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Ofsted report reveals science improvements

by Daniel White

Science education has improved in quality in the past three years, Ofsted has said. The inspectorate released

a report this week, Successful Science, showing that teaching and achievement in science in second- ary schools has improved. The report set out to evaluate

the strengths and weaknesses of primary and secondary schools and colleges. Inspectors visited more than 200 institutions, including 94 secondaries, between June 2007 and March last year. Inspectors found that more

pupils are now studying science at GCSE level because of the introduction of separate sciences in September 2006. This is also believed to have led to an increase in the amount of students studying science A level courses. Teaching of science was report-

ed to be at least good in around three quarters of all the schools vis- ited. In 2010, around 12,000 more students than in the previous year were awarded A* and A at GCSE in each of the three separate sciences, an increase of 24 per cent. The report also said students

had benefited from SATs in science being scrapped for 14-year-olds in 2008, with teachers now able to be “innovative in planning their teach- ing and in enriching the science cur- riculum”, according to inspectors. This point was backed this week

emphasise that the courses have had a positive impact on the motivation and achievement of students “less suited” to academic courses. Brian Lightman, general secre-

tary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that vocational science courses are important. He told SecEd: “The challenge

for the nation’s future economy is not to ensure that the best scien- tists are even better but to increase the number of high level techni- cians. Vocational science courses are an important way to motivate and inspire an interest in science in those students who are less suited to traditional academic routes.” Commenting on the report

by Christine Blower, general sec- retary of the National Union of Teachers, who said the government needs to “trust teachers to get on with teaching”. She said: “Ofsted makes it quite

clear that removing statutory tests in science at key stage 2 and 3 has actually improved science teaching. “No longer restrained by endless

revision and teaching to the test, teachers’ lessons are now far more exciting and innovative, which obviously directly benefits pupils. “For all lessons to be as relevant, informative and fun as Ofsted says

TDA reveals rise in career-changers

Three times as many public sector workers are retraining as teachers according to new figures. The Transition to Teaching

programme, run by the Training Development Agency for Schools (TDA), saw the number of public sector career-changers reach 193 in 2010 compared to just 60 in the previous year, and eight in 2008. Transition to Teaching works

with employers, promoting teach- ing to “high performing” employ- ees considering a mid to late career change. In 2008 it worked with 49 pub-

lic sector organisations, but has seen this number increase by a further 246, as more councils, pub- lic sector organisations and other state employers sign up. The amount of people chang-

ing their careers path could be down to the recession hitting the public sector, with many people losing their jobs seeing teaching as a new challenge with good job security and opportunities for career progression. Graham Holley chief execu-

tive of the TDA, said: “What is particularly exciting about more public sector workers moving into teaching is that they already tend to be passionate about making a difference and being inspirational at work – both of which are fun- damental pre-requisites for being a good teacher.” Three in five people consider changing their career according

to the report, with the new year traditionally seen as the time when many people make such a move. Figures show that last year 40 per cent of all teaching enquiries were made in the first three months of the year. Elizabeth Barnard, a former

corporate communications manager, left Birmingham City Council to become a teacher in September. She said she wanted to use her communication skills and help students realise the different career paths available to them. She added: “With a biology

degree under my belt, I’ve always wanted to use my scientific knowledge in my job and teaching will give me the chance to do just that. Working in the council gave me the opportunity to give some- thing back to the community and teaching will help me to continue in this vein. “In particular, I can use the

communication skills I’ve devel- oped to connect with students who may be struggling to relate to tough topics. I also want to help students realise that there are lots of different roles and career paths that they can take.” For people hoping to retrain as

a teacher, the TDA offers tax-free bursaries of up to £9,000 to enable jobseekers to study for a teaching qualification. For more on the Transition

to Teaching programme, visit

science lessons are, the govern- ment needs to trust teachers to get on with teaching and remove the dead hand of government with its imposition of endless floor targets, league tables and SATs.” The report noted that second-

ary teachers in particular benefited from attending courses at the net- work of Science Learning Centres, but said that not enough schools were taking advantage of the facili- ties and help available. Christine Gilbert, chief inspec-

tor at Ofsted said: “Science is an important subject and when it is

taught well, it raises pupils’ knowl- edge, understanding and enjoyment of science. It is encouraging to see improvements in the quality of sci- ence education. “However, it is important that

teachers who still lack confidence in scientific enquiry are supported with sufficient professional devel- opment to improve their subject knowledge.” The report said that some

schools use vocational courses too extensively, restricting students’ opportunities to study science at A level and beyond. However, it did

overall, he added: “This is more evidence of the ongoing trend of school improvement which has been taking place over the last sev- eral years. It is in large part due to excellent teachers who inspire their students with a love of the subject, often going beyond the boundaries of the curriculum. High quality ini- tial teacher training and ongoing professional development is key to ensuring this continues.” Among Ofsted’s recommenda-

tions was for better guidance and advice to be offered to students in science so they have clear progres- sion routes into good quality further education and training. To see the report, visit and for more on the Science Learning Centres, see

