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Moving to the big school: what do pupils think about science practical work pre- and post- transfer?

Martin Braund and Mike Driver
University of York

Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the British Educational Research Association, University of Exeter, England, 12-14 September 2002

ABSTRACT

In spite of the relative success of science in primary schools, two out of every five pupils fail to make the expected progress in the subject by the end of Key Stage 3. Since practical work makes up a significant component of the science curriculum in schools, trying to improve the transition from primary to secondary school work in this area seems a good idea. A bridging project to do this has been set up involving 13 schools in the City of York. As background to the project, pupils' views on the purposes of practical work and how they perceive differences between work done in each phase have been sought. A questionnaire, containing six open response questions, was completed by pupils in Y6 and Y7 in the 13 project schools. Analysis of responses suggests that both sets of pupils see a value of practical work in helping them learn science. Primary pupils are more likely to consider procedures and approaches used in science practical work as generally applicable. Surprisingly, primary pupils are more likely than their secondary counterparts to see practical science as a foundation for further learning and employment. A number of secondary pupils claimed that practical science did not feature much in their last year in the primary school. The findings are discussed in terms of the implications for the bridging project and more generally for teaching science at each side of the primary-secondary transfer.

INTRODUCTION

One of the results of the introduction of a National Curriculum for schools in the UK in the late 1980s/early 1990s was supposed to have been better continuity and progression in curriculum planning and pupil learning between what have become known as the Key Stages of education. Problems associated with pupil progression following transfer from one Key Stage to another have been known for some time (Galton and Willcocks, 1983) and these are most problematic following the transfer from Key Stage 2 (primary school) to Key Stage 3 (secondary school). Some of the reasons given for pupils not progressing as they might be expected to following transfer include; pupils' anxieties about their new environment, differing teaching styles, teachers' ignorance of each other's curriculum content and approaches and teachers' distrust of each other's assessments of pupils (Galton, Gray and Ruddock, 1999; Hargreaves and Galton, 2002; Schagen and Kerr, 1999; Nicholls and Gardner, 1999). Studies carried out before the introduction of the National Curriculum and repeated recently indicate that, despite at least 10 years of a National Curriculum, most of these problems continue to have a negative impact on pupils following transfer (Hargreaves and Galton, ibid.).

As far as learning science is concerned the problem seems to be particularly acute. Evidence drawn from comparing pupils' performance in the SATs (Standardised Assessment Tests) at ages 11 and 14, indicates that 2/5 pupils fail to make the progress that might have been expected of them by the age of 14. This apparent lack of progress seems to be much worse in science than it is in Maths or English. Part of the UK Government's response to the issues outlined above and to this lack of progress through early secondary schooling has been to introduce a National Strategy to improve teaching in Key Stage 3. The science strand of this strategy has been piloted in 17 Local Education Authorities (LEAs) in England and Wales during 2001-2002 and will be introduced into all secondary schools in September 2002. The research reported here has been used to inform the development of an approach in one of the LEAs involved in the pilot to the issues of transfer from KS2 to KS3 in science.

The Science Transition AstraZeneca York ('STAY' project)

Teachers from 13 York schools have been working with science educators from the University of York and the City of York Council's Education Development Service to devise tasks that help children develop and progress in science in the transfer from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3. The work is funded by a grant from the AstraZeneca Science Teaching Trust, a major provider of resources for professional development and innovation in primary science education in the UK. The aim is to produce activities that children can start in their primary schools and continue when they transfer to secondary schools. Two key elements in the design of these so-called 'bridging units' are that they should emphasise continuity and progression in the process skills of practical science and help pupils to appreciate the commercial and industrial applications of science through work based in 'real-world' contexts.

