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primary science - better or worse since SATS abolished?

Discussion in 'Primary' started by hastings, Jan 30, 2012.

  1. Looking for some help.
    I'm a freelance journalist - regular TES contributor - and I'm writing an article for a special science teaching supplement that's coming out soon.
    This particular piece will be looking at the issue of primary science post Sats...has the status of science been diminshed because it's no longer tested nationally? Are schools investing less / giving science a lower priority?
    Or has the abolition of Sats made it easier to innovate and to offer an exciting curriculum?
    I would love to hear the views of some primary teachers on this - and if anyone is willing to answer a few questions by email (can be entirely anonymous) then I'd really appreciate it...
    My email is stevenhastings8@gmail.com
  2. tafkam

    tafkam Occasional commenter

    Try "virtually non-existant" in Y6!
  3. nick909

    nick909 Star commenter

    I think the SC2, 3 and 4 elements have certainly suffered.
    Sc1 has a greater focus now, in theory, but I'm not convinced it's being taught properly everywhere.
    A huge issue is the assessment of science now. APP for science is a mess, unwieldly and virtually incomprehensible.
  4. tafkam
    are you suggesting that some schools have cut back the time
    dedicated to science in Year 6? If so, where has that time been
    re-allocated - maths and english?
    might be a stupid question, but afraid I'm neither a primary teacher nor a science specilaist, so can you just explain.... why does the end of Sats mean some parts of science curriculum are being less well-taught?
  5. nick909

    nick909 Star commenter

    A good proportion of the Science NCT was based on scientific knowledge. The facts. Broadly split into SC2 - Life processes and living things; SC3 - Materials and their properties and SC4 - Physical processes. A small proportion of the NCT focussed on SC1 - Scientific enquiry.
    When the NCTs were in place, standard practice in most schools was a revision programme in the Spring Term so children could revisit the SC2, 3 and 4 knowledge they should have covered in Yrs 1-6. A consolidation process that meant children had these facts fresh and available ready for the tests. Now, given that the tests don't exist ,children aren't given a chance to revisit this knowledge with any degree of thoroughness (unless the school manages this skillfully within their science curriculum) and so I'm convinced that many children leave Y6 with poorer scientific knowledge than they did previously. I wonder how many Y6 leavers could accurately draw a circuit diagram, write with confidence about reversible and irreversible changes, name and describe the life processes or talk about the relative qualities of gases, solids and liquids. Less than when the NCTs were in place, I feel.
    SC1 has had more of a focus lately, with the APP guidance on assessing science even possibly being interpreted in such a way that SC2, 3 and 4 as being of virtually no importance compared to SC1. A point I would make is that the SC1 question that always appeared on each of the two NCTs was usually fairly poor in that it was often very weird, badly worded and children could be trained to answer it without necessarily having great SC1 skills, and so it's fair to say that the NCTs were poor at gaining an accurate view of children's proficiency in SC1, especially if taken in isolation.
    I don't wish to get into a discussion about the value of SC1 over SC2, 3 and 4, but I do worry that the shift in focus to SC1 and removal of the NCTs has led to the the knowledge and understanding based areas having suffered for KS2 leavers. I'm sure some people will post and say that standards haven't changed at their respective schools - well done to them if this is the case - but I don't feel it's like this everywhere. Especially, if as Tafkam suggests, science is barely taught at all during the run up to the NCTs in Y6.
  6. Milgod

    Milgod Established commenter

    I could not agree more.

    I think the lack of focus on knowledge has become the in thing with many teachers. Not just in science. There is a clear need to get children thinking about what they are doing and how to do it, but knowledge suffers too often.

    All we seem to talk about (in staff meetings) are Sc1, history/geography skills, thinking skills in RE. Some teachers seem to feel these are the be all and end all. As if you give school children the skills they will then go and find the knowledge themselves, as opposed to playing on their 360.

