Sunday, 14 April 2013

Responding to the NC consultation?

Those who have read my blog previous will know that I have spent time reviewing the proposed national curriculum for key stage 3 science and comparing it to the 1999 version.

I have responded to the consultation, as a culmination of about 10 hours of work.

Have I just wasted my time?

I have been urged, and myself urged others, to take the time to respond. I hope that the overwhelming responses to the consultation are words of warning along with specific areas where the new curriculum falls down. Perhaps, like me, others have given ideas and solutions to areas of the curriculum that they consider requiring change.

I feel desperately unhappy with the processes that have been used to construct the new curriculum and do not feel that it can represent an improvement. However, I feel that the DfE will not back down or slow down, which it desperately needs to do.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

When do you know it is time to move on?

When I was working as head of physics and key stage 4 coordinator at my previous school I felt that I wasn't far away from being able to tackle an assistant head position. I took a head of faculty post and now I feel that I am miles from the assistant head teacher role.

I wonder why that is?

I reflect and in all likelihood it is due to how immersed I am in the challenges of my own department, and we have a lot to develop, as well as the culture of the school. In my current school the culture is not one where we are encouraged to covet the jobs of those above us, instead it is one where we try and do the job we have well.

I responded to another blog post about developing young leaders within the school and said that I have seen the leadership development scheme destabilise the school by undermining the management as those being developed believe they should have the jobs of those at the top. I fell into that trap myself as a developing leader.

It is an interesting balance between developing the future leaders an ensuring that people are not stepping on the toes of those above them.

However, at the root of why I am not considering my move to the next position is that I am loving being involved in science education, I am embracing the challenges and opportunities that my school is presenting and that an assistant head teacher position just isn't that attractive to me.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Initial thoughts: Response to National Curriculum Consultation

I am writing mainly about the key stage 3 science national curriculum, as this is the one I feel most qualified to talk about.

The responses below are not my responses to the consultation, just my thoughts and reflections.

Question 1: Do you have any comments on the proposed aims for the National Curriculum as a whole as set out in the framework document?

The aims are: 
Para 3.1 The National Curriculum provides pupils with an introduction to the core knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement. 
Para 3.2 The National Curriculum is just one element in the education of every child. There is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the National Curriculum specifications. The National Curriculum provides an outline of core knowledge around which teachers can develop exciting and stimulating lessons.

I find these aims strange, to me they aren't the aims/outcomes of the curriculum, but rather the aims of the curriculum document.

It is interesting (although not surprising) that the aims of the proposed curriculum talk about the core knowledge and do not mention skills. I would have thought that you are not only taught knowledge in maths and english and would certainly shy away from teaching a knowledge-only science curriculum.

Although I don't like the phrase "it introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said", I don't think that you can argue with it! I think that I am not happy with the word "best", it is subjective, what makes something the best? In science I suppose that isn't such an issue as we will teach the "accepted" science, which could be interpreted as the "best".

I am not convinced by the second paragraph as I don't see it as an "aim", or at least not the way that it is phrased. It seems to be more of a "note". I would also raise the question "if the national curriculum is just one element in the education of every child", then what is the rest?

Overall, I think these aims should be better: In January I attended the ASE conference and went to a lecture by Michael Reiss who said that the aim of education should be the flourishing of students, but at the moment the curriculum starts with the subjects. See: I think it is something like this that should be the aims of the curriculum itself.

Question 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?

This is an interesting question. I have addressed the aim of the curriculum in another blog post previously:

The aims for science education in the ASE guide to secondary education are:

1. A grasp of the "big" ideas that enable active participation in decisions involving science and technology
2. A basic understanding of what science is, how it works and what are its strengths and limitations
3. The ability to continue learning

In the proposed National Curriculum the aims for science are:
These are more about the outcomes for the students, what they will learn.

I am very interested in question 2 and its implications.

Why would the aims of the science national curriculum restrict schools form being able to set their own aims? If there were no aims in the national curriculum for science would science departments (have to) make their own?

To be honest I don't think that the aims I have identified as the ones I would use and those in the national curriculum document are terribly different.

Question 3: Do you have any comments on the content set out in the draft programmes of study? 

Mmm - yes I do. (working scientifically) (bio) (chem) (phys) (energy)

Question 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?