Research rationale

Practical work traditionally represents a significantly large element of school science although it's quality and clarity of purpose has been open to some criticism (Hodson, 1990). It is known that practical activities are enjoyed by most primary school pupils and that they look forward to the laboratory environment and the excitement and danger that secondary school practical work might offer (Griffiths and Jones, 1994). Little is known, however, about what pupils at this stage perceive to be the purposes of school practical work or about the sort of practical work that scientists engage in. Researching and comparing these perceptions at each side of the transfer, therefore, seemed a useful way of informing the work on transfer and supportive of the key elements that were central to the development and teaching of the 'bridging units'.

METHODOLOGY

A simple two-page questionnaire was designed that included six open response type questions. The first three questions were designed to probe pupils' views about the purpose of practical work in school science and how this might/did compare with work carried out in primary or secondary school. The wording of these questions was adjusted to allow for prediction of what practical work might be like in secondary school for the sample of pupils in primary schools and to allow for reflection on what the differences were seen to be for pupils in the secondary sample. Otherwise the questions used for each age of pupils were identical. The last three questions probed pupils' views on what the purposes of practical science carried out by 'professionals' as part of their job might be and how these compare with the purposes of school practical work.

The questionnaire was piloted with 16 pupils in a Y6 class (aged 10 or 11) in a primary school in York. This school was not engaged in the STAY project. The pilot in the secondary school used 23 Y7 pupils (aged 11 or 12) in a comprehensive school in a neighbouring LEA. Half of each sample was given the questionnaire along with a set of black and white photographs illustrating pupils and people carrying out a variety of practical science activities including; laboratory and computer work and field study. The other half of the pilot sample was given the questionnaire to fill in without the aid of these photographs. The responses from this pilot were analysed to see if the photographs helped or hindered, and to test the questions for any ambiguities. In the event the photographs were found to have made little difference to most pupils' responses but did seem to distract some less able pupils. It was decided, therefore, not to use the photographs in the full-scale survey. The only changes made to the wording of the questions was to allow for prediction or reflection as mentioned above, depending on what year group pupils would be part of.

The revised questionnaires were given to teachers working at the University on the transfer project and so eight primary and five secondary schools were involved. Each teacher received training and advice in using the questionnaire with their pupils. For example teachers were advised to use the questionnaire in a non-threatening way, to help pupils express their thoughts and to help pupils with language difficulty by writing for them onto the questionnaire. As a result of pressures in some schools one of the eight primary schools and two of the five secondary schools did not return questionnaires. In one of the secondary schools the project teacher used the questionnaire with three different Y7 classes. This resulted in approximately equal numbers of returns from pupils in Y6 and Y7 (just over 100 from each age). For some unknown reason there was a marked imbalance of gender in the primary sample where there were almost twice as many girls as boys taking part. This effect was not confined to just one or two schools but spread across the whole sample of primary pupils.

The questionnaire was used with pupils towards the end of November 2001. This was thought to be an ideal time as pupils would have had at least 10 weeks in their class or new school to become established and be able to make valid and useful comments on science learning and the nature of the practical work experienced.

A sub-sample of 30 scripts chosen at random from each sample was analysed by two experienced researchers independently and coding categorisation for each question compared. Inter-rater reliability was found to be high at 0.85. Where there were found to be discrepancies in coding, an agreement on coding categories was reached after reading further scripts. Some coding categories were combined as they were found to reflect similar ranges and types of opinions.

RESULTS

Y6 AND Y7 PUPILS' VIEWS OF PRACTICAL WORK IN SCHOOL SCIENCE

The individual results within each coding category were entered onto SPSS for analysis and a statistical test (Chi-squared) was used to test for significance in any differences e.g. between responses from primary and secondary pupils or between boys and girls within either the primary or secondary sample.

The percentages of pupils responding in the major categories for each question used are shwon in the tables that follow. The levels of significance in any differences, where these were found, are shown by asterisks in the relevant cells of these tables according to the following key:

* differences were found at or below the 5% level (p < 0.05)

** differences were found at or below the 2% level (p < 0.02)

*** differences were found at or below the 1% level (p < 0.01)

**** differences were found at or below the O.5% level (p < 0.005)

A short discussion of the findings follows each table of results. The implications of these findings for further work on KS2/3 transfer in science education are summarised in the final section of this paper.