  7. I think it's made it harder for staff that aren't confident/ knowledgeable to teach science. They found it easier to teach from a script! I'm constantly being asked to explain simple scientific concepts by various staff who seem to have lost their way. The message from the top seems to be concentrate on the 3 R's because the status of science is falling through the floor.
  8. The level of Science teaching in our year 6 dropped from 4 hours a week (so we could cover all Year 6 objectives by mid Feb to allow for revision of all the previous years work) to 2 hours a week. The children were much less clear on their knowledge of Science and as a result when I teacher assessed (which in Year 6 has to include SC2,3 and 4 as well as SC1 - worth double), the school went down on level 5s especially - this was supported by an old NC test as well. As the amount of teaching was halved was this really a surprise?
    The way Science is/was set up across KS2 means that Year 5 work was never built on in year 6 - it tends to be year 4 work which is added to. Therefore Year 5 work tends to get lost - as this covers some of the most important knowledge (evaportation/condensation anyone?) surely levels have to fall?
    Why was Science set up in this absurd 2 yearly cycle way anyway?
    Nobody in SLT really cares about Science anymore as long as Maths and Literacy progress is good or that's what it seems to me...
  9. nick909

    nick909 Star commenter

    It would be interesting to hear the secondary perspective on this. Have they started seeing Y7 children arriving with a markedly poorer grasp of the knowledge and understanding aspects of science since the NCTs were dropped? Or a poorer grasp generally, as result of reduced teaching of science?
    Maybe some of the middle school folk on the forum have a view? Tafkam?
  10. tafkam

    tafkam Occasional commenter

    As nick909 alluded to, I teach Y7 n a middle school, and have no doubt that the time devoted to Science has plummeted since the testing requirement disappeared. And I know anecdotally of schools which have been selected for samping suddenly rocketing it back up again!
    The pressure is on to get the high percentages in English and Maths; all the time that is the case, Science will be treated like all the foundation subjects - fitted in, on an ad hoc basis, and ideally in a context that allows a focus on either English or Maths.
    The students I receive have weaker subject knowledge, and no notable Sc1 strengths compared to those previously.
    If you only value what you can measure, then whatever you cease to measure becomes worthless to many.
  11. paulie86

    paulie86 New commenter

    I too work in a middle school. (although I don't teach KS3 this year.) I completely agree with Tafkam. The amount of science taught has been cut down from 3 hours, 3years ago then to 2.5 and now only 2 hours. That's in KS2 and 3. I find that although in my Year 6 lessons, I could, in theory be doing more SC1, there is now such a small amount of time to squash the rest in. A good assesed pratcical can take 2 hours worth of lessons if not more. Schools are definitly placing less value on science. When I started applying for jobs science leaders in primary schools, were usually advertised with a TLR, however since SATs have gone I have not seen a single post. I am moving to a primary school in September, who have previously taught science as a descrete subject, however they now teach it as part of 'topic' I was very shocked to see that 'Mico-organisims' (taught in Year 6 if you follow the QCA plans) is taught in Year 3 and then never re-visited. They do howver teach 1 hour Literacy, 20 minutes phonics and half an hour guided reading every day.
  12. Thanks to everyone for their replies - much appreciated!
  13. Agree with the poster who said the best people to ask would be the Science teachers at secondary schoools.
    Interesting discussion though.
  14. Milgod

    Milgod Established commenter

    I should add that although I feel many teachers don't feel the need to focus on, or bother with much, knowledge science is certainly better for me since SATs have gone.
    We haven't changed the amount of science we do in my school or class. We always did two hours (a week, not term) and still do. What has changed is the fact that in Y6 we don't have to revise everything! I can do my own science topics now, not just ones the children did in Y5, Y4, Y3 etc.
  15. gogojonny

    gogojonny New commenter

    I am shocked at the number of children who draw tables with pen and not a pencil.
    Science is about passion, the best teachers are the ones who are passionate about the subject. Sadly too many primary teachers either don't teach science, moan they are not 'specialists' or just follow a worksheet based script which fails to motivate the pupils.

