Ideology and identity: a comprehensive school science department in transition

Williams, James H (1982). Ideology and identity: a comprehensive school science department in transition. MPhil thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000fc8a

Abstract

This is a participant observer study of the natural history of a science department in a newly established 11-16 comprehensive school. The formation and transformation of the department is described, as efforts were made to provide an education in science for 1500 pupils of varying ability.

Early data collection and analysis revealed the central importance of the curriculum process. Using the concept of periodicity, an annual cycle and the phases in this cycle were discovered. Individuals and groups were identified who were involved with the different phases of the curriculum process. They were seen to occupy different locales, levels and statuses in the organisation, stages in their careers, and supporting educational ideologies.

The science curriculum process was initiated by management - a group of senior teacher administrators led by the Headmaster. Curriculum policy was formulated by them after some discussions with the Head of Science. The formula determined time alotted, material and human resources, as well as which science subjects were to be taught in the upper school. What form school science should take was decided by the Head of Science unilaterally. Nuffield Combined Science was established in years 1 and 2, followed in the third year by separate sciences. Nuffield Combined Science particularly learning through “guided discovery”, became a bone of contention giving rise to dispute, through which different beliefs and ideological commitments were revealed.

Implementation and monitoring of the curriculum was a departmental concern. Whilst, a curriculum package was imposed in the lower school favouring integrated science, resource based learning and discovery methods, it was subverted by some of the science staff. Efforts to monitor teaching were not entirely successful. Other constraints originating from management decisions such as reduction in technicians, capitation, increasing class size, preference for setting and the use of text books undermined the whole philosophy of guided discovery. The morale of those who supported the curriculum innovation was lowered. Under pressure from management and science teacher colleagues they yielded. Nuffield Combined Science was remodelled and taught in a traditional way to setted groups using didactic methods.

Confusion in the aims of the curriculum led to disagreement over evaluation. Management accepted external examinations as an independent objective measure of the effectiveness of the science curriculum. Some staff in the department did not agree. Because examination results were not up to expectations efforts were made to improve them and the image of the department within the school. The image projected was that of an academic institution capable of educating pupils of ability to the highest standard.

Efforts were also made to attract well qualified specialist science staff - graduate scientists - to staff the department in the belief that only by improving the “quality” of the staff would the examination results improve.

Those staff already in the department found promotion prospects reduced and greater competition from outside. Those non-graduates who were career orientated embarked upon programmes of graduate studies to improve qualifications.

Through the shared experience secondary socialisation took place, resulting in changes in individual’s self-identity and ideological commitments.

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