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Continuity and Progression Between Key Stages in Science

G. Peacock

Sheffield Hallam University

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Sussex at Brighton, September 2-5 1999.

ABSTRACT

A survey of continuity and progression between science teaching in key stages 1, 2 and 3 was undertaken at the request of QCA. It was completed in February 1998. Science teachers in secondary schools and teachers in their feeder schools completed detailed questionnaires about the words and diagrams they use in their teaching. A small sample of teachers were interviewed. It appears from the evidence of this survey that in Y5 and Y6 children are learning words and concepts drawn from the KS3 curriculum and that KS3 teachers frequently start KS3 at the lowest common denominator of their intake. Teachers from different phases tend to distrust the assessment judgements made at the phase below.

INTRODUCTION

Continuity and progression in the teaching of an area of biological science and an area of physical science was investigated from Key Stage 1 through to Key Stage 3. A questionnaire survey, interviews with teachers, a survey of OfSTED reports and interviews with LEA advisers were undertaken. The team focussed evidence gathering on clusters of primary schools which fed a particular secondary school to see how much notice teachers took of the work of their colleagues in the previous key stage.

Continuity and transfer between primary and secondary schooling has been surveyed in a number of studies, from Stillman and Maychell (1984) to Lee, Harris and Dickson (1995). An Association for Science Education (ASE) Working Party produced a source book and an activities file (Jarman, Keogh and Naylor, 1994) which provides a resource for teachers concerned to improve the progression of their pupils within and between Key Stages. However, despite the existence of resources and the awareness of the importance of progression there is still evidence that teaching is not always building effectively on pupils’ earlier learning. Inspection findings from 1995-96 highlight the steady progress made by pupils in primary science but it reveals that some pupils make little progress in Y7. The report suggested that one cause could be that pupils repeat work covered in primary schools and that secondary schools do not yet take sufficient account of pupils’ science curriculum in the primary years (Ponchaud, 1997). This current paper suggests a further complicating factor is that in Y5 and Y6 many primary teachers deliver a curriculum that has many characteristics of Key Stage 3. There are several instances, revealed by this current paper, where the level of technical language demand expected by teachers is higher at key stage 2 than at key stage 3.

METHOD

Questionnaire

In collaboration with LEA advisers three clusters of schools in three different LEAs were selected for study. One industrialised area, one agricultural shire county and one area with a mixture of old industries and agriculture were chosen. Questionnaires were sent to a total of 51 primary schools and 9 secondary schools which constituted 9 clusters of schools. Questionnaires also sent to 5 isolated secondary schools to improve the representation of that sector. The infant and junior schools received one questionnaire for each year group and the secondary schools received three each. 65 schools were surveyed in total using a total of 220 questionnaires. A response rate of 55% was achieved and there was a spread of responses by authority and key stage.

The questionnaire asked about:

Interviews with teachers

Continuity and progression was discussed with a sample of teachers from primary and secondary schools within a cluster for each LEA. At least one teacher in the secondary school and one teacher in two of the feeder schools was interviewed. The schools ranged in size from small infant (160 on roll) to large 11-18 comprehensive (1540 on roll).

Semi-structured interviews were used which focussed on the arrangements for progression and continuity within the key stage and also between key stages. Teachers were asked about how they took note of what had been taught in the previous key stage and what they thought happened to the records they sent up to the next stage. The way they planned their work was discussed as were the schemes they used. The teachers were asked about the way they introduced and taught about green plants and the states of matter.

OfSTED reports

Where available, the inspection report for each school in the cluster where interviews were conducted were examined. The science report for each school was visually scanned and a search was conducted using the words ‘continuity’ and ‘progression’ for the whole school report. We did this partly to triangulate what we were told by the school and to see the emphasis OfSTED laid on progression and continuity.

Interviews with LEA personnel

Key LEA personnel were interviewed to find out the extent to which the LEAs were developing links between key stages. The interviews with advisers were done at the start of the project to help the team formulate relevant questions and approaches.

RESULTS

The questionnaire database contains over 160 fields so the following is a small extract. In the following tables the figures in each column represent the percentage of respondents who responded ‘yes’ to an item. For instance, for the first item in table 1 no KS1 teachers teach children the word equation whereas 42% of upper key stage 2 teachers do so. Immediately after each table there is a short description of the main features shown by the figures.

TABLE 1

DATA RELATING TO TEACHING ABOUT GROWTH AND REPRODUCTION IN PLANTS

Which of the following aspects would you expect to teach your current class about growth and reproduction in plants?

