How Science Works: the impact of a curriculum change on classroom practice

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Background: In 2006 the UK National Curriculum for Key Stage 4 (KS4) was changed and increased emphasis was placed on How Science Works (HSW). KS3 and KS5 (Subject Criteria) followed suit around 2006. HSW encompasses those strands of curriculum which cannot be said to belong to any of the sciences in particular, such as History and Philosophy of Science (HPS), and investigative and socio-scientific aspects.
Aim: This study aims to investigate the impact the curriculum change had on the classroom practice of UK secondary school science teachers, the influences they feel they have been subjected to surrounding the curriculum change, and their opinions of the curriculum change itself. The study is further informed by related practitioners’ reflections on the effects they may have had on teachers and their practice.
Sample: Twenty-five secondary school science teachers from eleven different schools of five different school types participated in the study, as well as six textbook developers, two examiners and three science education consultants. Participants comprised a mix of males and females, from various science subject backgrounds, who had all been secondary school science teachers in the UK for varying lengths of time.
Method: Participants engaged in a semi-structured interview of up to one hour about their current practice regarding HSW, as well as the changes they made specifically for HSW and any related feelings and opinions. Where feasible, teachers were observed in a lesson in which they had planned to address at least one aspect of HSW.
Results: Participants had varied opinions on whether change had been necessary, based on recognition of HSW in earlier versions, but also recognition of the importance of HSW per se. As a group, the teachers displayed a spectrum of readiness to change, with most teachers either pioneering, embracing or following the change, and very few displaying signs of reluctance or subversion. Practice had changed under a variety of influences, of which the new curriculum was the main of the so-called ‘external agents’. Factors internal to school as well as personal agents were also brought forward.
Conclusion: The study investigates a broader sample of teachers than has been studied before in the context of HSW. Although varying in their interpretation of the curriculum change and their eagerness to respond to it, the majority of teachers had made some changes, by expanding their repertoire of teaching activities, most notably in dealing with HPS and socio-scientific aspects of HSW, often at least partly in response to assessment requirements in those areas.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationYork
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013

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