Practical work in school secondary science and the curriculum influence of its assessment, with particular reference to biological science
Practical work in secondary school science has long held a prominent position. With particular reference to biology this thesis, which is essentially a reflective study, examines the way practical science has developed over the last fifty years. Major curriculum revisions are considered in the light of both changing educational insights and societal expectations during this half century which has seen remarkable changes affecting all aspects of life. The primary focus, however, concerns the influence of practical assessment on the teaching of biology. In a chronological sequence the transition of biology is traced from its position as a minority curriculum subject with a predominantly descriptive approach suitable for its morphological and taxonomic emphasis to its place within balanced science for all pupils of compulsory school age. The struggle of biology to emerge as a rigorous school science and the adaptation of biology curricula to accommodate a biosocial synthesis fitting to a society that has become increasingly environmentally aware forms an important strand through the account. Always, though, the effect of examinations and what is examinable has affected teaching priorities and teaching approaches. Therefore this thesis looks at pivotal curriculum and examination changes and seeks to evaluate the match of examinations to curriculum goals. The conclusion is made that practical examinations have frequently served curriculum aims, especially at times of syllabus revision but during periods of relative curriculum and examination stability practical assessment has sometimes exerted a constraining influence. Despite all the changes in science education during the past fifty years practical science has maintained its high profile. Whilst the stated aims of practical work have taken different emphases at different times there is evidence that teachers have persistently lacked clarity about its precise purpose. Despite modem rhetoric about 'doing science' and the national curriculum thrust towards investigations teachers still cling to very general beliefs about the value of practical science even though there is a significant change in disposition towards more investigatory science.