I think that there is enough scope in the key stage 3 science curriculum to stretch the most able. I am surprised that the atom hasn't made it into the chemistry element, but I am not sure if I am going to mention that in my feedback.

Question 5: Do you have any comments on the proposed wording of the attainment targets?

In every section of the proposed national curriculum the attainment targets are described as:

Attainment targets: 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.

I suppose it is the target for all the students to attain. It is interesting that the attainment targets mention skills and processes, when the aims for the national curriculum don't.

I knew that the levels were going to be removed, but I do wonder how attainment is going to be measured?

In school I can use the experience of using levels in the past and using SOLO taxonomy to rate the difficulty of concepts and structure a scheme of work that moves from uni and multi-structural to relational and extended abstract (where appropriate). However, not everyone will have that experience and knowledge to fall back on.

Question 6: Do you agree that the draft programmes of study provide for effective progression between the key stages?

As the 2015 proposed curriculum is very similar to the 1999 version, I would imagine that the answer to this is "yes" as I thought that the 1999 version of the national curriculum provided adequate progression.

Question 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 for this subject? 

I am not going to answer this question as I don't feel qualified to.

Question 8: Does the new National Curriculum embody an expectation of higher standards for all children?

In previous blog posts I have compared the science national curriculum to the 1999 national curriculum and I really don't think that it represents "harder" science. Except in the inclusion of the 2nd law of thermodynamics in physics.

Question 9: What impact - either positive or negative - will our proposals have on the 'protected characteristic' groups?

This is an interesting question. Having read the response by the Sex Education Forum It does concern me that vulnerable students may not get the information they need from the science curriculum to make informed choices. Particularly when it comes to sexual health and also when it comes to disease.

I think that the 2008 science programme of study was concise enough for schools to create a curriculum that met the needs of their students. However, as most schools will be trying to implement a science curriculum that prepares students for their key stage 4 studies, and I believe that what has been written isn't far from what most schools will be teaching currently.

Question 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?

I wonder if I can write that the energy section of the physics key stage 3 curriculum is confusing? And that the overlap between physics and chemistry would make it unclear to parents where students should learn about particles.

Question 11: What key factors will affect schools’ ability to implement the new National Curriculum successfully from September 2014?


Question 12: Who is best placed to support schools and/or develop resources that schools will need to teach the new National Curriculum?

ASE - am I biased? I am not going to write pearson, collins etc! Although a lot of the textbooks authors are ASE members! If Kieth Johnson wants to write another chapter of Physics for You because of the new national curriculum I would guess that it would support teachers. Unfortunately there is no network of support left in the LAs to support. I will not be writing "teaching schools" either. I would guess that if the DfE does want to support teachers they will allow people to bid to supply that support and the SLC would be well placed to bid, and then schools won't let staff out...

Question 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?

At secondary level, it is vital that we maximise schools’ capacity to support and prepare pupils to succeed in more rigorous GCSEs. We therefore propose to disapply the current programmes of study for all subjects at Key Stage 3 (English, mathematics, science, art and design, citizenship, design and technology, geography, history, modern foreign languages, music and PE) and Key Stage 4 (English, mathematics, science, citizenship and PE) from September 2013. Disapplication would continue until the new programmes of study came into force for each subject for each year group. The ICT programmes of study have already been disapplied from September 2012.

I think that this is actually a good idea. It gives schools the change to fill the gaps with current year 7 students who will be doing the new gcses in 2015. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

Working Scientifically - Proposed 2015 National Curriculum for Science

I have been using APP a lot in my key stage 3 science lessons in the last few years.

I like the balance between scientific ideas, communicating in science, seeing how science ideas have changed, experimenting in science and writing conclusions using evidence. These are the things that I would like to see in the new science curriculum, and I think we get it.

I am not sure that I like the point "intrinsic nature" of variables, surely there name implies their nature? I wonder what is meant by "other factors", probably repeats and range of the variables. I don't like the use of the word reliability as it is part of the language of measurement that we have been struggling with. 

I am pleased with the inclusion of the word field work, it implies that the government supports this. 

I don't disagree with any of the statements in this section. Although I wonder if the sections could be better divided as it does overlap with the experimental skills and investigation section. Although I can see a rationale in making them separate as not every practical I carry out to find evidence to draw a conclusion during a lesson would be an investigation. (In fact not many are).

