Friday, 5 December 2014

Why can't science be taught like humanities?

The other half was sat in bed last night watching some of the recent documentary on Tattler on catch up. The program focused on the education system that the very rich find themselves in. Schools where the tuition fees per student can run up to £19k and the average is around the £14k mark. To put that in context my first proper 'professional' job post university had a salary of £15k per annum.

Now I have been around our local expensive private school - Tonbridge boys school - and it was stunning, an amazing location, a great set of staff but also the air of entitlement and the smell of money.

It doesn't sit right with me. Now this is not an attack on the class system, or the wealthy or anything like that but I believe strongly that the quality of an education should not be dependent on the money that your parents have or the background you find yourself born into. I believe that university should be free for those who are able and that you should not have a barrier put on you at that early a stage. The biggest support I hear for the private schools is the contacts you make through going there, which to me makes a mockery of any concept of social mobility (as an fyi I don't even believe in the grammar school system - it annoys me that the local grammars take the top 25-30% of primary school students).

Now I do not mean to get into a rant of build up a head of steam on this but it is a passage to emphasize a point, the longer I am in education the more passionate I am becoming about it, the more invested I become and the more that I want it to reform.

I wrote a post on the scrapping of OFSTED and removing the culture of fear which permeates teaching and currently drives practice. That we as educators are different to the governments idea of a teacher. A teacher now is essentially an administrative assistant, pushing paper and ticking boxes. Those of us working on the front line in schools are educators, the welfare and education of our students is paramount not all the education buzz words or flavours of the week.

Which brings me to a particular bee in my bonnet. Humanities is a collection of subjects loosely related to each other (religious education, history, geography etc) students now have to pick which ones they do - dependent on what the school can offer and what fulfills the progress 8 criteria - again this is another change driving league tables etc.

The important point here is that students are not (generally) forced into do all of the humanities, they have a freedom of choice to pick the ones that they feel most comfortable with and enjoy the most. In science students have to study all disciplines of science - physics, biology and chemistry - even though they are very distinct in places and require different skill sets. Yet it is only worth 2 GCSE's. Unless of course you choose to take triple science then you get 3 distinct GCSE's for the 3 sciences.

So why not adopt a humanities type approach. Triple science is still available for those students who are able - gives them 3 GCSE's, however for those less able or for those who do not enjoy science as much offer 2 GCSE's (similar to the current double award) in which you can pick the two you most enjoy. As the government wants to include computer science (somehow) in the students education then make it a distinct subject that students can choose. You could also add a geology and astronomy GCSE in there as well as part of the choices (why not this is my idea). In fact science could be massively enlarged to include the disciplines that you may end up doing at university but have never done in any detail at school before (GCSE psychology could also be included!).

Essentially science would then become a larger 2nd tier department. Alongside humanities. Instead of being the poor relation of the other 'core' subjects. For those that don't know science, English and maths used to be the main core subjects in a school. Students had to study them and schools were judged on the performance in those three above all others. Now though all schools care about - again due to shifts in league table reporting - is maths and English grades. Which leaves science in a sort of no mans land where it is still unstoppable in any form, but also in most cases pushed less and shown to be less important by way of emphasis being focused on the other subjects. In some cases when BTECs were the main way schools raised their grade standing students would not even need to pass science to get to college. This was due to some BTEC courses being worth multiple GCSE's and college entry requirements not specifying science as a prerequisite.

By shifting the focus of choice back to the student surely you then will get them doing subjects they want to when they come to pick their GCSE's. If you still think we need students to have a really good background in all three sciences then students could have a 'core' GCSE that students have to take that is worth 1 GCSE and covers physics, biology and chemistry. However it (as I have said before) should be more focused on science that students might need in real life) in other words, human development, learning and behaviour in biology. Global warming, renewable fuels and kitchen chemistry for chemistry. Electricity, magnetism and efficiency/speed euqations in physics (just off the top of my head this isn't a final plan!).

The big drawback on this is the need for teachers to staff this. With news of a massive shortfall in teachers by 2050 (128,000 in some reports) it is clear the the current climate of accountability is turning people off teaching.Which when you consider that Mr Goves policies were designed to raise standards and ultimately improve the education for children shows that the changes are failing.

Basically they have to have failed because if there are not enough teachers how can students have a high standard of education?

Which means while some level of accountability has to exist it has to change, work load has to drop, pressure on teachers must be shifted back to families and the support they provide for their children. Basically teaching has to become and attractive career choice again and not just one that people pick up for a massive bursary while they train and then drop it as soon as they can, or burn out, or go on long term sickness due to stress related illnesses.

That though will never happen, teaching has gone too far now, it has become too much a different career to the one I joined (only 5 years ago). It has become a self fulfilling prophecy of teachers being told they are not very good and then not being very good teachers. In the week where the Autumn budget showed another huge set of cuts heading their way to the public sector I am not foreseeing teaching becoming less pressured any time soon (the first thing to go will be learning support which most students now rely on having had so much of it throughout their education).

This is where my blog comes full circle. Those of us who believe in free education for all, who teach because we want to educate those of the next generation and inspire them in our subject, our livelihood will be affected. However those people who are in the private schools, where funding is not dependent on the state they will continue to thrive (which I guess is what this government wants). Very soon I will be the other side of 30, with half a decade teaching experience behind me and a decision to make, do I stay teaching in an environment where I believe I am making a difference - even though the pressure is going to keep building and the expectation will never match the students who are in front of me? Or do I give in, and jump ship?

Actually there is no choice. I think while I am a teacher I will always be where I am, doing the best I can. Though the question remains, why cant science be taught like humanities?