Aspects of Reproduction in plants

KS1

Lower KS2

Upper KS2

KS3

carbon dioxide + water = oxygen + sugar

0

15

42

77

flowers are pollinated

28

65

97

77

plants need carbon dioxide to grow

8

40

70

92

plants need light to grow

96

100

100

92

plants produce carbon dioxide when they respire

4

35

54

77

plants produce oxygen

24

45

73

77

pollen and ovules fuse to make a seed

4

20

48

61

pollen grows down the style of the plant

4

10

54

61

water is needed for plants to grow

100

100

100

100

 

This table indicates that there are several instances of a gradual progression in demand across all the key stages. For example:

Carbon dioxide + water = oxygen + sugar

Plants need carbon dioxide to grow

Plants produce carbon dioxide when they respire

Pollen and ovules fuse to make a seed

 

There are instances where the data suggests there is repetition from KS2 to 3. For example:

Plants produce oxygen

Plants make food

The naming of the parts of a flower using similar drawings

 

TABLE 2

DATA RELATING TO THE WORDS USED IN TEACHING ABOUT GROWTH AND REPRODUCTION IN PLANTS

Which of the following words would you use when teaching your class about growth and reproduction in green plants and expect the majority of your children to understand.

word

KS1

Lower KS2

Upper KS2

KS3

cell

0

5

42

88

chlorophyll

4

15

57

56

filament

0

0

66

40

male

24

30

90

80

ovule

0

5

63

56

pollination

24

50

100

80

style (part of the carpel)

4

10

72

64

water

100

100

100

100

chloroplast

0

0

3

56

respiration

8

5

30

64

photosynthesis

0

30

75

72

fertilisation

0

40

87

72

anther

0

15

90

48

stamen

12

40

100

64

female

28

45

97

72

ovary

0

20

87

72

stigma

8

40

100

64

oxygen

32

70

96

96

carpel

0

5

57

40

carbon dioxide

12

55

84

80

The results in this table indicate that for two items, cell and respiration, there is a gradual increase in the number of teachers who expect children to understand technical terms. In every instance within the primary phase there is a gradual increase in the number of technical terms taught to the children. However, at the transition from KS2b to KS3 there is a decrease in the number of teachers who expect technical terms to be understood by the children

 

TABLE 3

DATA RELATING TO THE WORDS USED IN TEACHING ABOUT CHANGES OF STATE

Teachers were asked which of the following words they would use when teaching class about states of matter and expect the majority of the class to understand.

word

KS1

lower KS2

upper KS2

KS3

bonds

0

0

3

28

vaporise

0

0

23

50

distil

0

0

15

44

melting point

39

44

88

83

solid

74

89

100

94

rate

0

0

38

28

atom

0

0

21

50

boil, boiling

82

78

91

94

gas

26

73

97

94

microscopic

0

6

32

28

reversible

9

78

85

39

heat, heating

96

89

94

94

boiling point

26

61

91

83

cool, cooling

87

94

94

94

macroscopic

0

6

6

6

molecule

0

22

44

50

state (of matter)

0

11

56

67

melt, melting

100

83

97

94

condense

22

39

82

83

diffusion

0

0

6

28

liquid

96

94

97

94

freeze, freezing

96

94

94

94

pressure

0

0

44

33

temperature

74

100

91

100

particle

0

11

50

78

evaporate, evaporating

52

72

94

94

vapour

13

44

79

72

         

In several instances there was a smooth increase in the number of teachers who expected technical vocabulary to be understood by the children. Bonds, vaporise, distil, atom, state of matter, diffusion and particle. However, there are a striking number of words where more, or a similar number of, teachers expect children to understand them at KS2 than at KS3. These include: melting point, boil, boiling point, reversible, molecule, condense, evaporate and vapour.

 

TABLE 4

DATA RELATING TO THE ACTIVITIES USED BY TEACHERS TO HELP PUPILS UNDERSTAND ABOUT STATES OF MATTER

 

Teachers were asked which of the following activities they would expect their pupils to do when teaching about states of matter.

Activity

KS1

lower

KS2

upper

KS2

KS3

Describing the properties of gases

13

39

85

67

Describing the properties of solids and liquids

30

50

97

67

Measuring boiling points and freezing points, e.g. water

13

33

68

72

Measuring cooling or heating curves at changes of state

13

39

74

44

Observing and describing the condensation of gases

52

67

74

56

Observing and describing the freezing of liquids

61

78

74

78

Observing and describing the melting of solids

0

6

47

56

Practical Investigation of the factors that affect boiling/freezing points.

