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Primary science: an analysis of changing policy, policy text and practice

By Sandra Lesley Eady


This thesis sets out to examine the extent to which primary science is a complex interplay between educational and political perspectives which in turn has influenced and shaped the way primary schools interpret, reconstruct and implement science in practice. This study uses a policy trajectory to consider the changing conceptions of primary science within the arenas of policy influence, policy text and practice in relation to its curriculum content, related pedagogy and assessment. In addition, it examines the nature and impact of professional development to support the implementation of primary science in practice. Evidence was collected through a series of interviews with elite figures in education, a regional survey of primary schools, along with in-depth cases studies in order to develop a deeper understanding primary science within the policy to practice context. The findings would indicate that despite a succession of top down science education policy reforms, there are still concerns about the extent to which teachers have sufficient science subject knowledge to develop conceptual understanding, a clear idea of the purpose of science investigations and how to use formative asiessment as an effective way of diagnosing pupil understanding. Furthermore, the evidence would suggest that the emphasis placed on summative assessment and accountability has narrowed teachers' conceptions of primary science. The implications are that science policy reform needs to acknowledge existing practice and support a wider definition of science that includes an appreciation of the historical and cultural aspects of science together with an understanding of technological applications. In addition, a more robust infrastructure of professional development needs to be in place which places more emphasis on the science co-ordinator to support teaching and learning in order to provide teachers with access to a changing knowledge base and opportunities to update skills in primary science. Unless these implications are given serious consideration the unrelenting focus on performativity and accountability will prevent any real development of creativity and innovation in the primary science curriculum

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