Pupils' views on the reasons for doing practical work in school science

Table 1. Analysis of pupils' responses to Q1: Why do pupils do practical science (tests,
investigations, experiments) at school?

Y6 Pupils

Y7 Pupils

Response category

Total(%)

(n=117)

Girls(%)

(n = 76)

Boys(%)

(n = 41)

Total(%)

(n=105)

Girls(%)

(n = 52)

Boys(%)

(n = 53)

To find out or learn more

63

58

73

75*

90****

60

For a job/to be a scientist

25****

24

27

1

0

2

Fun, enjoyable, interesting, motivating and/or better than learning by other means

21

23

20

18

24

14

Helps in our future learning and/or study

15*

12

20

5

10**

0

To use or apply skills or learn to carry out practical science

9***

5

15

1

2

0

A large proportion of both primary and secondary pupils thought that practical work would contribute positively to their general learning in science. Significantly more girls than boys in the secondary sample offered this response (p < 0.05). There were no statistically significant gender differences for this response in the primary sample. A noticeable proportion of those who claimed this (about 1/5th) also believed that practical work provided a useful independent experience that supports learning. The following is a typical response:

" I think that pupils do practical science at school because they can find things out for themselves rather than the teacher telling them. It's more fun than just the teacher showing them". (Y6 pupil)

Similar proportions (around 20%) of Y6 and Y7 pupils stated that practical work made studying science fun, enjoyable or motivating. Some responses were qualified by pupils who added that at least practicals are preferable to learning science by other means, e.g. through written work.

(We do practical work in science) Because it helps you better if you do science yourself rather than read it from a book. (Y6 pupil)

Although the numbers were small (only 11 pupils in the whole survey), some pupils seemed to express a view that practical work is done for its own sake, in other words it is useful in learning to use and apply practical skills themselves. However, this type of response was made by only one secondary pupil.

The most noticeable difference in responses from the two ages of pupils concerned their perceptions of what intrinsic benefits practical science might hold for their futures. Surprisingly, Y6 pupils were much more likely than their secondary counterparts to see practical science as useful in improving their job prospects. 29 pupils in Y6 claimed this but only 1 pupil in Y7 classes did so. Y6 pupils were also surer that practical science would help them in their further studies:

"If you want to be a scientist or work as a doctor you have to be good at science." (Y6 pupil)

"I think pupils at school do practical science so they can begin to decide if they like science and if they want to do a job that has science as part of their job." (Y6 pupil)

"When we do investigations it's to learn and if you get a job and you do chemistry or you might get a test on it in secondary school." (Y6 pupil)

Although numbers were small, just 6 pupils in the Y7 sample, a few were already picking up the message that doing practical work will serve them well in future examination work.

(We do practical work in science) "Because it helps us learn and it works us up to our GCSEs." (Y7 pupil)

Similarities between school practical work in primary and secondary classes

Table 2: Analysis of pupils' responses to Qu 2: What might be/is the same about practical
science in primary and secondary schools?

Y6 Pupils

Y7 Pupils

Response category

Total(%)

(n=117)

Girls(%)

(n = 76)

Boys(%)

(n = 41)

Total(%)

(n=105)

Girls(%)

(n = 52)

Boys(%)

(n = 53)

Same basic approach - both do 'experiments'

38****

33

47****

7

6

8

Nothing much is/will be the same

0

0

0

23****

25

21

Both investigate and/or test things

12

13

10

9

4

14

Content/topics will be/are the same

11

8

17

12

23***

0

They do the same experiments and/or practical work

11

12

10****

1

1

0

Both write up practical work

9

8

10

13

17

10

Broadly similar but fairly small numbers of pupils in both Y6 and Y7 classes thought that practical work in each phase would be about carrying out tests or investigating and that they would expect to carry it out in similar topics and to produce written records. Interestingly, this recognition of continuity or similarity in work, was expressed only by girls in the secondary sample. We speculate that this might be because girls are more likely to recognise the repetition in work or that they are better disposed to studies being gradually progressive than boys are. If the dominant experience in Y7 is really one of repetition of work rather than of true progression, as some research suggests (Galton and Hargreaves, op. cit., Morrison, 2000) then we could put this less kindly. Girls may be more likely to acquiesce to repetition of primary work in KS3 and boys less likely to tolerate it. We realise that the point is being stretched beyond that which can be supported by the data here but the effect would warrant more thorough exploration in a wider range of contexts.