0

6

32

11

Reading text to increase knowledge and understanding about states of matter and /or particle theory

0

22

35

44

Role-play/drama about states of matter and /or particle theory

9

17

26

33

Talking about and handling solids and liquids.

26

44

68

50

Using video/CD ROM to increase knowledge and understanding about states of matter and /or particle theory

4

0

32

50

This table indicates that within the primary phase there is a gradual increase in the range of activities being offered to children to help them understand the properties of materials. However, at KS3 there are five instances where the activity is done less at KS3 and six instances where there is an increase in the use of a particular activity. However, these increases were, for the most part small, and only the use of video showed a substantial increase at KS3 compared with KS2b.

 

Interviews with teachers

Most of the interviews lasted between 30 and 45 minutes. Teachers reported that the transfer of information and communication between schools is constrained by several factors:

  • the number of primary schools from which pupils go to each secondary school
  • limited time available for staff from different schools to visit/meet
  • inconsistent forwarding of records and limited use by those receiving them
  • lack of trust in the validity of assessments made by teachers in other schools.

Teachers felt that there was a need for clarification about the level of explanation and vocabulary which is appropriate at each key stage. They wanted guidance on:

  • changes of state, especially when particulate model should be introduced
  • plant structure and functions, especially photosynthesis and details of flower parts

Within each school teachers felt that their schemes provide foundation for continuity and progression.

Summary of the interviews with LEA personnel

LEA initiatives with continuity and progression in science from KS2 to KS3 had taken place in the past. These were now moribund due to a combination of factors, e.g. depleted LEA staffing, the introduction of the National Curriculum, lack of support from secondary schools and changing from junior, middle, high schools to primary and secondary schools. There are current or planned LEA initiatives for continuity and progression in science. The target audience is usually primary science co-ordinators. Where efforts have been made to involve secondary schools the responses have been indifferent or resistant.

All teachers tend to mistrust the validity of the teacher assessments from the key stage below. This problem occurs across the primary-secondary divide and the infant-junior divide where the teachers are not in the same school. Teachers felt that continuity from KS1 to KS2 is good. KS1 and KS2 teachers tend to differentiate by activity or outcome and use formative assessment.

The only records usually transferred from junior to secondary of children’s achievements or capabilities in science are the SAT results. Primary teachers felt that children’s capabilities or experiences are hardly acknowledged when they begin science at KS3. It was felt by KS2 teachers that KS3 teachers, by and large, ignore the KS2 science curriculum. KS3 teaching is dominated by schemes. Teachers start teaching at KS3 at the beginning of their scheme or at roughly level 3. The current assessment structures have resulted in teaching to the tests at Y6 and Y9 in particular. It was felt by some LEA personnel the secondary schools will only ‘invest’ in continuity and progression if they think a ‘return’ will be seen in league table results

OfSTED reports

In the OfSTED reports on the primary schools the words continuity and/or progression featured in a wide range of subjects or school issues e.g. from displays of children’s work to record keeping and assessment. In one primary report the word progression was not mentioned, in another continuity was not mentioned, and one primary report failed to mention either continuity or progression.

Of the 19 primary school reports searched, continuity and progression with respect to science was reported on twice: once with respect to the way that children’s work was kept inappropriately; once with respect to praise for the school’s science scheme of work. Inspectors’ comments in JMI schools mentioned continuity and progression from reception through to Y6 (or within KS1 in an infant school or within KS2 if in a junior school). No primary report mentioned continuity with KS3 for any aspect of the curriculum.

In the three secondary reports continuity and/or progression was mentioned 11 times with respect to a range of subjects and intra-school issues, e.g. role of year tutors. However, none of the three reports contained any reference to continuity and progression with respect to the science curriculum, either from Y7 to Y11 or from KS2. Two of the secondary reports mention continuity and progression with respect to links with KS2. Both times the comments praise the liaison with feeder primary schools. This optimistic view of liaison between the key stages was not, in fact, borne out by the interview data from the same schools. The inspections occurred in the spring term and there was no direct evidence of the liaison mentioned.

