Project Manager – Education, Wellcome Trust
Issues relating to the change between primary and secondary school (oten reerred to as ‘transer’) havebeen recognised or over 75 years (Board o Education, 1931). Young people spend a large proportiono their daily lives in ormal education and there must be ew who are neither excited nor apprehensiveabout making the move to ‘big school’, particularly where this involves a physical shit in location as wellas a change in not only teachers and riendship groups but also pedagogy and curriculum. The majorityo pupils make the transition to secondary school relatively easily and many look orward to the change instatus rom child to young adolescent that the move coners. Nevertheless, or a signicant minority thereis a sustained negative impact on attainment and attitudes.For science education, any negative impact on attitudes and attainment is o course problematic, not justor those individuals aected but also because o its implications or both wider scientic literacy and thepotential or development o uture scientists. The dips in attitude, in particular, are concerning as they refectdownward trends in attitudes towards school science that are well recorded at secondary level and, morerecently, towards the end o primary as well (or example Tymms
, 2008). Interestingly, internationalstudies such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Survey (TIMSS) suggest that decliningattitudes towards science education are not conned to the UK but constitute an international phenomenon(Tymms
, 2008). This, at least in part, appears to be related to the culture in which young people aregrowing up, with studies such as the Relevance o Science Education (ROSE) project showing a stronginverse relationship between the level o development in a country and the levels o interest expressed bystudents in learning about science and technology (Sjøberg and Schreiner, 2005).Several actors appear to contribute to regression in school science ater transer to secondary school.In his review o the primary curriculum, Sir Jim Rose noted that although pastoral support is now usuallygood, “too little regard appears to be paid by many secondary schools to the reliable inormation onprimary children’s academic progress that now exists” (Rose, 2008) but that equally “secondary teachersoten express longstanding concerns about the accuracy o inormation received rom primary schools”(Rose, 2009). As a consequence, achievements rom primary school are not always recognised or valuedand many secondary schools still adopt a ‘tabula rasa’ (clean slate) approach, assuming either that theincoming pupils know little about science or that what they do know is so variable that it would be betterto start ‘rom scratch’.One o the main dangers o a clean slate approach is that it leads to topics and even activities beingrepeated, oten without sucient increase in conceptual challenge – sometimes in the same context andusing the same methods. This quickly leads to boredom, particularly in more able pupils (Pell
, 2007),and is all the more disappointing when one remembers that many pupils have been particularly lookingorward to doing ‘proper science’ when they reach secondary school.Overcrowded, disjointed curricula at upper primary and lower secondary levels may also have negativeimpacts on pupils’ attitudes to science, particularly where teachers ‘teach to the test’ to meet statutorytesting requirements (or example, House o Commons Children Schools and Families Committee, 2008). The government’s recent decision to remove the Key Stage 3 tests in England and to allow more fexibilityin choice o content should provide an opportunity to improve pedagogy at secondary level and makescience more engaging. Similarly, the proposed revision o assessment arrangements at the end o KeyStage 2 could add urther stimulus to improving transition.In this report, the second in a series o ‘Perspectives’ on UK science education, three leading experts inprimary–secondary transer issues look at the dips in attitude and attainment oten associated with thischange in phase o education, their particular relevance to school science, and what improvements canbe and are being made to better support students through this transition.