The most striking feature of responses to this question was the fact that a substantial number of pupils in Y6 expected the nature of practical work and approach to be the same in Y7 whereas once in the secondary school, pupils seemed to think that it was now very different. Whilst this might seem an obvious result of transfer to a new situation characterised by the use of new equipment, working in a laboratory and different styles of teaching; there were responses that indicated that there may have been other important factors operating here. Most of the Y7 pupils who stated that nothing much was now the same about the practical work they were doing seemed to be claiming that this was because very little or no practical science actually featured in their Y6 work! The following responses support this observation:

"At primary school we didn't do experiments just sheets and we had no equipment." (Y7 pupil)

"In secondary school we do practicals and in primary schools we don't" (Y7 pupil)

As pupils from just one secondary school make up more than half of the Y7 sample, there is a tendency for this school to have a significant impact on results for the whole Y7 sample. Statistical tests, however, proved that this school bias was no more likely for this category than for others for this question. We know from verbal comments made by project teachers, that one of the largest primary schools feeding this secondary school (providing 1/3rd of its Y7 intake) did not provide much practical work for Y6 pupils and so this has obviously had an effect. However since the response also featured amongst Y7 pupils drawn from the school's other feeders and in responses seen from the other two secondary schools, it is highly likely that pupils from other primary schools surveyed also felt that they lacked experience of much practical work in Y6.

Our current work evaluating the pilot of the project in all 47 primary schools in the Local Authority seems to add weight to this perceived lack of practical science by the pupils in Y6 classes. Telephone interviews with teachers reveal a number who have admitted that, due to the pressure of revision for SATs in science, little or no practical experience has been provided for Y6 pupils. Other surveys confirm this trend (Sutton, 2001).

Differences between school practical work in primary and secondary classes

Table 3: Analysis of pupils' responses to Qu3: What might be/is different about practical
science in primary and secondary schools?

Y6 Pupils

Y7 Pupils

Response category

Total(%)

(n=117)

Girls(%)

(n = 76)

Boys(%)

(n = 41)

Total(%)

(n=105)

Girls(%)

(n = 52)

Boys(%)

(n = 53)

Use different/better/more equipment

35

35

32

23

25

21

Work is/will be harder or more advanced

40****

41

39

11

17

6

Do more (some?) experiments

5

5

5

29****

33

25

Do more dangerous work (use more dangerous chemicals)

29

25

34

22

37****

8

Work in a laboratory or specialist area

14****

14

12

1

1

0

Unsurprisingly, primary pupils expected to use more sophisticated equipment and dangerous chemicals in secondary school science. Responses from the Y7 pupils confirmed that these expectations had indeed been met. Surprisingly, perhaps, It was the girls in Y7 who were most likely to recognise that more dangerous work now featured (p < 0.001).

Whilst primary pupils expected to work in a laboratory, by the time they had got to secondary school, this did not seem to be a feature they considered worth reporting. Perhaps it was just too obvious a difference to bother commenting on.

One comment made by a significantly greater number of Y7 than Y6 pupils (p < 0.005) was that they were now doing more practical work in science than in primary school. This response fits in with that discussed for Q2 above. However, pupils changing expectations and experience may have coloured their views as to what they now perceive as constituting practical work. It may be that pupils are less inclined, after three months in a Y7 class, to accept teacher demonstrations and short term tasks as 'proper' practical work. There were a few instances where pupils explicitly compared the nature of the practical work that they experienced in Y7 with that at Y6. The following comment made by one Y7 pupil helps to illustrate this.

