keep up to date with new developments within science. It would also benefit children as some teachers are not confident in teaching science, due to their lack of knowledge of the subject. Soutar (2008) points out that although teachers have a science requirement to get onto a teacher training programme, it may not be enough to give teachers the confidence to teach science well. Students on the four year B Ed course have a science requirement, but for those undertaking the PGDE, unless their first degree was science based, they are provided with very little direction in science. Even after taking the science elective, I still feel unprepared to tackle many aspect of teaching science. If science is to be made a greater priority within schools, surely students should be given at least some mandatory instruction on their course.
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Assessment is another issue that has caused great debate across all areas of teaching. Bryce (2008) describes two types of assessment systems used in schools today. There is the traditional method of assessing against set criteria and the newer 'Assessment is for Learning' (AifL) programme whose goal is "to encourage teachers to alter their assessment so that it has maximum impact on pupil learning, encouraging pupils to see how they can improve their current understanding and skills" (Bryce, 2008, pg 581). This incorporates both formative and summative assessment and although AifL is stil fairly new in schools, it is becoming more recognised as the way forward.
A key feature of the 5-14 curriculum was the National Assessments. These are meant to be used by teachers to "confirm their judgements about pupils' levels of attainment in reading, writing and mathematics" (LTS, 2010). While it is beneficial to have a record of children's attainment, it became common for teachers to 'teach' what children needed to know in order to pass these assessments and schools used the curriculum flexibility time built into the curriculum to improve writing and mathematics (Reid, 2008). At a parents night I was lucky enough to sit in and listen to the parent and teacher discussions. For each parent the teacher outlined where their child was in terms of National Assessment (what level they were working towards, when it might be likely they will pass the next level). While parents want to know how well their child is doing at school compared to national standards, I felt that a lot of the parents didn't really understand the levels and were using this to compare their child with others in the class. This is backed up by Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall and Wiliam (2004) who suggest that students see marks as a way of comparing themselves to others and that written comments are more beneficial.
With the implementation of CfE, National Assessments are changing. Due for implementation over the next year the Scottish Government are developing a new form of assessment to fit in with the ideals of CfE. Materials will be made available from the 'National Resource Bank', promoting a variety of different assessment methods and a focus on making assessment relevant to learning (Scottish Government, 2010b). It is built upon Assessment is for Learning and on best practice observed in schools. Before the publication of Building the Curriculum 5: A Framework for Assessment, teachers had many questions about how children's learning would be assessed through the new curriculum. Teachers I have worked with have had their own variety of ways to assess children's learning, many supported by the AifL programme. However, the assessment of science is one thing that I have yet to have seen been completed effectively. At the end of two science topics (in different classes) there was an assessment worksheet distributed to the class, which asked a few questions the children were to complete themselves with no help from the teacher or their peers. This perhaps assessed whether the children had learned the desired outcomes of knowledge, but how can this assess any skills or thinking strategies the children had learned during their topic? If the most important goal of science is to 'stimulate, nurture and sustain the curiosity, wonder and questioning of children' as previously mentioned, how can we effectively assess 'curiosity and wonder'? Hopefully, the introduction of the new assessment strategy next year will provide teachers with a more accurate method of collecting data about children's learning.
Another major issue within education is funding. In schools I have worked in I have always heard management staff talking about how little money they have to spend within school. Once I was told we could not buy in new glue sticks, as the school had used up its budget for supplies and it was up to the teacher to provide them out her own pocket. Finance within education is much more complicated than having enough money to buy resources, however these are the things that affect children directly and is therefore an issue. Midwinter (2008) talks about how the government has identified education as a 'spending priority', and although the education budget is a large proportion of government expenditure, it has not been as big a priority as the government had suggested. The Scottish Government provide each local authority with money to support expenditure across all services, however it is up to the local authority how much is spent on each service (Scottish Government, 2010a). While this is an advantage to each local authority to focus their resources on areas that need it most, it can be a disadvantage to others where they are not being provided with sufficient resources.
It was recently reported that East Lothian Council were considering creating an 'educational trust' to run its schools (BBC, 2010). This would allow schools to have control over their finances and to be able to focus their resources on areas they believe require it rather than relying on the council. While this is the first council to consider doing this, a similar situation exists at Jordanhill School. This is the only school to be funded directly from the Scottish government and this has worked effectively for twenty years. This suggests that giving schools more power over their budget could be beneficial.
The teaching of science is severely affected by finance. Science uses a lot of resources, many of which need replaced. A fellow student informed me during her last placement that she had to go and buy a new set of bulbs and wires for a topic on electricity as her teacher had asked her to teach this topic, but the topic resource box was severely lacking in equipment. HMIE (2008) state that "hands-on practical experimental and investigative learning activities form the key to developing successful learners in science" (pg. 9). However if schools struggle to provide equipment for these experiments, then children will not be as successful learners as we want them to be.
As education is constantly progressing with new initiatives always being developed for use in schools, there will always be issues that teachers, government and parents will debate. It is through this debate and through what happens in classrooms that will influence how future policies progress education and hopefully the sharing and promotion of good practice will continue to influence the way children are educated. It is clear that it is impossible to please everyone involved all of the time. However, it is important to keep the child at the centre of it all, as it is children who are the ones directly affected by what is going on in the classroom.
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