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Leading Debate: 21 Years of the National Curriculum for science

Leading Debate: 21 Years of the National Curriculum for science

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Published by Wellcome Trust
This seminar summary follows a meeting convened by the Wellcome Trust to mark 21 years of the National Curriculum for science. It is hoped that the five key messages presented in this summary will inform curriculum developers and policymakers when planning their future reforms.
This seminar summary follows a meeting convened by the Wellcome Trust to mark 21 years of the National Curriculum for science. It is hoped that the five key messages presented in this summary will inform curriculum developers and policymakers when planning their future reforms.

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Published by: Wellcome Trust on Nov 09, 2010
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03/15/2011

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Leading Debate: 21 Years of the National Curriculum for science
In July 2010, 21 years aterthe National Curriculumwas rst introduced,the Wellcome Trustconvened a seminarto reect on theimpact o the NationalCurriculum or science.
 
Introduction
1 The Royal Society, the Royal Society or Chemistry,the Institute o Physics, the Society o Biology,the Association or Science Education, the ScienceLearning Centres, the Nufeld Foundation and theGatsby Charitable Foundation.
The 1988 Education Reorm Act was a landmark inshaping the education systems o England, Wales andNorthern Ireland. Among other things, it paved the wayor the rst statutory National Curriculum withassociated national testing at seven, 11 and 14. Thecurriculum was rst taught in schools rom September1989 – 21 years ago.During these 21 years the National Curriculum hasundergone several revisions, been the subject o muchdebate and used as a tool to achieve educational reorm.Once again the curriculum is under political scrutiny,with a clear agenda or reorm being set out by ministers.Presented here are views that emerged rom the seminarwhere delegates considered the National Curriculum’sinitial development and subsequent evolution;highlighting both the benets and drawbacks o theNational Curriculum or science and ve key messagesthat should be considered by policy makers andcurriculum reormers during the proposed review.The group elt that understanding and taking account o these messages would help to ensure that any uturedevelopments were well thought through and thereoremore likely to be successul. It is important to note thatwhile the ocus was on the National Curriculum orscience, many o the key messages apply more widely.Contributors to the seminar included members o theoriginal National Curriculum science working group,individuals rom learned societies and proessional bodies
1
 and, importantly, science teachers. However, this paperdoes not necessarily represent the views o the WellcomeTrust, nor o any other organisation or individual seminardelegate present.
The curriculum is at a critical point in itsdevelopment. With the prospect o a ull review,it is vital to stop and consider the lessons thatcan be learned rom its history in order toinorm its uture.
 
Impact o the National Curriculum or science
2 Department o Education and Science.The National Curriculum 5–16: A consultationdocument. London: HMSO; 1987.
“legislation should leave ull scope or proessional judgement...there must be spaceto accommodate the enterprise o teachers, ofering them sucient exibility in thechoice o content to adapt what they teach to the needs o the individual pupils, totry out and develop new approaches and to develop in pupils those personal qualitieswhich cannot be written into a programme o study or attainment target.”
Department of Education and Science, 1987 
2
Benefts
There was broad agreement that the National Curriculumhas brought about signicant improvements that include:the rst ever national entitlement to science educationor all students rom ve to 16a raising o standards in many schoolsensuring that students studied all the major scienticdisciplines, in particular increasing the number o girlsstudying physics to the age o 16establishing science as an important core element o theprimary curriculumimproving the continuity and transerability when youngpeople moved rom one school to another, whetherbetween phases or geographically.
Drawbacks
The group agreed that the National Curriculum does notact in a vacuum. Its implementation is inuenced by acomplex web o outside actors – many o which, includingthe assessment and inspection regimes, were specicallydesigned to support its delivery. These actors havecontributed to teachers working in a climate o uncertainty, unsure o educational priorities. Osted andthe development o league tables have let teachers withthe impression that political measures or success are notaligned with their own educational aims or theirstudents. Schools want to provide rich and exibleexperiences that engage and develop young people.However, this has not been recognised as a nationalmeasure o success, with improvements in exam resultsbeing seen as the overwhelming priority.Teaching proessionals reported a lack o directengagement with the actual National Curriculum, otenusing a range o interpretations rom the Qualicationsand Curriculum Authority and awarding bodies. This hascaused additional conusion or teachers, creating theperception that the National Curriculum is moreconstraining and restrictive than is actually the case.Thus, over the years, the mistranslation o what wasoriginally intended has resulted in:many teachers eeling disempowered to teach in amanner appropriate to their students and circumstancesa strong sense o over-prescription in terms o thecontent o the curriculumincreased pressures to ‘teach to the test’ at all levelsrequent, apparently piecemeal, changes to thecurriculum in order to x shortcomings and meettop-down policy changestests and examinations dominating not just what istaught but also how it is taught.The group elt that the overall impact has underminedteacher condence to innovate, leaving them as delivererso the National Curriculum rather than as developers o arich and varied science education. This has resulted in anarrowing o the educational experience o young people.

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