Science education in England: exploring the evidence for and evidence of reform

Hall, Marilyn (2020) Science education in England: exploring the evidence for and evidence of reform. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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It is argued that Science as a curriculum subject along with Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) is fundamental in developing a highly-skilled workforce that in turn, drives economic growth and global competitiveness. As such, science education is considered to be of major significance and therefore subject to much government intervention and reform. This study explored the interaction between student attainment in science and teacher classroom practice in response to reform.

The national curriculum reforms introduced in September 2014 have increased the level of challenge encountered by students in their science learning. The ultimate aim of these reforms was to raise attainment in end of key stage assessments for all students and potentially, in global level assessments. The introduction of these reforms and their perceived impact on the way science education is taught and assessed formed the catalyst for embarking on this study.

This research used a mixed-methods design, through a critical realist lens, to explore the associations between policy, historic student attainment and teacher practice. Using secondary data, the quantitative component drew down on the National Pupil Database to analyse English students’ attainment in science at the end of key stage 2 and key stage 4, between 2008 to 2018. The voices of 26 secondary and primary science teachers from the South of England, interviewed between October 2017 and April 2018, provided the data for the qualitative component of this study. Using selfcompletion questionnaires and one-to-one interviews, data were collected that uncovered teacher perspectives on the impact of reform on their classroom practice.

The quantitative findings indicated that whilst attainment at Key Stage 2 and 4 (GCSE) had generally increased over time, the attainment gaps between different groups of students persisted despite reforms to address this. Furthermore, the qualitative analysis found a reliance by primary teachers on purchased schemes of learning, reduced curriculum time and pressure on budgets for primary science. In secondary science, participants outlined that there was less time or support to deliver the increased volume of cognitively demanding content to a wide range of mixed attainment students. Ultimately, at key stage 4, the changes to the accountability measures had constrained teachers’ ability to offer an alternative route and enriching experience through GCSE sciences for many of their students.

The theoretical underpinnings of this study positioned teachers in the role of “streetlevel bureaucrats” and used the Chordal Triad conception of agency to understand teacher practice within the cycle of reform. The contribution made by this theoretical perspective are the insights into teachers’ responses to education reform likely to be missed by studies that focus largely on individual teacher knowledge, beliefs or agency alone. Emerging from the analysis were the two key themes of equity and fairness and time and resources that illuminated our understanding of the impact of policy on practice.

During this period of change and transition participants, had undertaken “translation work”, used their past experience and existing schemas to accommodate new understanding and modes of working. The study concluded that while there was a high level of resilience and positive projections for the future which drove teachers’ work, science education reform had repercussions for the STEM pipeline, teaching and learning activities, teacher education and continued professional development. Whether to enable collaborative working, across institutions and cross-phase; for covering the curriculum or for embedding the new measures, from both primary and secondary schools, there was a continued call for more time and resources.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Education and Social Work > Education
Subjects: Q Science > Q Science (General) > Q0181 Study and teaching > Q0183.3-4 By region or country > Q0183.4 Other regions or countries, A-Z > Q0183.4.G7 Great Britain
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 26 Sep 2020 09:37
Last Modified: 26 Sep 2020 09:37

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