What a send off!

I have just returned from the most moving ceremony in memory of Brenda. There were hundreds of people there  sharing their memories of Brenda,her inspirational work and her wonderful partnership with Stuart Naylor. Jane Turner spoke brilliantly on behalf of the science education community and Stuart’s speech was full of love and joy and pride. An emotional but wonderful day.

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Goodbye Brenda

Very very sad to report that Brenda Keeogh has died.

That she worked so long and hard on the National Curriculum, despite being unwell and knowing that the ovarian cancer would get her, was quite remarkable. It is a great shame that the extra revisions that we made in August didn’t make through into the final cut but at least what we have now is better than the original draft.

Thank you Brenda for all your innovative work on the curriculum and in Primary Science but most of all for your lovely personality. We will all miss you.

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Our bit is done

So we have done our bit and the primary science curriculum is now with the DfE and the will then go to ministers. The final version should be out in mid September – I believe around 14th/15th.

We think we have made some  more improvements to science but we will have to wait to see which ones make it through to the final final final version.

Brenda Keeogh has been my steadfast, knowledgeable, hard-working and thoughtful partner through all of the redrafting process. Just as we finished she became very unwell and is now in hospital. Please send your thoughts in her direction.


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Don’t plan to the new curriculum yet

I’ve just heard from a couple of teachers who have started planning in detail to the most recent draft of the NC  – the one that has FINAL written at the top. Somehow the word FINAL doesn’t seem to mean quite that. We are still working on the science and as far as I know it is the same for other subjects. We feel like we are still making improvements and, although the majority of it will stay as it is, there may well be some significant differences – significant at least to teachers who thought they were getting ahead of the game by using it for long and medium term planning.

DON’T DO ANYTHING YET!! Enjoy the summer hols instead.

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Another quiet time on the blog

Once again I’m not writing much on the blog – once again Brenda Keeogh and I have been asked to help re-draft the primary science curriculum following the consultation period.

Can’t say much right now and have no idea whether our suggestions will go forward into the final document but we have listened to people in the classroom and we have tried to iron out some of the creases.

Keep all appendages crossed.

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some more thoughts

The new draft is out. You have until the 16th April 2013 to comment. I know Brenda Keeogh and I were partly responsible for what is before you but I don’t think either of us would say it is perfect – so get commenting if you possibly can. We did the best we could in a very very tight timescale but I would still make some changes.

My thoughts are as follows:

1. Working scientifically is loads better – children can ask questions again (whoo hoo) and there is a lot of very useful guidance about different ways of finding out. (Big cheer for Brenda on this)

2. KS 1 has a lot of emphasis on living things. I want young children to get outside more but have we swung too far with this and left not enough work on early ideas in chemistry and physics?

3. Y3 – lots on rocks and nothing on soil. Still think this is serious omission. To quote from a previous blog

Getting children to think about what is beneath their feet is a great way of getting into rocks and soils. ‘For most children soil (aka earth, mud, etc.) is the thing they will come across more than rocks (in their natural state). But what is it made of? How did it get there? Is there soil everywhere beneath our feet/roads/buildings? How far down does it go? Children’s ideas when you ask these questions are fascinating and it is a great area for making them think again and to recognise the links back to the rocks. Soils is one of those overlooked materials but it is vital for the growing of plants and hence food for living things. It is a shame it has gone’

I also believe that classifying rocks as igneous or sedimentary can be fraught with difficulty when you use anything other than very obvious samples.

4. Y 4 We still have the bit that says ‘observe that some materials change state when they are heated or cooled, and measure the temperature at which this happens in degrees Celsius (°C), building on their teaching in mathematics’

What substances other than water can they measure the change of state from liquid to gas  – if we are just doing water then the dot point should say this. Also still very unhappy about asking children to measure the temp at which this happens for the reasons I gave in the blog before as follows: ‘I suspect that all they want here is for children to say that water melts at 0°C and that it boils at 100°C but the PoS stresses repeatedly that measurements are important. And, yes, measurements are absolutely vital in science but there are a couple of points about using them here. First our normal tap water does not do what it’s supposed to in this respect – it will be somewhere near those temperatures but because of impurities/pressure/vessel it is in etc. it won’t be exactly right and is usually out by quite a bit. (If you don’t believe me have a look at this paper http://www.ucl.ac.uk/sts/staff/chang/boiling/index.htm  where a Prof goes on at some exasperated length about the way the boiling point of water can vary and his frustration at the way the ‘myth’ of 100°C is perpetuated.) Now, if children are taking those measurements, and don’t forget in Working Scientifically there is that line that says that everything we do must lead to substantive scientific knowledge’ I suspect many teachers will say to the children ‘your measurements are wrong’ and the ‘correct’ science is the one you need to believe i.e. don’t believe your own evidence just believe what I tell you.

