Draft KS3 science curriculum for 2014

Having now clicked on ‘Submit’ (on Monday 15 April, as last minute as ever) I have updated this post with my final responses.

All of the draft programmes of study (all subects) can be found here on the DfE website

The consultation process is described at length (on 16 pages!) here, where you can register to respond online using this page by the deadline of Tuesday 16 April

Helen Rogerson (@hrogerson) has blogged a very thorough comparison of the draft programme of study for KS3 with the 1999 version (which was later ‘slimmed down’ in 2008). Her detailed analysis can be found on her blog, where she has written separate posts about Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Helen is far more qualified than I to comment on the Physics section! Thankfully she has also written a particularly detailed response to the very confusing-looking “Energy” part of the Physics section.

Dr Carol Davenport has also made a highly detailed response and posted onto her blog, some of which I copied and pasted into my response (sorry @DrDav!).

I have had a read of the draft Key Stage 3 programme of study for science, which as a whole reads like it was put together rather hastily, as there are some glaring repetitions and omissions. Posted here are some of my first impressions and ideas of how I might respond to the consultation.

On the whole, I think the structure of the document makes sense and the overall style and layout is relatively straightforward – a brief justification of the science curriculum as a whole, three fairly concise aims (below), and in the KS1-2 draft there is also some general background background about ‘scientific knowledge and understanding’; the ‘nature, processes and methods of science’; ‘spoken language’; and how the programme of study fits with the school curriculum.

Aims

The National Curriculum for science aims to ensure that all pupils:

  • develop scientific knowledge and conceptual understanding through the specific disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics
  • develop understanding of the nature, processes and methods of science through different types of science enquiries that help them to answer scientific questions about the world around them
  • are equipped with the scientific knowledge required to understand the uses and implications of science, today and for the future.

Under the heading ‘Attainment targets‘, it simply states that,

By the end of each key stage, pupils are expected to know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes specified in the relevant programme of study.

This seems to be a generic statement used in all the subjects (I’ve only checked geography and history, but I assume it is the same for all subjects). I read this as, “students should have learnt what is in this document.” Is it just me, or this that a waste of ink?

While it is not included in the KS3 programme of study, the KS1-2 programmes include the phrase “foundational knowledge.” I can’t work out why the clumsy word, “foundational” is there at all!

Working scientifically is the new term for ‘how science works’ a.k.a. ‘scientific enquiry’ a.k.a ‘ideas about science’. Whichever name it has been given in the past, I’ve tried to stick to the catch-all ‘evidence’. So I will suggest it simply be called ‘scientific evidence‘ which might be more descriptive than ‘working scientifically.’

In terms of specific responses to the statements in the draft programme of study, I have copied here my responses to most of the consultation questions.

Consultation questions

1

Do you have any comments on the proposed aims for the National Curriculum as a whole as set out in the framework document?

Answer:It depends on what is the purpose of the ‘aims.’ Michael Reiss, from the Institute of Education, has co-authored a book in which he addresses the aims of a curriculum, and I suggest that the department would do well to consult further with Professor Reiss on how to develop the aims of the National curriculum further. The first sentence is alright, but the second, “It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement,” is rather vague. “The best that has been thought and said,” is a subjective statement. It might be more suitable to “introduce pupils to humanity’s most up-to-date understanding of the world around them, allowing an appreciation of human creativity, ingenuity, and collective achievements” The second aim – outlining the move to a less prescriptive set of ‘aims’ for each subject – makes sense. The aims detailed in the draft KS3 science programme of study are sufficiently broad to allow schools to develop their own curricula. However, as I believe others have pointed out, they are descriptions of what students should be able to do, rather than what the aim of the curriculum is (i.e. how we hope the teaching and learning of the curriculum will impact on wider society).


2

Do you agree that instead of detailed subject-level aims we should free teachers to shape their own curriculum aims based on the content in the programmes of study?

