Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Royal Society Report

I missed the #ASEchat about the Royal Society report about the future of STEM education. I have since taken the time to read the summary of the report https://royalsociety.org/~/media/education/policy/vision/reports/vision-summary-report-20140625.pdf and the full version too: https://royalsociety.org/~/media/education/policy/vision/reports/vision-full-report-20140625.pdf

The key recommendations of the report are below. In the full report page 12 has a time line for achieving the vision.

I think that all the points are important.
All young people study mathematics and science up to the age of 18.
Of all the recommendations I believe that this is one of the hardest to implement. I will be interested to see how the demand on the number of maths teachers changes as students have to study maths to 18 if they have no achieved a grade C at GCSE. I would also be interested in knowing how this would impact at GCSE. Science is such a vast knowledge base that I can't see how we could agree on a satisfactory curriculum.

However, I also believe that I am coming at this from the status quo. We should be thinking about what 16-19 education is for. If we can move away from it being a ticket to university only, then there is the opportunity to reassess what and how we teach students post-16.

I am concerned about the number of students who do only one science A-level. Science A-levels are the most common essential or desirable qualifications (after maths) for getting into university and don't only one of them often isn't enough. A rethink of the qualification suite at 16-19 would be welcome.

Curricula and their assessment are stabilised and support excellent teaching and learning.
I can't disagree with this. We have just had a curriculum review that changed very little. Does a change in the assessment require a change in the specification? Do we need to have a big swap round every 4-6 years or can we have incremental changes where they are necessary?

In the future more knowledge will be accessible from the web through subscriptions to publishers resources. Incremental changes and resources that keep pace would justify the subscription format. Although I don't mean to justify this practice by having constant change.

The recommendation includes setting up an expert body to oversee the curriculum. I would welcome this. It is important that we include people who have thought carefully about how progression of learning, how the topics will relate to the skills that need to be built and to the knowledge and skills that are needed once the students leave school. I think an expert body is best placed to oversee this. It should be tied to the long-term prosperity of the country and not be a political football.

I can't see this happening though. This government cut the quangos in order to give teachers and schools more autonomy and the DfE more control (that I can see). This kind of body would have to be funded by the government to avoid allegations of bias and I can't see that happening.
Teachers have high professional status and there is a strong supply of science and mathematics specialists.
This is a bit of a circular issue, if we don't have good teachers, then we probably won't have a supply of them as young people won't be enthused by the subject areas. I want to see support for existing teachers and better professional support.

I and really pleased to see that the Royal Society also included technicians in this area. Effective and knowledgable technicians are vital to high quality science teaching. Their knowledge and organisation support science teachers and boost their CPD.

The other comment that interests me under this heading the summary of the report is that subject-specific professional development should be a requirement. I feel that the SLC (in their own interests I grant you) have put forward a strong case for this. However, professional development is more than just going on a course and I hope that the engagement of teachers in their own development and reflection on their practices continues to grow. I see this happening, however it still needs to be formalised and linked to evidence and research into impact.

This is an area that the government need to think carefully about. What does a career path for a teacher look like and does it represent the best possible way to ensuring that there are the best possible teachers in the classroom. I think the current system promotes leadership and school based issues over subject specialists and those who want to spend time in the classroom.

Students understand the significance of STEM through better careers awareness and guidance.
This is an area that I feel that I am weak in. I really have little idea what scientists do beyond go to university and research things. I know that there are companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca who are very keen to promote good science teaching, I assume because they want scientists... But what does working for them look like, what would you do? It is easy for me to say to students that science is linked to every part of life, but how does that really link to careers?

I would like to see more practical ideas for how this could be accomplished without having resorting to vast amount of work for individual schools and departments that I envisage. It is certainly not an area many schools can prioritise as they need good attendance of students to lessons to help them focus on grades. This means there is less time to visit companies or have outside speakers.

The success of students, teachers and education systems is judged through appropriate and broadly based assessment and accountability measures. 
I see that the Royal Society has a vision where some teachers are trained to become expert assessors. I have heard this idea before and I am coming to like it. I think it is certainly something ofqual (and score) should look at further. We need to be able to bring back teacher assessment as a trusted part of the assessment of science qualifications.

I also like to see that the Royal Society feel that accountability should be more than just exam results. I understand why exam results are so liked, but I have to agree. Perhaps the school's alumni or destinations should be looked at (although I would hate young people to be forced into careers for the sake of league tables), perhaps the engagement students have with the wider community. Perhaps an e-portfolio of the work of students so that progress can be assesses?

I hope that the Royal Society are keeping an eye on the work that the Heads Roundtable (and vice versa) are doing on accountability measures. The aims of the two bodies may be aligned.

Education policy and practice are better informed by evidence.
I agree with this statement, we need to find out what influences students to study STEM and work out what puts them off. I would be interested in finding out how many students have science as their favourite subject in Year 7 and how many of them have maintained that to Year 9 or 11? How then can we change our approach to have an impact on that.

On area that I have been interested in recently is girls being put off physics, seeing it as too masculine and not for them. I am interested to see where the IoP go with this and if they can find a way to have a positive impact on the proportion of girls and boys studying physics.

What is the best way to teach science? Does it depend on the topic? Does practical really help? Can we teach problem solving in science lessons? We are science teachers, we should be able to look to evidence to work out the best way to teach.

It is a really interesting report and I suggest you have a look.

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