I think this section is about preparing for students to deal with science reporting in the media. A topic that I think is very important. However, I am not sure that "scientific attitudes" is the best subtitle for this.
I like the idea of having "measurement" as a specific topic within the working scientifically area as measuring things is pretty important to science, but I am not entirely sure that using equations and manipulating them comes under measurement or maybe more "collecting data"?

Again, the 2015 is more closely linked to the 1999 curriculum, but there is less detail. I actually think this is a step in the right direction, I don't think that the descriptions in the 2008 curriculum really put enough emphasis on carrying out investigations critically and what this involved. I say this because I think that working scientifically, the investigations and critical analysis of evidence, is the most important aspect of science in the school curriculum.

Here is Alessio's mind map of the working scientifically aspect of the new national curriculum.

Taken from

Comparing the Aims of the Science National Curriculum

I think that it is right that there is a rationale for each subject as part of the national curriculum. Why are some subjects valued more than others, what makes them important?

I have written elsewhere that in the first years of my career I didn't know why I taught science other than it was a subject that interested me. But I am now convinced of the importance of science as a compulsory part of the national curriculum until 16 years old.

In the 1999 curriculum and 2008 curriculum "the importance of science" was described. When reading them they same to be along the same lines. In the 2015 proposed study there is a slightly different tone. 




Using Wordle is often a good way to look at the language used. I think that the size of the word "knowledge" does show the the commitment of the current government to make a knowledge based curriculum first. However, there is acknowledgement that students should explain phenomena using scientific idea (knowledge in their words), and curiosity and excitement around science is stated. 

I think that this purpose does allow us to teach the type of science education that I would like to see. 

"Science has changed our lives and is vital to the world’s future prosperity, and all pupils should be taught essential aspects of the knowledge, methods, processes and uses of science. "

To me this sentence allows us to continue to teach "how science works" how discoveries are made and start to look at what is meant by "the scientific method".




The 1999 curriculum did not have succinct aims. 


These are interesting and contrasting aims. I see the 2008 aims as more general aims for the whole curriculum and the 2015 specific to science.

The statement I like the least is "through the specific disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics". It makes me imagine that students would not have "science" lessons, but separate lessons. Personally I think that would be a mistake. There are overlaps between the areas and a lot of other sections of science that could be included if science were considered as a whole. Looking at the ways that areas of science overlap is particularly important to reach the final aim.

Using the term STEM brings all four fields together in illustrating the interdependence, I think that splitting science would cause a small level of conflict when trying to promote STEM as a concept to young people. 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Energy in the 2015 National Curriculum

If you are thinking about responding to the proposed change to the national curriculum, I can give you a good reason to do it: the energy section of the physics key stage 3 curriculum is far more confusing than it needs to be.

The energy section of the 2015 proposed national curriculum looks like:

In the 1999 national curriculum energy looks like this:


In 2008 the national curriculum was condensed (a lot)

I think that the "changes and transfers" section from the 2015 curriculum means the same as the 3.1a statements from the 2008 curriculum. And that the long description is there because the person/people who wrote it want the students to experience the changes first hand? 

The next section about energy and fuel seems to suggest activities, but the word "calculations" makes me wonder what the person who wrote this was thinking. Already in the biology section students are expected to carry out calculations to work out a daily diet, is this another example of duplication, like in the case of particles between chemistry and physics? And for electrical appliances, does this statement imply that we have to calculate electricity bills like many GCSEs specifications might expect?

I am also not happy with the idea of introducing the kW. Particularly when power is not mentioned in the curriculum. I am aware the Year 9 QCA unit on energy and electricity had a lesson that involved power. I didn't teach it to many classes as they needed more time on the things that were in the national curriculum. So I would suspect that teaching energy is enough for key stage 3.

I do think that if the idea was to increase the difficulty then efficiency would have been a better concept to chose to make more explicit in the national curriculum than sliding power in to it.

The "auditing change" section is also confusing. I assume that it doesn't mean students should use E=1/2kx^2 or E=mcT etc, but that students should use the principle of conservation of energy qualitatively.

It is a big pity that energy resources are missing from the 2015 national curriculum at key stage 3. There is a sentence in the key stage 4 curriculum: "national and global fuel resources, renewable energy sources". I think that this is too big a topic to go into cold, students will have to have heard of the difference energy resources in order to be able to analyse them in a national context.

