Last weekend I was fortunate enough to go to Belfast for the Primary Science Teaching Trust’s International conference. As usual, anything to do with the Trust makes me want to wave a giant flag for primary science, which we all know is suffering badly from second class citizenship in the land of Maths and English. However, not all schools are allowing this marginalisation to happen, but quite the reverse: they are enriching those two high stakes core subjects through creative enquiry based science and reaping the rewards through not only fantastic progress, but recognition from Ofsted that they provide a rich curriculum for their children which, far from detracting from literacy and numeracy learning, only deepen them.
It it in this way that I would urge Ofsted to continue celebrating schools who truly treat science as a core subject and have it high on the school profile. In the same vein, I’d also ask them to give those schools who fixate obsessively on Maths and English a sharp poke with a stick because ironic as it might seem, some school leaders do things more readily for Ofsted than they do for the children they are meant to provide for.
No doubt there are school leaders who will blame teachers for this narrow focus, after all it’s teachers who are teaching all this stuff. Yet at the same time these leaders insist on focusing school monitoring only on English and Maths, even to the extent of limiting observations to only these two subjects and ensuring that teachers’ pay is attached to the children’s progress data in them too (although it shouldn’t be related to data scores for any subject of course). Quite simply, if you want a broad and balanced curriculum don’t reward people for being fixated and narrow, and relating progress for English and Maths to pay does this. In turn, the DfE focus on only Maths and English results fuels this. Let’s face it, if you give a salesman a commission for selling blue boxes, he’s only going to want to sell blue boxes; he’ll even want to persuade people who want red boxes that blue are better. This is not to say that leaders or teachers are only motivated by prescribed targets – they aren’t, at least I’ve never met a teacher who would deliberately prioritise a salary rise over learning, but then again, I have met leaders who have prioritised data targets over learning, but that’s a whole other can of worms that has been written about a lot, hasn’t it? The truth is that performance related pay means a certain performance matters and for most teachers it’s the pressure to perform well that matters, not the money. Teachers want to do well, just like anybody, so that’s why making performance judgements about just two subjects is bad for that broad and balanced curriculum that must include science, and lots of it.
This year has been a challenge for all schools making the transition to a new curriculum and assessing without levels, so they can be forgiven for making this the main focus rather than curricular breadth. However, schools must now think about where science is in their school and how it sits alongside reading, writing and maths. Science subject leaders, and what they do, need to be brought into the spot light, as is so with Maths and English subject leaders, then the profile of primary science will be raised nationally. This certainly doesn’t mean we need to bring back science tests- surely we can raise the status of a subject without involving the STA? Yes we can, if teachers are encouraged by all those ‘in charge’ to focus more on science, including covering it often through English and Maths and not always assigning it to ‘afternoon learning’ when young minds just aren’t as snappy, let alone old ones. I’ve seen some really effective writing about science topics at some schools and all sorts of science measured and analysed in maths, as well as really effective learning in science in its own right; this should not only be encouraged now, but expected across primary schools.
Come on, the scientists of tomorrow who will sort everything out when you’re too old to stand up are sitting in your primary schools now. Give then a chance!