  •  Agree
  •  Disagree
  •  Not sure
  •  No Response

Comments:While we may be granted freedom to shape the curriculum aims, this freedom is fairly limited when there is such a large amount of science knowledge included in the programme of study. This applies even more to the KS2 programmes of study for science, in which there does not seem to be much freedom at all. I have interpreted this greater level of detail as a means to support non-specialist teachers in primary schools. However, such teachers could be provided with more detailed ‘schemes of work’ where necessary, with a more focused and concise programme of study, similar in style to that used at KS3.


3

Do you have any comments on the content set out in the draft programmes of study? 

Answer:It does appear that the KS3 science programme of study was put together in three independent parts, with the biology, chemistry and physics sections being laid out differently, and having some overlap. I have commented on the specific points in the KS3 science programme of study, so these comments apply to the draft KS3 science programme of study. On the whole I approve of most of the content in the draft programme of study with the following exceptions / areas requiring clarification:

Working scientifically

– “…variables AND THEIR INSTRINSIC NATURE…” seems an unnecessary phrase.

– “…evaluate the RELIABILITY of methods…” should be changed to VALIDITY (for more information, refer to the ASE publication “The Language of Measurement”)

– “present reasoned explanations…in relation to predictions and hypotheses” should continue with “and using scientific knowledge and understanding”

– “identify further questions arising from their results” should be changed to “…arising from observations, measurements or data” to fit more clearly with the preceding points. There is also one major aspect of ‘working scientifically’ that is omitted

– there is nothing about understanding the ethical implications of scientific evidence or experimentation.

– “understake basic data analysis.” It is not clear exactly what this should entail at KS3 (e.g. calculating means? Standard deviations? Gradients of lines?)

Biology

– the specific structures of Amoeba and Euglena are not necessary and I would suggest they be removed

– in the “health” subsection, there should be another point related to disease, such as, “the causes and means of prevention of infectious and inherited diseases and cancer”

– I am very pleased to see the mention of “the importance of bacteria in digestion”

– in the “interactions and interdependencies” subsection, the line including, “…accumulation of toxic materials” should also include, “examples of parasitism and symbiosis” These forms of interspecific interaction, of major importance to health, food production and evolution, are entirely neglected in the current and draft programmes of study.

– in the “reproduction” section there should be a line about the changes associated with adolescence

– also in the “reproduction” section, there seems no need for the line about reproduction in plants, as this is included in the draft KS1-2 programmes of study

– the apparently inclusion of Watson, Crick, Wilkins and Franklin is surprising when there is no mention of Charles Darwin or Alfred Russell Wallace in the extensive section on inheritance and evolution. Or any other scientists anywhere else in the draft KS3 science programme of study.

– “…leading to competition WHICH CAN DRIVE ADAPTATION” should be changed to “…leading to competition FOR SURVIVAL AND REPRODUCTION” as the line as it stands implies a directed path of evolution, which is incorrect.

– “the use of gene banks…” is not necessary – although students at KS1 and 2 (according to the draft programmes of study) are expected to identify some plants and animals, at KS3 they should be expected to identify and classify more plants and animals

– suggested addition: “identification of at least five different animal and five different plant species found in the local area of the school”

On harmful substances:

– should include specific references to the safe and responsible use of chemicals, including medicines found in the home and specific references to the effects of alcohol, tobacco and volatile substances on the body’s systems in Key Stage 1 and 2. There should be specific references to tobacco, volitile substances and alcohol at Key Stage 3 as promoted by leading drug education charity Mentor.

I also agree with the statement by the Sex Education Forum on the inclusion of sex education in the science curriculum. I have copied at the bottom of this section a statement, which I endorse, by Dr Carol Davenport.

Chemistry

This whole section seems very brief and, as mentioned above, laid out in a different way to the biology and physics sections

– remove “identification of pure substances”

– the section on the particulate nature matter should stay, but be removed from the Physics section (it seems to be repeated)

– “molecules” should be added to the section on “atoms, elements and compounds”

– “the pH scale for measuring acidity/alkalinity USING INDICATORS AND pH PROBES”

– “the PHYSICAL AND chemical properties of metals and non-metals…”

– the Earth science section seems to be missing some key ideas: – “the FORMATION AND CURRENT composition of the Earth and its atmosphere”

