When it looked like 100% of the assessment of GCSE science was going to be examination based I was dismayed. "Science is a practical subject and we will lose that if the assessment doesn't reflect this".
In 2005 I went to an event for all the science teachers in Dudley and Wolverhampton LAs. I didn't make notes, but I do remember it was someone from York as the National Science Learning Centre was mentioned a lot. The speaker said that assessment is what drives the taught curriculum and that there were issues in how to assess 'how science works' part of the upcoming GCSE science. (The 2006 GCSE where double science was split to core and additional and 'how science works' was introduced). *at least this is what I remember hearing.
I found this quite powerful, and it did/does reflect my practice. I teach to the test. To this day I teach to the test: why would I not look at the hoop my students have to jump through and aim them as clearly as I can in the right direction?
However, it also made me feel like a tiny cog in the wheel. What I do, how I do it and what my students get out of it, is dictated by the skill of exam writers.
At the end of June I went to the ASE celebration conference in Hatfield. As part of that I attended two sessions host by AQA. We were looking at threats and possible solutions to science education in the next ten years. The audience had to suggest policies to address these threats. The topics picked were linked assessment and STEM. As part of the discussions there were suggestions put forward of how to 'encourage' schools to adopt the policy ideas being proposed: the responses were 'ofqual', 'league tables', 'ofsted' etc. All the things that are used as a stick against schools.
So I go back to my considerations about practical work. Is the call for there to be a practical aspect to the GCSE science assessment because it is a genuine skill that scientists need to be ready for a job, university or college? Or is it simply that we are proud in the UK of our practical science culture and want to maintain it through using the stick of assessment. Do either of these reasons really require that we examine practical work?
I would really like to see a culture where we didn't need the stick to enforce a certain type of practice. If it is good for the students then that should be enough reason to do it.
It all comes back to the professionalism of teachers: do we deserve it? Should we be given the responsibility and see if the 'profession' can rise to it?Would practice actually improve for the better because we would be adding things to both to school life and to lessons that would have an impact that is not possible to measure in exams, but will benefit the adult that child will become and the society it will live in.
But, my thoughts always come back to the probability that teaching to the test is so ingrained in teachers that "Science is a practical subject and we will lose that if the assessment doesn't reflect this".
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