5 things you might not have realised about the new Primary Science curriculum

Other posts in this series:

I always feel sorry for Science. A core subject by name, but always the poor relation in the core triad. They do say, two’s company… Anyhow, hot on the heels of my posts about English and Maths, it seems only fair to give Science its turn, although as if to emphasise the point, it only gets 5 main points. The first explains why.

1. Not that much has changed really.

One of the saving graces of the focus on English and Maths is that you get the feeling that the Science team were left to get on with things without so much ministerial interference. The result is that most of the changes to primary Science are reorganisations of existing content, with some things moving year group, and quite a bit being removed from KS1 to save repetition.

2. Evolution is in.

This one worries me slightly. Evolution is a tricky concept to get your head round, and I sometimes wonder if some of our 10-year-olds might lack the sense of scale required to understand the impact of minute changes over massive periods of time. I fear we might see plenty of children arriving at secondary school with the misconception that animals chose to adapt their features over time. Neverthless, it appears as statutory content aimed at Year 6, so expect to see evidence of it coming to a school near you soon.

3. ‘Factors’ will take a while to kill off.

A few years ago the official vocabulary of primary tests was changed from using ‘factors’ to ‘variables’ to describe… well… variables. Then they scrapped the tests and so the importance of the change was rather lost on the sector. The new curriculum does refer to variables, but expect it to take a while to train thousands of primary teachers out of old habits.

4. They might learn about scientific history.

But they might not. There are lots of mentions in the non-statutory notes about finding out about the likes of scientists from Copernicus to David Attenborough and the significance and impact of their work, but it’s not really mentioned in any of the statutory content. Some schools will go to town on such things; others will ignore them.

5. Good luck ascertaining their ability!

Until relatively recently, for all their flaws, secondary schools could receive nationally-assessed data about the pupils’ abilities in Science based on the national tests. Then when they were scrapped, transition information was limited to the more questionable Teacher Assessment levels. From 2016 even they will have gone. The latest proposal for Teacher Assessment was a simple “Yes/No” statement as to whether or not a child had met the national expectations. There is no official way to identify the highest fliers or those most in need of support. And even those descriptors haven’t been finalised, so watch this space!

Secondary teachers may find it informative to take a glance through the expectations of the new primary curriculum. You can find it all set out by year group at www.primarycurriculum.me.uk

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5 thoughts on “5 things you might not have realised about the new Primary Science curriculum

  1. julietgreen 10 August 2015 at 5:11 pm Reply

    Ah – and now to my particular area of interest/expertise! We should be grateful to the ASE for their moderating influence and also for the non-statutory guidance. This makes the new science curriculum almost workable. However, ‘some schools will go to town on such things; others will ignore them.’ could now apply to all of it and more than ever, good teaching requires good subject knowledge. Your concerns about the understanding of evolution are acase in point. I welcome the affirmation whilst knowing that the vast majority of the population, including most primary teachers, really do not understand it.

    I suppose we could also mention that some of the three main areas will be quite sparse in some years if we follow the programme of study.

    I’m not awaiting the publication of the assessment descriptors. I do not think in any way will they aid in the assessment of science. I do think a lot of people will try, give up and then pretend. The assessment of science is a massive can of worms!

  2. cazzypot2013 10 August 2015 at 5:24 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  3. teachwell 11 August 2015 at 7:56 am Reply

    I think that’s why the emphasis needs to be on knowledge. The other half is an astronomer and is incandescent about the quality of science graduates he gets. We need to listen to others. They do not know enough to be able to do all the ‘expert’ problem solving and it is a huge issue for any university that wants to maintain it’s standards and rigour.

    He is also against the idea of constantly trying to make science ‘fun’ at the expense of learning what is important, plus the idea that experiments are about failing (as stated in the Chinese Teachers programme last week). He doesn’t believe that children should be creating experiments and I agree – it is a complete waste of time asking children to think of and write up experiments in primary school (the vast majority of which are poor quality and need a lot of work to actually be workable).

    They would be much better off being given the experiments to conduct and learning to replicate results and write conclusions before secondary. That way they could learn what constitutes a variable and why, what is a good hypothesis and why, etc. I know some will object but lets face it making science more ‘fun’ has not led to increasing number of scientists – it seems to be having the opposite effect.

    As for evolution – yes – the concept of adaptation is difficult but I think that’s where links to history, use of timelines, showing fossil evidence if possible will be helpful. Also I think it depends on ensuring that other units such as animals including humans and living things and their habitat are taught well, so that it is possible to concentrate on evolution and adaptation. Additionally, we need to use the language of adaptive traits to describe the physical features. While I understand the concerns I do think that the language of genetics is out there in a way it wasn’t when I was a child and so they will have encountered the terms.

    Repeat ad infinitum – adaptation is random, adaptation is random…..

  4. Beth Budden 11 August 2015 at 8:40 am Reply

    I agree with most of this Michael. Certainly the misconception of ‘evolution on demand’ is true, but like all misconceptions, if teachers take care will how they teach it will help. A professor of evolution told me the worst thing teachers do is use anthropomorphic language too much, suggesting volitional feelings. For example, plants ‘like’ water and light suggests plants make choices- which is not part of evolution! I wrote a detailed blog on all this.
    Regarding science assessment, I think it was worse before because it’s hard to assess scientific skills in a sit down test, while the new paired down content and science skills over a phase group allows teachers to focus on assessing the progression of skills over time. The knowledge is straight forward tick list stuff but if teachers focus on the skills, modelling and teaching these while children ‘investigate to find out ‘ it has a chance of working.

  5. dodiscimus 17 August 2015 at 11:05 pm Reply

    Thank you. All three of these posts have been brilliant and are likely to repay the effort involved in writing them several thousand times over if read widely enough by secondary teachers!

    Don’t worry too much about evolution – the Kipling fallacy is already alive and well (and adapting itself, probably) and has been for ever. Good secondary teaching is what’s needed her, but maybe now some good CDP for primary teachers too.
    “Factors” crops up at GCSE and A-Level (factors affecting stopping distance, factors affecting fluid friction etc.) so actually a key piece of knowledge for students at some point is that “factors” and “variables” are the same thing, unless the language is specific (you don’t get “dependent and independent factors”).
    I think scientific history would be a great thing for primary children to do – the only danger is that it’s easy to fall into the trap of presenting this history as an inexorable process of geniuses determining “the scientific truth”, which is now a fixed body of knowledge written in dusty tomes, that scientists have to ingest for many, many years before doing anything interesting. A sense of the blind alleys, bits of luck, and unresolved issues is needed. And Tycho Brahe’s silver nose, of course!
    And finally, I think secondary schools really need to make an initial assessment of what KS6/7 children do and do not know, anyway. If we can get beyond levels – IF – then that’s a pretty obvious requirement to avoid the typical situation where Y7 teaching fails to fill gaps in some areas, and bores with repetition in others. If a school finds a lot of problemmatical differences between different feeder primaries, then that’s a sign that they need to collaborate better, and assessing knowledge and skills directly will be a lot better indicator of this than some vague levelling. But I know I’m preaching to the converted (or possibly the vicar) here.
    Best wishes

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