September 23, 2008

Experts Call for Rethink on Science

By Neil McKay

SCIENCE testing in British primary schools is having a negative impact on encouraging children's natural curiosity, say North East academics.

Durham University education experts today call for a new approach to science teaching in primary schools.

They say excessive test preparation, at the expense of practical work, could be having a negative impact on year 6 pupils' attitudes towards science. Furthermore, the study suggested that test preparation was only making a limited contribution to pupils' understanding of the subject.

The Durham experts have written one of two independent reports published today by the Wellcome Trust, the world's largest medical research charity.

Both reports highlight widespread concern about the negative impact of national testing on young people's enjoyment and understanding of science.

The Durham report, written by Professor Peter Tymms and colleagues at the university's Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, looks over the past 60 years to pick out trends in primary science teaching and draw conclusions about the future.

Prof Tymms insisted new approaches to primary school science must be developed.

"We suspect that the current national approach to science in primary schools is not impacting on children's scientific thought and curiosity as much as is possible.

"Despite the pass rates in public examinations later in secondary school, research suggests few students acquire a proper understanding of the science curriculum.

"The purpose of science in primary schools should be to foster a sense of curiosity and positive attitudes in the young child. It should also guide the child in solving problems to do with the physical, natural and human worlds.

"There is now a strong argument for reconsidering the approach to science in English primary schools, and for doing this in a systematic, evidence-based way."

Clare Matterson of the Wellcome Trust, said: "These reports both examine more than half a century of evidence on the teaching and learning of science in primary schools and both reach the same conclusion - science needs to be at the heart of primary education, but it is being let down by the current national accountability system.

"The Wellcome Trust commissioned this pair of perspectives from experienced and respected education researchers to raise debate about national testing in primary science, and to ensure that future policies can be based on facts. That is the only way we can reach a rational, successful and sustainable approach to science education."

The findings are published four months after a report from the Commons Schools, Children and Families committee said teachers spend too much time "teaching to the test".

Committee chairman Barry Sheerman said: "In an effort to drive up national standards, too much emphasis has been placed on a single set of tests and this has been to the detriment of some aspects of the curriculum and some students."

(c) 2008 The Journal - Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.