"Nothing is the same (about practical science in Y7 and Y6) because in primary school all you do is mini experiments and in secondary school you do really good experiments which are big." (Y7 pupil)

At first sight it is tempting to see this statement as support for a notion that pupils are likely to have changed their view as to what practical work is, or should now be, concerned with in Y7. It is not clear however what the pupils' conception of 'big' is here. Do they mean longer-term investigative work or spectacular events? We do not have enough evidence from this survey to make any generalisable statements to develop this point, but the whole issue of what concepts pupils build of practical science and how these change with expectations and experience as they progress through their education in science warrants further investigation.

Perhaps the most interesting category of response to this question concerned pupils' perceptions of the level of difficulty of practical work. Many Y6 pupils naturally expected practical science to progress in terms of difficulty and approach. Yet, Y7 pupils were much less likely to recognise that this was now so. The difference was found to be at the highest level of significance for results in this survey (p < 0.001). This result suggests that Y7 pupils do indeed find that their practical work does not represent the increased levels of demand and challenge that they expected. The implications of this are discussed in the final section of this paper.

Y6 AND Y7 PUPILS' VIEWS ON THE ROLE OF PRACTICAL SCIENCE IN THE WORLD OF WORK AND HOW THIS COMPARES WITH PRACTICAL WORK USED IN SCHOOL SCIENCE.

The purposes of practical work in science at work.

Table 4: Analysis of pupils responses to Qu 4: Why do some people do practical science
as part of their jobs??

Y6 Pupils

Y7 Pupils

Response category

Total(%)

(n=117)

Girls(%)

(n = 76)

Boys(%)

(n = 41)

Total(%)

(n=105)

Girls(%)

(n = 52)

Boys(%)

(n = 53)

They enjoy it/like finding out

38

37

41

32

41

25

To find out or discover something new (e.g. medicines and cures)

33

26

44*

49***

61**

38

Testing products and/or things

12****

3

29**

5

8

2

Similar and quite large proportions (> 30%) of pupils in both year groups claimed that people engaged in practical science did so because they enjoyed using it, or more generally, liked finding things out. This justification in terms of using practical work to discover new things was a strong feature particularly amongst Y7 pupils yet, oddly, there were different gender effects in each age. In the Y6 sample boys were more likely than girls to state this (p < 0.05); whilst in the Y7 sample it was the girls who were much more likely to respond in this way (p < 0.015).

Some pupils in both phases stated what type of discoveries might be aided by practical investigation. The most frequently stated examples were of a medical nature e.g. to discover new medicines or cures. The following response in this category is typical:

(People do practical science as part of their jobs) ... "So new medicines can be made and cures can be found and studied so that there are more chance of people living longer." (Y7 pupil)

A striking difference between Y6 and Y7 responses concerned the extent to which pupils were prepared to state that people use practical work in their jobs in testing products or procedures. Though numbers were small, primary pupils were much more likely to state this (p < 0.001).

"Scientists do it ( use practical science in their jobs) to prove what they have discovered. Cosmetic people test makeup to make sure people will not be allergic to it. Basically, they test things all the time to find out something." (Y6 pupil)

It may be that primary pupils are more likely to make connections between science and product manufacture and testing or more generally to everyday and commercial contexts than their secondary counterparts. The whole question of whether school science is more likely to be contextualised in familiar and commercial settings by primary teachers than by secondary teachers warrants a more thorough investigation and will be part of our research in future phases of the project. Our evidence so far on this issue is that there is little difference between what approach teachers say they value in each Key Stage. Whether teachers' views and aspirations translate into classroom action, however, is another matter.

Comparisons between the nature of practical work used in the world of work and in school science

Table 5: Analysis of pupils' responses to Qu 5: What is the same about practical science
that people do in their jobs and the practical science pupils do at school?

