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A crazy experiment and no consensus: accounts of how we improved our Science curriculum (part 1)

Sciences, contents galore and those kids just can’t remember anything!

What do you get when you have several science teachers in front of you and you ask them to agree on something?

A crazy experiment and no consensus!

My endeavours to steer the development of the science curriculum over the last 4 years has been riddled with challenges, frustrations, passion and in the end, great satisfaction. I’d like to share with you our rollercoaster journey of painstakingly perfecting our science curriculum - a seemingly impossible task at first.

Alongside my esteemed science experts, I will seek to explain the rationale behind our curriculum organisation and sequencing of our key learning objectives from Years 7 to 11.

So much content, not enough time to teach everything!

“One cannot make a curriculum better by removing unimportant material because there is no unimportant material – it’s all good. Generally, the only way to improve a curriculum is to leave out important material so that the teacher and the students can spend more time on more important material – ‘the good schoolmaster is known by the number of valuable subjects that he declines to teach.’”

One of my childhood recollections of a science practical includes me throwing test tubes from one end of the room to another (when the teacher was not looking of course). But I will leave the debate around exactly how much students learn during a typical Science practical for another time. For may years, CST Science lessons were riddled with too much teacher talk, a lot of copying, inadequate assessment for learning and very little opportunity for students to practise independent work. In other words, ‘teaching’ became synonymous with ‘lecturing’ - and not in a good way.

Too much content, too little time: it’s a common challenge for science teachers. For years, our teachers complained about this and rushed through covering topics. They lamented about why students could not recall knowledge once topics had been covered. It all became even more challenging once linear exams hit the tables. The first thing we did was change the curriculum schedule. No more block teaching. We moved from teaching chemistry, physics and biology per term, to weekly scheduled lessons for each science. It was a radical restructure at the time and it meant our teachers needed to rethink their delivery to embed much more student practice as well as AfL that was meaningful and precise. It also meant our students were revisiting topics regularly.

The CST lesson framework, based around Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI) helped to create a formal framework for each lesson, minimising teacher talk as well as the unnecessary thoughtless copying by students.

Schemes of Work-long term plans (LTP), version 3!

The overarching principles behind the CST curriculum are explained here. Our work started shortly after Micheal Gove’s education reform, and the introduction of assessment without a levels in 2015. I remember asking our middle leaders to come out with a strategic 5-year plan, or a ‘long term plan’, (LTP). Our middle leaders had to “carefully identify components of learning and sequence these across different years, which leads to students being able to access composite knowledge later on in their shared journey”.

These are essentially “important knowledge which we call ‘key learning objectives’ (KOs) [that are] built on progressively, with increased difficulty, throughout the school years.”

We have bi-weekly curriculum meetings where we establish success criteria for our work, standardise the work being done and iron out areas of confusion.

Whilst the English and the Maths department had a fair go at this, the Science department, in the beginning, was less successful. There were numerous reasons for this but a lack of subject knowledge was by far the main reason. But things have changed quite a bit two years on.

The Ofsted experience and the quality of Education

I welcomed the renewed emphasis on the quality of education by the Ofsted regime. Apart from the propensity for a subjective interpretation by individual inspectors and the high steak judgements which usually follows, our experience of their visit this year was rather pleasant. Our middle leaders were prepared to answer curriculum-related lines of enquiries by the inspectorate in a way that was organic because they OWNED their curriculum. They were the masters of their own curriculum: they designed it, argued for every detail that is contained within it and they were passionate about it.

During their meetings with the inspectors, all of our SLT/ML took with them their five-year LTP grids and an example of their medium-term plans and were equipped to answer questions such as:

‘Show me how this knowledge is sequenced?’

‘How is knowledge revisited or adapted with a greater rigour later on?

‘How is knowledge revisited within the year? What about throughout the years?’

They were able to clearly demonstrate and justify their curriculum designs and passionately articulate the rationale for it. We were told that our Science leaders were highly intelligent, passionate and driven. And it is this passion we will discuss more at a later blog, where we shall explore our beautiful science booklets.



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