– remove “the efficacy of recycling” or link it to the idea of conesrvation of mass, or the section referring to polymers

– add in “geological evidence of gradual changes and of the age of the Earth” and a clear cross-reference to the geography programme of study (since geology has been taught as part of the science curriculum for several years)

Physics

– while I have specialist knowledge of chemistry and biology, I do not feel sufficiently qualified to comment on specific aspects of the physics section. However, it is clear that –

– the section on “matter” is repeated in the chemistry section

– there is nothing about the moon, solar system or astronomy. While there is a section in the draft KS1-2 programmes of study (in Year 5) about the movement of the Earth, moon and Sun, there is scope in the KS3 programme of study to include an explanation of the seasons on Earth, as well as building on the KS2 programme of study with regards evidence from and modern advances in the field of astronomy and space exploration.

I have also read the comments written by a colleague in a different school, and have included those comments here.

With reference to the KS2 coverage of energy: The section on Energy is very different from previous energy discussions. I think that the writer of the draft PoS should make more use of the discussion of energy found in the Institute of Physics Supporting Physics Teaching 11-14 materials, as well as the recent paper from Professor Robin Millar ‘Towards a research informed sequence for teaching energy’, 2012. The concept of ‘auditing change’ by calculation would be better in KS4 when the students would meet and carry out appropriate calculations. The introduction of kW before students have studied power is unhelpful. It would be better to start out by considering fuels (possibly through energy values in food leading to fossil fuels etc). Also, as an examiner, I feel that it would be difficult to develop a wide variety of assessment items that would successfully test an understanding of some of the examples of processes that cause change at KS3. KS3 Waves – the concept of superposition is a difficult one and would be better in KS4. Would also be good to see a reference to other models of waves for transverse waves (such as the jelly baby wave machine), or remove specific reference to a slinky. Echoes and reflection of sound should be included. At KS3 it would perhaps be better to refer just to ‘light’ rather than ‘light waves’ as electromagnetic radiation can obviously be both a wave and a particle. KS3 Static electricity. This would be better in KS4 I think, especially as students do not appear to have been introduced to electrons in the Chemistry section at KS3. KS3 Forces and motion The phrase ‘torque and rotational effects’ is very wide, and I think that explaining rotational effects is too difficult at KS3 (or even KS4). Rotational dynamics is a difficult topic best covered beyond A-level. It would be good to include the concepts of force arrows, drawing forces on a diagram, adding forces in one direction, net forces and balanced forces at KS3

I support the Sex Education Forum’s response to the National Curriculum consultation setting out that the revised National Curriculum must ensure that all children and young people are entitled to a comprehensive and developmental programme of sex education through science.

I recommend that: The science curriculum adopts clear, open language and a positive tone for content relating to human reproduction, growth and sexual health. This is essential to make it clear to teachers, parents and pupils what will be taught. This means that: the term puberty should be used in primary science and the retrogressive note stating ‘they should not be expected to understand how reproduction occurs’ should be removed; at KS3 the current content on sexual health and disease, contraception, and adolescence should be retained, and learning about hormones should be included. Because the only statutory requirement for primary school sex education is within National Curriculum science, it is essential for safeguarding and well-being that the programme of study makes clear that: children can name external genitalia at Key stage 1; and learn about puberty before it happens i.e. introducing the idea at Lower KS 2. As there is no other requirement for primary SRE, science should reflect the current Sex and Relationship Education Guidance (DfEE 2000), which recommends that SRE: ‘should ensure that both boys and girls know about puberty and how a baby is born.’


4

Does the content set out in the draft programmes of study represent a sufficiently ambitious level of challenge for pupils at each key stage? 

  •  Sufficiently ambitious
  •  Not sufficiently ambitious
  •  Not sure
  •  No Response

Comments:As there are several inconsitencies between the different subjects within science, and between the key stages, so this question cannot be answered at present.


5

Do you have any comments on the proposed wording of the attainment targets?

Answer:Being identical for all subjects, these ‘attainment targets’ seem unnecessary. It would make sense for the DfE to give schools and teachers some guidance on methods that could be used to help assess student learning and track progress, now that levels are being removed. The removal of levels is a wise move, but a coherent approach to guiding students in their learning and improvement would also be wise. A number of teachers have suggested interesting means of doing this, which the DfE should take on board.