Y6 Pupils

Y7 Pupils

Response category

Total(%)

(n=117)

Girls(%)

(n = 76)

Boys(%)

(n = 41)

Total(%)

(n=105)

Girls(%)

(n = 52)

Boys(%)

(n = 53)

Both do experiments or tests

40****

34

51*

13

16

10

Both use similar equipment

8

7

10

21

31**

12

Both want to find out/get results from experiments

12*

12

12

4

4

4

Both want to learn or find out something new

11

13

7

10

4

15*

It's all science so practical work should feature

9

11

5

6

2

10

Table 6: Analysis of pupils' responses to Qu 6: What is different about practical science
people do in their jobs and the practical science pupils do at school?

Y6 Pupils

Y7 Pupils

Response category

Total(%)

(n=117)

Girls(%)

(n = 76)

Boys(%)

(n = 41)

Total(%)

(n=105)

Girls(%)

(n = 52)

Boys(%)

(n = 53)

More dangerous than school science

15

12

20

31****

39*

23

More complicated/harder than school science

22

18

29

12

15

10

Uses more/larger/different equipment

17***

21

10

5

4

6

In school, practical work is for learning; in a job, it's for money

14**

12

17

3

2

4

What scientist do has an impact (can change 'the world')

10*

9

12

3

4

2

There was a general impression amongst pupils that 'doing science' is defined by practical work and so anyone engaged in its pursuit must naturally carry it out. The interesting feature here is that it was the primary pupils in Y6 who were much more likely to state this (p < 0.001). The findings here, taken along with those discussed for question Q4 above, seem to suggest that Y6 pupils in particular operate in a frame that sees practical work as generally useful and enjoyable and a natural consequence of scientific endeavour, whether this be for learning in school or as part of a job.

It is no surprise to note that secondary pupils were more likely to state that the equipment they use is similar to that involved in work by scientists. It is much more likely that the equipment used by Y7 pupils and the environment of a laboratory are seen closer to the images of test-tubes and electrical devices etc. seen in media images of scientists at work.

There seems to be a general view that as science practical work progresses it gets more dangerous. We have already seen that primary pupils expect to be carrying out more dangerous activities when they go to secondary school. It was the Y7 pupils here who were much more likely than their primary counterparts to state that jobs involve more dangerous actions than their own school science (p = < 0.001).

"The practical science that they do in their jobs are more dangerous than the ones that pupils do in their school." (Y7 pupil)

"They use more powerful acids and chemicals." (Y7 pupil)

A number of Y6 pupils were very sanguine about the reasons for doing practical work as part of a job compared with reasons for using it in school. They simply felt that school practical work is about learning science whereas in a job it helps you succeed and earn. This relates well to the higher numbers of primary pupils, who we discussed earlier, as being more 'science job' oriented. An interesting and perhaps unexpected attitude at such an early age.

"People get paid for it and the people do stuff that is important." (Y6)

"They get paid for it, we don't. They do it to help people and we don't."

(Y6 pupil)

Y6 pupils were also more likely to see practical science as part of a serious enterprise that might have have social value (p = 0. 028).

"The practical science that people do in their jobs is a bit different because they know they might make a difference in the world. The pupils who are investigating in school know that whatever they're doing at the moment will have less chance of it changing the world." (Y6 pupil)

"They (scientists) do it for different science that could change the world but we just do it for education and fun. " (Y6 pupil)

Taken together, responses in these categories seem to suggest that primary pupils have a very positive attitude to practical science in general and that some go beyond this in thinking about how it might relate to future prospects and to the ways in which science relates to and benefits society.

DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS FOR WORK TO IMPROVE KS2/3 TRANSFER IN SCIENCE

The intention of the research reported in this paper was to inform the development, design and implementation of liaison work to improve the transfer from KS2 to KS3 in science, principally through the teaching of bridging units. The findings are mainly supportive of what we are trying to do in the project but at the same time they also sound some notes of caution.