 

DISCUSSION AND SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

The key questions that the research team discussed with QCA were:

 

In all aspects of knowledge and vocabulary (apart from three very minor exceptions) there is a smooth increase of demand within the primary. In several instances this progression was evident right the way through from 5 – 14. The questionnaire responses reveal that in several instances more complex ideas are being gradually introduced. This was the case with ‘plants need carbon dioxide to grow’ (table 1) and ‘the idea that plants need carbon dioxide to grow.’ (table 1 ). Several technical words such as ‘chloroplast’ and ‘cell’ (tables 1 &2), ‘vaporise’ and ‘particle’ (table 3) showed a steady increase in the proportion of teachers using them in their teaching. At key stage 1 no-one used these words but by key stage 3 between a half and four fifths used them in teaching.

However, there were many instances where the progression in demand was less smooth and in some cases the use of technical words actually declined between upper key stage 2 and key stage 3. Teaching about ideas such as ‘things change state when heated or cooled’, ‘flowers are pollinated’ was done more extensively at upper key stage 2 than at key stage 3. This was also the case in every instance where the parts of the flower were concerned: ovule, anther, stamen, stigma and carpel (table 2) all showed marked declines in use between upper key stage 2 and key stage 3. In connection with the state of matter the same technical vocabulary tended to be used by upper key stage 2 teachers with words like ‘molecule’, ‘state of matter’, ‘condense’ being used by about the same proportion of upper key stage 2 teachers as key stage 3. In fact, words and phrases such as ‘melting point’, ‘boiling point’ and ‘condense’ were used by more teachers at upper key stage 2 than at key stage 3.

This data suggests that many teachers in upper key stage 2 teach aspects of science drawn form the key stage 3 programme of study. 42% of teachers of Y5 and Y6 children teach the word equation ‘carbon dioxide + water = oxygen and sugar’, 70% teach that ‘plants need carbon dioxide to grow’, 42% expect their children to understand the word ‘cell’ and 57% expect their children to understand the word ‘chlorophyll’. Over a quarter of teachers at upper key stage 2 use the idea of particles to explain the behaviour of materials, with nearly a half expecting their children to understand the word ‘molecule’. All these examples are clearly exclusive to the key stage 3 programme of study.

When interviewed, teachers at key stage 3 felt they could not trust all their colleagues at key stage 2 to cover the ground adequately. They felt that some feeder schools did an excellent job whilst others did not. Key stage 3 teachers felt they had to go back over work in key stage 2 and tended to rely on textbook schemes to guide them in this. Typically these schemes start at about level three. In a memorable phrase on e LEA adviser said that instead of being a dovetail, the boundary between key stage 2 and key stage 3 was a butt joint.

When interviewed in confidence teachers at key stage 3 said they took little notice of the records they received from their key stage 2 colleagues. With such a broad range of feeder schools they felt the picture was too inconsistent to spend time trying to understand what they were being told. Teachers in the same primary school tended to trust the records and level assignation of their colleagues but where there separate infant and junior schools the teachers from key stage 2 tended to distrust the judgements of their infant teacher colleagues.

Teachers would welcome time to be allocated for co-ordinators to visit classrooms in primaries and to liaise with secondary colleagues. Several interviewees felt that this would help progression of pupils, continuity between stages and standardisation of assessments. It might go some way to removing

One of the secondary schools we talked with was trying to institute a better level of liaison with feeder schools in science. They were doing this by beginning a joint piece of investigative work in the summer term. On their visit to their secondary school the primary children would do work on their investigation and this would continue in the following year. A small step perhaps, but the accompanying dialogue between the teachers in the different schools may help ensure greater progression between the schools.

References

DES[Department of Science and Education] (1987) The National Curriculum 5-16: A Consultation Document. London: DES.

Jarman, R., Keogh, B. and Naylor, S. (1994) ‘I’ve done this before!’ Continuity and Progression in School Science. Hatfield: The Association for Science Education.

Lee, B., Harris, S. and Dickson, P. (1995) Continuity and Progression 5-16: Developments in schools. Slough: NFER.

Ponchaud, B. (1997) OFSTED inspection findings - a tool for self-evalaution? School Science Review, 79, 286, 17-20.

Stillman, A. and Maychell, K. (1984) School to School: LEA and Teacher Involvement in Educational Continuity. Windsor: NFER-Nelson.

 

This work was done as part of a research project funded by QCA. The fieldwork was begun in October 1997 and completed in February 1998 The research for this paper was carried out by a team from Sheffield Hallam University: Graham Peacock, Robin Smith and Mick Nott. The authors of this summary are

Graham Peacock
Principal Lecturer
Sheffield Hallam University
School of Education
Collegiate Crescent Campus
Sheffield  S10 2BP
G.A.Peacock@shu.ac.uk

This document was added to the Education-line database on 14 January 2000