Sunday, 7 April 2013

Proposed Changes to the National Curriculum 3: KS3 Physics

I have certainly saved the worse to last. Physics is my subject and having read the proposed national curriculum document I am wondering if I do understand physics as well as I thought that I did. Is it just me?

This is the offending section:

I think that I will come back to it!

Aspects that are no longer part of the national curriculum are: the concept of weight (vs mass), the magnetic field of a solenoid, effects of loud sounds on the ear, and the majority of the aspects of the space topic. The also major omission is the topic of energy resources providing the energy we need as well as conduction, convection, evaporation and radiation (unless they are part of the auditing change section as I don't see what that is getting at).

Concepts that have been added to the 2015 national curriculum are: resistance, V=IR, static electricity, D.C motors, work done, Hooke's Law, relative motion, atmospheric pressure, convex lenses, water waves and superposition, water's density 'anomaly' during freezing, sublimation, brownian motion, and some aspects of the energy topics that I have not yet investigated fully.



Electricity has to be my favourite part of physics. I don't think that there is much of a change between the 1999 curriculum and what is proposed for 2015, except that "resistance" has been included, and V=IR. Personally I have been happy teaching electrical circuits without using the mathematical definition of resistance, however I can see Key stage 3 students being able to do simple calculations of resistance using measurements from voltage and current. I would need to add this to my schemes of work.

The other addition is the mention of the domestic main ring. I don't think that it is a bad thing for students to be taught wiring in their own homes as a context for understanding electrical circuits.

This is new. Static electricity used to be in the national curriculum at key stage 3, before I started teaching and it was taken out. I do not see how students are not expected to know about the atom in chemistry, yet are expected to know about positive and negative charges along with the electron in physics. I would agree with the addition of static electricity as a type of force, but not involving electrons and certainly not bringing in the A2 level concept of electric fields. Lets stick to magnetic fields that are tangible as you can see them using a plotting compass or iron filings.


Here is where we see the influence of including practical techniques. I don't see much difference between the 8J unit we teach now. However, I do question the inclusion of the D.C motor. Are students expected to understand how it works? I will add to this that the DC motor is not included in the  key stage 4 curriculum. Surely the bell or circuit breaker would be better, as we have currently?


You can't change Newton's laws of motion so you can't change what needs to be taught about forces. Distance-Time graphs are generally taught as part of 9K Speeding Up anyway so their explicit inclusion won't affect things too much.

What I am not keen on is the constant references to springs. Hooke's Law is taught in year 7, but not the significance of it. I use the lesson to teach about graphs and drawing a line of best fit.

It is interesting that the mass vs weight concept is not present in the proposed national curriculum.

I remember studying "work done" in year 9 (1993) and not understanding the point of it at all. To be honest the point of "work done" didn't make sense to me until I studied As Mechanics and learned about integration. I don't see how understanding the concept of work really helps young people become scientifically literate.


Again, I don't see a great deal of difference here. I have never taught atmospheric pressure, but it is a good context to teach about pressure.


I think that the newer version of the curriculum is just a poorly explained version of the 1999 curriculum. The main addition I can see is the inclusion of the concept of the convex lens. I have seen this in key stage 3 books as an application of refraction, so it isn't a major departure from what we do now. Understanding how a convex lens works does involve some tricky thinking and a good understanding of refraction, so allows those few students who will get it to be extended.


I have never really concentrated on teaching the effects of loud sounds on hearing, so I am not upset to see it not included in the proposed curriculum. It is interested that the microphone is included explicitly, I think that this is a good idea as we are using microphones more and more via our personal mobile phones etc.

I didn't know that ultrasound was used in physiotherapy. But I don't see the issue in teaching sound waves as carrying energy and there are applications other than hearing.


This is new, I am not sure that I like the inclusion of superposition. I can easily demonstrate it in the ripple tank, but the idea that waves overlap, change and then emerge unchanged is quite an abstact one and I think best left for key stage 4. I can see why it has been included as interference is a property that is specific to waves and seeing it in water waves before going on to study it at key stage 4 in radio waves might help to give a concrete base to the abstract learning.


There are two mentions of space in the proposed 2015 key stage 3 national curriculum, one about the relative motion of the sun, moon and Earth, and one about gravity. I think that students will be upset to see space in its own right removed from the national curriculum. Although schools have taught key stage 3 through the context of space, so teachers don't need to throw out space completely.

I think that it is really disappointing that the people writing the curriculum did not see the value in space. Have they not heard of the Brian Cox effect?


I have it on good authority that those writing the chemistry section of the 2015 national curriculum and those writing the physics section did not have the opportunity to communicate. This section proves this. It is ridiculous that science hasn't been treated as "science" at key stage 3. For example: in order to understand chemistry, one has to have a grasp of the concept of energy and to grasp ideas such as photosynthesis and respiration an idea of chemical reactions as the rearrangements of atoms is necessary.

It is interesting that density, conservation of mass, brownian motion and the difference between chemical and physical changes are explicitly mentioned, where they are not in the chemistry curriculum.

I am not happy with the inclusion of the term "internal energy". I haven't use the term since I studied A-levels myself and it wasn't clear what it was then either! Lets be explicit about what is meant in the context, does it mean the energy which gives rise to the temperature of the matter?


I think that I need a full blog post on this topic. To be honest I haven't got a clue what the meaning of most of the statements in the proposed national curriculum means. I would be grateful if anyone who could explain the format would leave a comment on this post.

I think that of all three sciences physics has come out worst.


  1. I'd be interested to see your thoughts on the energy section, please.

    1. look on this post.

  2. I am in complete agreeement! Currently trying to write a SoW for Y7 Circuits to cover the new NC requirements and completely stuck on the static electricity lesson!!

  3. I agree I also think physics has come off worse, Im looking at re-writing our schemes now and similarly are consufed but what some of the auditing change sections are getting at. Also think its really dissapointing that most of space has gone. Im considering leaving it in anyway as the students really enjoy it. I need something to catch their interest in the hope of inspiring them to A-Level physics.
    Similalry, I intend to either include the structure of the atom in chemistry or not include that electorns are tranfered in static electricity. Cant believe there is not a more joined up approach here.