On the positive side, it is obvious that pupils enjoy practical science at primary school, value it as a method of learning science and look forward to doing more of it with bigger and better equipment. Added to this is a noticeably strong expression of the value that practical science has in the world of work and a recognition that people who use it enjoy science and are therefore strongly motivated to want to do it. What surprised us was that this was such a strong feature of the responses from pupils in Y6 classes.

The research on pupils' attitudes to school science as reported in surveys of the literature (e.g. by Simon, 1999 and Bennett, 2002) also supports a largely positive picture of pupils' disposition towards studying science in Y6 and Y7, but with a noticeable decline after this. The link between attitudes and practical work is shown well in a recent survey by Pell and Jarvis' (2002) who found strong correlation amongst Y6 pupils between a liking for independent investigation and science in a social context and positive attitudes to the subject. However, Galton, has detected noticeable dips in pupils' attitudes to science in Y3 and again in Y6 (Galton, 2002).

He tentatively concludes that a declining liking for science in Y6 is connected to fewer independent investigations being carried out. The findings in our work seem to support this as many Y7 pupils admitted that one of the main differences between practical work carried out in secondary school compared with that in primary school was that at least they were now doing some! Our current research involving interviewing Y6 teachers and pupils just after they have been taught the bridging units shows that both are often relieved to be doing something practical after so much piecemeal revision of theory work for SATs.

There seems to be little doubt that pupils' expectations for science on entering their new school are high and that practical experiences are a major part of this. Pupils expect that science will be a mainly practical subject. There are many, however, who doubt that practical work taught in secondary schools goes much beyond helping pupils learn the routines of experimental science; little or nothing is gained as far as the learning of scientific concepts is concerned (see for example the critique by Clackson and Wright, 1992). Even if we accept such controversial yet nonetheless important challenges to the quality of the learning experience that practical work offers there remains the issue of repetition of basic experimental skills in Y7 and the demotivating effect this must surely have.

In our survey we found that many Y6 pupils expected their practical science to get harder by Y7 but once they had established themselves in Y7 they were significantly less likely to make such comment. We speculate here that these pupils may have already realised that Y7 work was not as hard or challenging as they had thought. If this is true it confirms suspicions that many of the experiences offered at the beginning of secondary school fail to recognise the previous levels of competence and experience that pupils transferring to secondary schools bring with them. In many cases pupils start science work from scratch and are trained in the use of basic laboratory skills they have already mastered. Our findings have led the project team to carefully design teaching that uses a set of progressive and continuous experiences framed around investigative tasks that build on the skills and competences of pupils after transfer. A record of the level of competence that pupils have achieved in various practical skills is a vital part of our work and along with diagnostic comments made by the Y6 teacher forms an essential part of what is transferred (Driver and Braund, 2002; Braund and Driver, 2002). We therefore hope that Y7 teachers will be better equipped to recognise the competence that their pupils arrive with and so provide a more seamless learning experience.

One problem, however, in pupils continuing with a set of practical experiences and in a similar context (fizzy drinks or bread making in this case) following transfer, is that they might reject bridging work because it smacks of something that they did in primary school. Perhaps pupils look forward to leaving behind the work they have done before in the move up to the 'big school'. In this way pupils expect a certain amount of what Gorwood calls 'curriculum discontinuity' (Gorwood, 1994). The trick here is to plan work that is sufficiently different from the primary experience yet forms a valid experience for Y7 pupils, is capable of recognising the level of practical skills and concept learning that have occurred before and moves pupils on from this. The next phase of our research will see if this happens and what factors in schools lead to successes in this endeavour.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The authors would like to acknowledge the support of the AstraZeneca Science Teaching Trust in providing funds to support the STAY project and the help of the project teachers who assisted in collecting the data.

THE AUTHORS:

MARTIN BRAUND is a Lecturer in Educational Studies at the University of York and Director of the STAY Project.

MIKE DRIVER is Project Officer for the STAY Project and a Science Consultant and OFSTED Inspector.

This document was added to the Education-line database on 16 September 2002