The 2015 key stage 3 energy statements have to be taken into context with the key stage 4 statements on energy. I don't think that the key stage 4 statements represent much of a change, except adding electrical energy = voltage x charge (but I introduce the ground work for this in year 9 energy and electricity unit, so it wouldn't be a big leap). And of course the conceptual idea that energy transfers tend to reduce the difference that caused them to reach equilibrium.

It is interesting that thermal insulation is mentioned in the key stage 4 2015 curriculum, but heat transfer is not mentioned explicitly in either. I like teaching conduction and convection as it gives a context for the particle model. I can hear the students saying "why do I need to learn this?" about conduction and convection, so perhaps it isn't such a terrible thing to lose, but I would rather it was in either key stage 3 or 4. (Although infra-red radiation is mentioned in the waves section of the curriculum).

Energy is fundamental to the understanding of physics and is one of the most important things to get right. I think that the DfE does need to look again at this section of the curriculum even if it changes nothing else.

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.

Proposed Changes to the National Curriculum 2: chemistry

My previous post looked at the key stage 3 biology section of the proposed national curriculum from 2015. In this one look at the chemistry section of the key stage 3 curriculum. Again I compare it to the 1999 national curriculum as this is the one that we use in my school because we follow the QCA units.

The images with orange headings are from the 1999 curriculum and the blue headings are from the 2015 proposed curriculum.

I have found the chemistry national curriculum a lot harder to compare directly from 1999 to 2015.

The main omissions are the sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks, the concept of conservation of mass during chemical and physical changes, the relationship between temperature and solubility, carbonates also seem to be missing.

The additions include studying the atmosphere, and "ceramics, polymers and composites" (for such a little sentence this opens up a vast section of chemistry), endothermic and exothermic reactions and using carbon to extract metals from their oxides.

Currently I have to decide if we should change the earth science units taught in year 8 and perhaps move the 9G and H units in order that we can fill in the areas that the students will have missed on polymers and ceramics. I will look at the key stage 4 curriculum before deciding.

Please do comment if you see something that I have overlooked.



The first statement in the 1999 KS3 chemistry section talks about classification of materials and interestingly as classification has gone from biology it also seems to be missing from chemistry too. 

I wonder if using the melting and boiling points to work out the state of a material would still be expected even though it is no longer explicit, (see below) we still have to teach the physical properties of the elements. 

There are glimpses if you look at the "periodic table" section of the 2015 national curriculum.

However, in the new national curriculum only the properties of the elements are considered and not materials in general. And the last statement about "with respect to acidity" does that mean how they react with acid, their pH, or both?

The particle theory seems to be very similar, the energy changes involved in state changes was present in the 1999 national curriculum. And we do already teach that the particles move/vibrate according to their state. 


The mixtures aspect of the proposed 2015 national curriculum seems similar to the 1999 national curriculum. And it is the first time that experimental techniques are mentioned in the chemistry section. I don't disagree with the idea of defining what a pure substance is - I teach this as part of 7H, so including it explicitly won't cause an issue. What is missing is the relationship between solubility and temperature and the emphasis on understanding solutions, as well as the conservation of mass.


The change to the Earth Science section of the key stage 3 national curriculum seems to be the greatest. I like teaching 8G&H. 

However I am pleased to see global warming and the atmosphere being addressed at key stage 3, as well as recycling. 


It is interesting to see that the statement about conservation of mass in a chemical or physical reaction is not present in the proposed 2015 national curriculum. It is an abstract idea, but something I like to cover as it is part the story of how oxygen was discovered. 

Rather than give a general statement about how chemical reactions are useful in everyday life, the proposed curriculum lists those chemical reactions. I can't think of where thermal decomposition occurs in the QCA units, but the other types of chemical reaction we have to teach will not mean a big change. 


This is new to key stage 3 national curriculum, but I believe that it is a part of the "using chemical reactions" QCA unit, so again does not represent a big change.



I think that the main change is including the idea of using carbon to extract metals from their ores. This is interesting when rocks have not been studied as part of the 2015 national curriculum, but perhaps this gives the potential to add the usefulness of rocks as a raw material. 


I don't think that the proposed 2015 national curriculum presents much of a change to the reactions of acids. Although the last statement needs to be corrected to show that when acids react with metals a salt an hydrogen (not water) is formed.