Survey shows parents’ worries

Twenty-first century children are being put under too much pressure – by continuous testing, the internet and our celebrity-obsessed culture. A new survey conducted by

parenting website Mumsnet for ITV’s Tonight programme set out to ascertain the pressures facing children and their parents in Britain today. The research found that many

parents believe there has never been a harder time for children to grow up. Not only that, a quarter of those questioned think today’s youngsters are less happy than they were when they were growing up. The survey, which quizzed more

than 1,000 parents, discovered that many adults are concerned that their sons and daughters are compelled to grow up too fast. Almost nine out of 10 parents worried that children feel under pressure to look like the unre- alistic images they see in the media. Nearly two-thirds of parents

said there is too much testing in schools today, while three-quarters expressed concern that long work- ing hours make it difficult for them to spend enough time with their children. More than three-quarters of par-

ents said today’s generation of chil- dren do not play out on their own enough, unlike when they them- selves were young. Just over half believed the increasing use of the internet has added problems to the lives of young people. Almost half said today’s parents

are failing to give their children proper boundaries for good behav- iour and a total of 41 per cent reck- oned changing family structures are tending to make youngsters more unhappy. The results of the Mumsnet

survey were explored last week in a series of programmes for ITV’s Tonight. Commenting on the findings,

Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts said: “I think there is so much we can do to make Britain more family friendly and child friendly. If we want the next generation to be well-adjusted we need to give parents time to parent.”

Did the earth move for you?

From a photographic dark room at a Leicestershire school, students are monitoring earthquakes around the world. John Cleveland College,

a specialist science college in Hinckley, was given a £2,500 seismometer by Leicester University in 2008. It was one of the first schools in the coun- try to have sophisticated equip- ment to detect signals from earthquakes. Since then, geography and

science pupils across the school have detected and recorded the minute vibrations caused by earthquakes and fed their data directly to the British Geological Survey (BGS). A group of A level geol-

ogy students at the school made some of the best recordings of the massive aftershocks that fol- lowed the powerful earthquake in Pakistan in October 2008, when more than 200 people were killed and thousands made homeless. “We thought we had a fan-

tastic trace of it, so I contacted Paul Denton, the project leader for the BGS School Seismology Project,” said Tony Fraine, sub- ject leader for biological sci- ences at the 1,600-pupil 14 to 19 school. “He came to visit us and was

very impressed by our work and the data we had collected.” Since then the John

Cleveland students have cor- rectly predicted earthquakes in Chile and Turkey. In November, the morning after a second devastating explosion rocked the New Zealand mine of Greymouth, pupils looking at data from the seismometer spotted a large peak in seismic activity. “Earthquakes have a cata-

strophic effect and cause huge suffering,” said Mr Fraine. “But we are immensely proud of our students’ work in recording and analysing the data. We have also used the seismometer for work like monitoring the traffic flow around our local town and look- ing at the times of peak traffic flow. It definitely helps to make learning more real.” Now the project is being

extended to Africa too. John Cleveland College has a long- standing link with the Mtwapa Academy in Kenya and it is hoped that a seismometer will be installed there so the schools can share their work.

Coalition u-turn over Booktrust funding

School children will continue to be given free books after the coalition government reversed its decision to cut funding completely for a national scheme. Funding for the Bookstart pro-

gramme, run by independent char- ity Booktrust, was set to be cut when its current contract runs out in April, but following an outcry by well known authors and poets it will be saved in part. Criticism came from poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and author Phillip Pullman among others. The scheme, which encourages


students to have positive attitudes to books and reading for pleasure, currently receives a £13 million annual government grant to give three million books each year to school children in England. In a joint statement, the

Department for Education and Booktrust said they are hoping to develop a new programme to ensure children can continue to use reading books effectively. It read: “The DfE and Booktrust

are determined to ensure that read- ing for pleasure is a gift every child can enjoy. That is why the DfE will

continue to fund Booktrust book- gifting programmes in the future. “Although the current contract

will end in April, the Department is talking to Booktrust about how to develop a new programme which will ensure that every child can enjoy the gift of books at crucial moments in their lives while ensur- ing we develop an even more effec- tive way of supporting the most dis- advantaged families to read together. “The Department and Booktrust

will be working together, with pub- lishers, in order to ensure that we can make every possible saving

in developing an enhanced pro- gramme.” Elsewhere, Michael Gove, edu-

cation secretary, has also pledged his commitment to music educa- tion despite grants ending for the Music for All programme, part of the Music Industries Association. The charity aims to help people,

especially school-aged children to be able to start playing an instru- ment and Mr Gove said he “expect- ed to continue to provide funding”. For more information on the

schemes, visit uk and

SecEd • January 13 2011

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