Nuffield Foundation Curriculum Programme
Angela Hall

Report by Sarah Codrington

Lord Nuffield wanted his Foundation to ‘advance social well being’, particularly through research and practical experiment. The Nuffield Foundation supports work which will bring about improvements in society, focussing in particular on the areas of children and families, law in society and education.

Most of the Nuffield Foundation’s income (around £10m per year) is spent on grants – for research or practical innovation – and there are grant programmes targeted at scientists and mathematicians in education and at early stages of their career. The Foundation’s Bursary schemes finance undergraduates and sixth form students carrying out practical projects in a work or academic environment.

Finally, the Nuffield Foundation sets up and runs projects of its own. The two largest are the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (jointly funded with the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council), and the Nuffield Foundation Curriculum Programme. The main current focus for the Foundation’s education work is secondary science and mathematics.

Recently the Nuffield Foundation has funded a review of 14-19 education ending in September 2009, and the Assessment Reform Group which reviewed the practices and processes of assessment in education. Further back there was the famous work of Paul Black and colleagues described in Inside the Black Box. Last year, two reports on mathematics education were commissioned: the first by Oxford University to look at what is known about how children learn mathematics; and the second an international comparison of this by King’s College London. The first will report in July 2009, and the second has an interim report ready for June 2009. The 1998 report Beyond 2000 led to reforms in secondary science, and the mathematics reports have the same aim – to stimulate debate and developments, leading in some cases to policy changes.

Recently, the internal structure at Nuffield has been reviewed to bring the curriculum work and other areas of the Foundation’s education work closer together. Development was previously separated from research, and Nuffield curriculum work has not necessarily built upon the Nuffield-funded research in any coherent or planned way.
A notable exception to this is the Beyond 2000 report, which informed the development of Twenty First Century Science, developing a view on how science GCSEs could provide a set of distinct pathways geared to the interests and aspirations of different groups of students.

Other relatively recent developments include Salters-Nuffield Advanced level Biology, Science in Society which focuses on ideas about science at A-level, and Learning Skills for Science with Gatsby Technical Education Projects.

Dipping our toe into the water fairly carefully in terms of mathematics, we are planning a project to revise and update the Graded Assessment in Mathematics (GAIM) resources, funded by Nuffield in the 1980s and produced by King’s College London. This is an example of a resource which may originally have been ahead of its time, and may have more chance of uptake in the current school climate. This is an example of how Nuffield looks for opportunities as a result of curriculum changes, but also aims to stimulate discussion about futures rather than being purely responsive.

One of the interesting outcomes of the new science GCSEs is an increased uptake of the Applied Science route at level 2. We and others are keeping a close eye on the developments of the science Diploma, pausing to consider whether it is actually an applied route that is most appropriate rather than an academic ‘pure science’ diploma. Of concern here is the political agenda that dominates curriculum development. The key question of who the audience is for this diploma has not been answered satisfactorily in many people’s opinion. Certainly, it could be argued that the needs of the sector suggest that a suitable applied route is needed, to provide scientists to service the technical and practical requirements of industry. Whichever way the science Diploma goes, (unless scrapped altogether) this is likely to be the next major opportunity for many of us here. With the opportunity to consider a holistic programme, how can we ensure that the diplomas provide a suitable alternative for students who may not be developing fully via the current system?

There is evidence that GCSE Applied Science advantages students in the C/D grade range at KS3, compared with straight science GCSEs. This is not an effect of it simply being easier, since A/B grade students at KS3 do better in ‘straight’ science than in applied. These data can be used to argue that Applied Science is a suitable and successful option for a particular group of students. It can also be used to argue that a large proportion of school students are disadvantaged by the usual style of teaching and learning and the assessment regimes they are exposed to in early secondary education.

So – the questions which are upmost for Nuffield education at present include the following:

At Nuffield, we acknowledge the importance of collaboration between disciplines in the modern workplace, and interested in the STEM agenda and its implications for the curriculum. Cris Edgell will be talking about our KS3 STEM project later in this meeting. We have been discussing how to maintain the coherence of individual subjects as the boundaries between them blur in the context of real life challenges. Work on STEM projects may lead to better understanding and coordination between school departments. It is also clear that mathematicians and scientists need a broad understanding of each others’ disciplines to serve the challenges of the future. Can mathematicians and scientists work with each other? – this would be a step in the right direction towards integrating with other disciplines, and having the flexibility to respond to the future.

Finally, I think we all want to support students to think in different ways because of the training our different disciplines provide. This is part of our motivation for curriculum innovation and making sure that assessment supports the type of education that we’d like for the next generation.