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HOW PARADIGM TRUST IS BRIDGING THE SCIENCE GAP

– Improvements in teaching and learning for British Science Week –

To celebrate British Science Week (5th to 14th March), Paradigm is revealing the secret to improved results and greater engagement with the subject in all their schools by bridging the culture gap between primary and secondary school.

 

Since Paradigm began working this way more students have been successful in science GCSE, and more high grades are being achieved. The number of students choosing to study a science subject at further education level has increased, and at every level of schooling it is noticeable that children are achieving better results and becoming more engaged in the subject.

 

Firstly, the Trust adapted the way science is taught throughout primary schools so it is reflective of the approach used in secondary schools. Currently teaching approach to science is varied in primaries which can cause a disconnect in the skills and knowledge attained in primary and those valued and required to learn effectively at Key Stage 3 and beyond. Science as a subject has less classroom time compared to other core subjects and there is a lack of teachers at primary stage who have a science background.  Only 40% of primary science leads have a science A-level nationally.  The majority of teachers with science qualifications are working at secondary level and the one or two days that teacher training spends on science fails to fill the gap. Paradigm also found the common enquiry-based learning approach to be ineffective in its current form because significant scientific knowledge needs to be in place before the correct questions can be asked, resulting in reduced comprehension.

 

When children reach secondary school, the focus typically shifts to teaching what the pupil needs to know to pass the GCSE, rather than exploring the full uses of science, so students can be left with a narrow comprehension of the subject that is more weighted towards succeeding in an exam than having a good understanding of science.

 

Paradigm Trust has worked to overcome these traditional challenges and raise student attainment levels in science by ensuring all six of its schools are working from an effective science curriculum, using consistent, evidenced-based teaching methods. This ensures there is continuity across the board, and teachers are using techniques which are proven to be effective to deliver the material.

 

The Trust also makes sure that children are taught the necessary scientific knowledge first, whatever the age of the child. It is only with this as their foundation that the pupil is able to get the most out of any enquiry activities, maximising their learning time and gaining a better understanding of science. This enables children to develop essential skills such as problem solving, understanding scientific texts or extrapolating accurate conclusions from results.

 

Paradigm continues to improve its science teaching and learning through a Trust-wide subject group that prioritises implementing ways in which children can be better prepared for the move from primary to secondary school, and how to make science effective from Nursery to Year 11.

 

For more information, please contact Lena O’Shea on E: lena@agencyforchange.co.uk or T: 07971910843.

Disadvantaged pupils have no less enthusiasm for science than their more affluent counterparts

UCLan researchers share first-stage findings of Blackpool-focused research project to improve engagement with science and technology

 

Primary school children from low socio-economic areas are just as interested in science as their more affluent counterparts, according to new research from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). However, a lack of knowledge about possible science careers means their aspirations for scientific roles later in life could be lost.

 

These findings, published in the Journal of Science Communication (JCOM), come from the ongoing four-year Blackpool PIER (Physics: Inspire, Engage, Research) project conducted by Professor Robert Walsh and Dr Cherry Canovan from UCLan. The research is funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) as part of a Fellowship in Public Engagement held by Walsh.

 

It involves pupils from three primary and two secondary schools in Blackpool, one of the most socio-economically deprived areas of the UK, and aims to improve engagement with science and technology, especially space science, amongst a very low participation group.

 

The project is following the same cohort of pupils as they progress from Year 6 to Year 9. Initial findings, drawn from surveys, interviews and other assessments with Year 6 pupils at the beginning of the study, found that as a group the children are as interested in science as their peers from more affluent backgrounds.

 

This study suggests that attempts to increase science participation among these groups should not simply promote the subject as ‘fun’ or ‘interesting’ but could have a greater impact by demonstrating clearly how science can open up possible future career opportunities.

 

Research Associate Dr Cherry Canovan, lead author on the paper, said: “It is heartening to speak to these young people and find that they are enthusiastic about science, yet we often don’t see this interest translates into an expectation of future job opportunities involving science.

 

“There are likely a number of factors involved here. The pupils we spoke to know it is useful to study science, but don’t really know why, and have a limited understanding of the breadth of science-related careers. Many just can’t see themselves ‘being scientists’ despite saying they enjoyed the subject, with some fearing it would be incompatible with how they like to be perceived, for example being sporty, ‘girly’, or the class joker.

 

“In addition, the pupils we interviewed didn’t have science role models to emulate and while many said their parents had an interest in science, the proportion among the PIER cohort who said their parents would expect them to go to university was around ten percent lower than among the same demographic nationally*.”

 

Professor Walsh and Dr Canovan have used these results to plan a series of engagement activities with the pupils over the following three years to see if they can influence decisions to study science to GCSE level and possibly beyond.

 

Professor Walsh said: “Much government policy towards boosting science in higher education in particular focuses on an assumed lack of interest and desire in low-socioeconomic groups. However, the enthusiasm is already there and this ‘hidden science identity’ needs to be revealed and translated into real-life prospects for these young people.

 

“It is concerning that while pupils stated that science was useful, they did not have the understanding to back this up; this suggests that often methods used to disseminate this message could be lacking in practical effectiveness, information that may provide some cause for reflection among the wider science communication community.

 

“We’re recommending that programmes instead allow young people to explore their science identity more fully and provide innovative ways for them to discover the kinds of jobs that studying science may lead to.”

 

The PIER project has been conducting four different types of activities each year for the PIER participants, which translates to around 36 hours of science contact for each pupil overall. This includes ‘meet the scientists’ events, trips to UCLan’s Alston Observatory and Young Scientist Centre as well as family science events at school. All pupils will be reassessed at the end of the process to see if their attitudes, understanding and relationship to science has changed.

 

Dr Canovan is also conducting an ongoing research project into the impact of Covid-related school closures on primary science learning and said the pandemic could exacerbate scientific inequalities.

 

“We are beginning to see evidence that science learning loss due to lockdown is a much greater problem in traditionally low-participation communities. Teachers felt less able to set science work due to concerns about internet access and asking parents to provide resources for activities. For many of these children, school is their only opportunity to access science; ongoing Covid restrictions could further widen the gap between the science ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.”

 

She added: “Blackpool is just one example of a community where young people are being left behind. It is not just in the interest of the pupils themselves to see working in science as a realistic prospect, but as the government looks to increase jobs in areas such as the space industry, cybersecurity and clean energy, then the UK needs a much larger pool to draw this future workforce from.”

 

The paper, A space to study: expectations and aspirations toward science among a low-participation cohort, is available to download on the JCOM website.