6

Do you agree that the draft programmes of study provide for effective progression between the key stages?

  •  Agree
  •  Disagree
  •  Not sure
  •  No Response

Comments:


7

Do you agree that we should change the subject information and communication technology to computing to reflect the content of the new programmes of study?

  •  Agree
  •  Disagree
  •  Not sure
  •  No Response

Comments:


8

Does the new National Curriculum embody an expectation of higher standards for all children?

  •  Yes
  •  No
  •  Not sure
  •  No Response

Comments:


9

What impact – either positive or negative – will our proposals have on the ‘protected characteristic’ groups.

Answer:It is difficult to see how these proposals will affect any particular groups of students. However, the removal of levels may help to promote the ‘growth mindset’ in students of all abilities and at all stages, as levels form labels which inhibit students’ learning and elicit ‘fixed mindsets.’


10

To what extent will the new National Curriculum make clear to parents what their children should be learning at each stage of their education

Answer:For the parents of students in local-authority maintained state schools, it will do so. Of course, this does not apply to academies or free schools.

11

What key factors will affect schools’ ability to implement the new National Curriculum successfully from September 2014?

Answer:The quality of its development, which may be hindered by the relatively narrow timescale. As long as cross-party support can be established (which I would hope could be done for a top-quality curriculum) I can see no reason why its introduction should only take place once all stakeholders are happy with it. If that means September 2015, then so be it. A wider issue will be the introduction of new curricular at all three key stages. This is absolutely not going to be manageable, and the programmes of study should instead be ‘fed in’ over two or three years, to allow schools and teachers the time to develop their school curricular to match the new programmes of study.


12

Who is best placed to support schools and/or develop resources that schools will need to teach the new National Curriculum?

Answer:The subject associations (such as the ASE, RSC, IoP, SoB) are well placed to offer such support, as are the other organisations currently involved in various curriculum developments, such as the Science Learning Centres, the University of York and the Salters’ Institute.


13

Do you agree that we should amend the legislation to disapply the National Curriculum programmes of study, attainment targets and statutory assessment arrangements, as set out in section 12 of the consultation document?

  •  Agree
  •  Disagree
  •  Not sure
  •  No Response

Comments:As long as the expectation for the quality of school curricula is strengthened.


14

Do you have any other comments you would like to make about the proposals in this consultation?

Answer:


15

Please let us have your views on responding to this consultation (e.g. the number and type of questions, whether it was easy to find, understand, complete etc.)

Answer:As mentioned above, the introduction of all the changes at once is a dangerous step, which will not allow schools and teachers the time, space and freedom to effectively develop their curricula accordingly.

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4 thoughts on “Draft KS3 science curriculum for 2014”

  1. I am glad that you have pointed out possible changes to the wording. This is where my skills fall down, I do think that changing certain phrases in the proposed curriculum is really important to ensure that everyone reading it understands the science that is supposed to be taught.

    I like the way that you have structured your reply and will probably copy it!

    I didn’t notice the use of the work “reliability” in the working scientifically section. This has caused contention in my department, so it would be much better if it were taken out.

    1. Thanks Helen.

      I can’t help feeling there’s something (or a few things) missing from the Chemistry section. On your blog post you’ve pointed out that we’re missing details about solutions (e.g. solubility and temperature) and conservation of mass.

      I know there are many problems with the Physics section, particularly the bit on energy, but it seems strange there’s no mention of the link between matter and energy in the Chemistry section (such as the energy released burning fuels).

      I wonder whether there should be included in the ‘Earth science’ part (notwithstanding the sections that have moved to Geography) something about formation of fossil fuels.

      Would it be a step too far to suggest that the model of the atom (and maybe even ions) could be introduced before the end of KS3?

    1. Neither did I. You think we should’ve? I certainly would have liked to spend more time on a better-researched response, but sadly life got in the way! We can just hope that enough sensible responses have been submitited that they can produce something more coherent.

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