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Is the face of education, and of science education changing?

21 June 2010

I took a short break in the Tuscan Hills over the half-term week and came back to a dizzying, but not unexpected, list of changes to the science education world in England.  Life without BECTA, QDCA, and GTC is now an impending reality and we know that TDA and others will see large funding cuts.  The science diploma, on which I had spent many hours and others much more, won’t be supported into deployment.One aspect of this change is that many talented, knowledgeable individuals (committed to ASE) will no longer be part of these organisations. Funding cuts mean that our members in advisory roles also have an uncertain future.

Turbulent times then but is this metamorphosis? Is the face of education, and of science education changing? And what is ASE doing about it?

First of all, we need to remember that we (and I mean all of those involved with science education) are a resilient, creative breed.  We have argued against an over-prescriptive curriculum and too much control and now, the government rhetoric promises more freedom.  We are also well connected.  ASE has started to engage with partner organisations on the review of the curriculum and will be involved with the discussions.

An idea of the workings of the new Department for Education is starting to emerge so that we can see where it is best to move.  I’d also like to encourage members to engage with the process by getting in touch – either to offer to be part of a virtual consultation team, alongside the existing committees - or to let me have five essential points that you would like to be considered in the science curriculum.  Remember, this is about the whole of the age range from 5 to 16, not just primary, so let me have five points and the age range to which they apply.  I can then look for some common themes.

Next, I want to talk about GCSEs for a bit.  We all know that Ofqual have rejected all of the awarding organisations’ proposed specifications and sample assessments for the GCSEs to be taught from September 2011.  This means that it will be very difficult for them to get approval following resubmission for September of this year as they originally planned.

They are working very hard on this and ASE is working through SCORE to provide constructive comment and support to all agencies so that excellent assessments are available for students in enough time.  Of course, in a perfect world, teachers would teach well balanced, exciting and engaging science courses which would be briefly interrupted by an external assessment, accurately reflecting the learning and abilities of the student.  If only the real world were like this. 

We are all too aware of the systemic problem with the relationship between awarding bodies, publishers and the provision of professional development and how this encourages the culture of teaching to the test.  So, for the longer term solution to this situation, we are also engaging in discussion, and any views on a perfect solution, which would work in this political environment would be welcome.

This piece turned out to be much more practical than my original plan. I’ll be back with a more philosophical approach before long!

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