Second there are a few practical issues here – putting a normal thermometer in a block of ice is a tad tricky so we have to start with crushed ice – that is fine – but heating it up to 100°C with the children taking measurements is fine in a properly equipped school lab, but could be a bit tricky safety-wise in your average primary school. Suppose we manage to deal with all that we now have the interesting issue of how we tell the boiling and the melting point of each liquid. Do you take the temperature when the first bit of crushed ice melts or the last or somewhere in the middle? And when do you know it is boiling? Plenty of steam/water vapour will be visible before boiling so just when do you say you have reached the boiling point? The only way you can really tell what these points are by plotting the graph and seeing where the graph goes flat. Now if I am 8 or 9 and I am plotting the line graph (which I won’t have met in maths yet – comes in at Y6 – but we’ll gloss over that one because I don’t really think that was what was intended) I will be very perplexed/interested/downright curious as to why when I am heating up the crushed ice so it melts and I continue to heat it up, never removing the heat source, it stays at the same temperature. If I have half an ounce of questioning left in me I will ask what on earth is going on. Now where do we go? Not I think into the following – temperature is a measure of how much particles are moving and that when the temperature increases the particles move more but that during a change of state the bonds between the particles need to be broken down and so the extra energy from increased heat goes into that rather than into more movement between the particles. Don’t think that will help.

So we are left with an approach where children are told the melting point and boiling point of water and then they heat it up and dutifully take measurements. The teacher will say ‘Does your thermometer read 0°C – ah well it must be melting. Does it read 100°C – now that’s your boiling point.’  Starting from a known outcome and confirming it through a prescribed and predetermined route. No thinking required from the children. No using the evidence to work things out for themselves.  No proper science.

5. There is a lot on magnetism – they meet it in Y 3, (Forces) Y5 (properties of materials ) Y5 (Forces). Are there enough activities to go round?

So in summary my questions would be:

Is there enough on materials and physical processes in KS1?

Can we add in something on soil in Y3?

How do we get primary children to measure the temperature at which changes of state take place for several different materials?

Is there too much on magnetism?



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The next draft of the curriculum est arrive

So it has landed.

Click to access national%20curriculum%20consultation%20-%20framework%20document.pdf

And although my fine tooth comb has remained in its case, on a quick whizz through it really does look like a document that we can work with. It has much more of a primary feel than the original document and also far more useful notes and guidance.

Brenda and I feel pretty pleased and we’re delighted that so many of our suggestions have been taken on board. We’re grateful to the DfE for listening and responding really pretty positively. We also had a vg team backing us up – thanks all of those from ASE’s Primary Committee who offered excellent suggestions and support.

Think there are some fine tuning issues – one of the main things we should do is an analysis of how much of the content could be done through an enquiry where children can get evidence about the way the world works for themselves. Will try to do this and post it up.

But for now, I think it is time for a little celebration. We are going in the right direction. The curriculum is heading for something teachers will recognise as being suitable for their children and I am heading in the direction of a glass of wine.





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How long? How long?

I did some quick calculations on changing a curriculum for my last keynote talk at ASE this year – will share them with you. 

There is a health warning in that I have been rounding up/down in quite a cavalier fashion but suspect the results will not be too far away from reality.


—18000 primary schools in England and Wales
—10 teachers per school on average
—Every change to the National Curriculum and assessment brings each teacher at least 30 hours of work altering long, medium and short term plans for up to 14 subjects
—Assuming teachers work an 8 hour day, how many teacher-days does it take to change a National Curriculum?
Answer 675,000
—We have had 5 changes to the NC.
—How many teacher years is that assuming 40 working weeks a year?
Answer – 84,375 teacher years


It’s scary isn’t it?


Now if every time we change the curriculum we see a leap forward in children’s learning, then this huge amount of time might be justified. If not, it really really isn’t worth it. 





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well well well …

As many of you will know from last week’s brilliant ASE conference, sometimes all this moaning about a curriculum has an effect. Coo – er – knock me down with a feather etc but, I was asked by DfE to help with the revision. Had to hand over part way through to excellent friend and colleague Brenda Keeogh as my dear 100 year old Dad died. Not allowed to say much more at this point but think worst whoopsies have been laid to rest although timescale meant that major changes were not possible. Hope this explains why things have been a little quiet on the blogging front. Here’s to a happy new year and a better curriculum.


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a ray of hope

I have been very quiet on the blog front for the last few weeks. There is a reason for this which I will divulge at some point. All I can say at the moment is that I think the primary science horizon looks a little bit brighter than it did.

When I started this, I thought it might be nice to get a couple of hundred readers. I never  imagined it would climb to two thousand. Big thanks to all of you who have dropped n.

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