  16. razziegyp

    razziegyp New commenter

    The last year of the Science Sats, we had 77% level 5s. The next year we wouldn't have mustered 7%. Appalling but true.
  17. In the junior school from which I recently retired, science has been more or less abandoned and nobody cares. One Y6 teacher told the children, "You don't need to do science -there isn't a test." It's just literacy now that matters, and ofsted don't care either.
  18. Just read your post. We have gone down from around 85% to my estimate of 8%.
  19. mystery10

    mystery10 Occasional commenter

    Interesting discussion Hastings.
    When tests are brought in to hitherto untested areas schools complain that this encourages "teaching to the test" and that the teaching will be narrower and poorer as a consequence. Here, however, we are seeing that removal of a test might result in a subject not being taught at all. Although of course, while tests remain in some subjects and not others, this is not entirely a fair thing to say. Perhaps if all tests were removed then primary schools would spread their effort across every subject more fairly.
    My own personal opinion may be unpopular, but I think that on balance, less teaching of the material that is covered in the National Curriculum for KS1 and KS2 science might actually improve science standards at secondary school, not lower it. It is a very hard act to teach across all the sciences at any level, even for a science graduate who has generally specialised in just one narrow area.
    I used to teach science at secondary level - in the very early days of GCSE and prior to the changes to A levels - at the point where O levels had just gone but A level syllabuses remained untouched. We took children in from middle schools into year 9, taught mixed ability science to GCSE, and many went on to do extremely well at A level and off to do science degrees. There was no national curriculum for science in the middle schools. Frankly, we prayed that they had done as little science as possible at the middle schools as otherwise when it came to starting each new topic we were regaled with an "uuuuggh, we've done that already at middle school miss / sir" and then all the scientific misconceptions which had been firmly drummed in by teachers as well as parents took longer to clear.
    It even starts in nursery now. For example, how many times are children supposed to do the "sink or float" experiment these days? Many pres-schools do it - yes it's fun, but the children make predictions and it's like they are supposed to be working out during the experiment why some things float and others don't. They haven't the foggiest clue and neither have most of the people doing the experiment with them. Play it as a bit of explorative play, yes, but don't get people who haven't a clue making it sound like a scientific experiment.
    My experience as a vicarious consumer of primary science via my young children has been no better either - maths homeworks coming home in year 1 with little pictures of stationary tractors, prams, chairs etc which had to be placed in the "right" part of a Venn diagram according to whether it is push or pull forces or both that were involved. As my children pointed out, both types of force were relevant in all the pictures ... but I know that wasn't the answer the teacher was expecting. They generally are given rather mediocre teacher assessment levels for science, but I'd give most of their teachers P levels for science on the basis of the things I've heard them say.
    Why do primary pupils need to talk about and try to design fair tests from year 1 onwards? Why do they have to learn about forces from people who don't really understand much about them?
    For a secondary science teacher a child who can read, write, do maths, follow instructions, has the fine motor skills to safely carry out an experiment, is good at observing, has a fund of knowledge about the world around us from reading and observing and playing outside and visiting places is going to make a far better science pupil than someone who has had some kind of pseudo-science teaching at primary school either for a NCT or not for an NCT. There's plenty of time at secondary school to teach forces, circuits, human biology, experimental design etc etc. It doesn't need dabbling in so much at primary school.
    This sounds very critical, but I feel sorry for primary teachers having to teach science, and I really can't imagine that it is going to make much difference at all whether science as laid out in the national curriculum is taught in primary schools or not.
  20. Hear hear mystery10. There is so much of the natural world to observe and learn about before ever starting on the theoretical stuff. Children learn of styles and stigmas but can't tell a celandine from a buttercup. Nature plus discoveries and inventions should be given top billing through geog. and history. Egyptian shadufs - what a brilliant invention! Yew tree wood for bows but not arrows - why? Wood v metal - to whittle or to mould? Pros and cons. How, why? Wheels - wood, then wood+metal then metal + rubber. Rope; one of our best inventions ever - imagine ships without it.. Fabrics - animal, vegetable or mineral? Dyes - why as well as what/how.? I could go on but won't.

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