Survey Results – Curriculum Time in Science

This blog post will provide some of the initial findings of my recent survey on the allocation of time for Science in KS3 and 4. The survey ran from 5th to the 17th of April 2021 and collected responses from 717 respondents from across the country. (Original tweet here.) Before I get into the results I would like to share a bit about why I chose to carry out this survey.

Those that have followed my blog will know that I have a keen interest in curriculum. Recently my thoughts drifted to thinking how the offer in my school compares to the national picture. There are so many approaches to curriculum planning in Science in England. Curriculum leaders have many questions to consider such as:

  • 2 year or 3 year GCSE?
  • Separate Sciences or no Separate Sciences?
  • Separate Sciences in Combined Science time or run it as an option block?
  • Staff with specialists throughout, partially or keep to a single teacher per class?

Often many of these decisions are influenced by conditions that are beyond the control of the curriculum leader. Pressures such as Ofsted, staffing, whole school timetabling needs and, of course, money, can leave the leader with a very complex picture to work with.

In 2017 the time allocated for Science in my school was cut at KS4 by an hour per week. Back then I ran a poll investigating how our school compared nationally and managed to get around 150 responses. (If there is sufficient interest I may in future do a comparison of those data with those reported in in this blog). Thankfully my school has since restored and further strengthened our time in Science in recognition of the vital role our subject has in shaping the lives of our young scientists in our school.

A few notes before we begin!

I wanted to ensure that staff could share information in confidence whilst also providing me with enough information to rule out duplicate entries in the data. As a result I requested that participants entered their school name for question 1, with the understanding that these data would only be used to identify multiple entries from single schools. I also advised participants that the original data for the remaining questions would be shared publicly alongside this blogpost.

The survey questions.

Here is how the survey was presented to the participants:

  1. State the name of your school. (This data will not be shared publicly.)
  2. What is the current Ofsted grading of your school for “overall effectiveness”?
  3. How many minutes per week do your KS3 pupils get in years 7 and 8? (Please enter whole numbers only. E.g. for 3 hours, enter “180” only.) For 2 week timetables please provide an average per week. If Y7 and Y8 differ, please enter an average value.
  4. How many minutes per week do your pupils get in year 9? (Please enter whole numbers only. E.g. for 3 hours, enter “180” only.) For 2 week timetables please provide an average per week.
  5. How many minutes per week do your KS4 pupils get in years 10 and 11 for Combined Science? (Please enter whole numbers only. E.g. for 4 hours, enter “240” only.) For 2 week timetables please provide an average per week. If Y10 and Y11 differ, please enter an average value.
  6. How many minutes per week do your KS4 pupils get in years 10 and 11 for Separate Sciences in total? (Please enter whole numbers only. E.g. for 4 hours, enter “240” only.) Include all science lessons they attend each week. For 2 week timetables please provide an average per week. If Y10 and Y11 differ, please enter an average value. If you do not offer this course please type “N/A”.
  7. When do you start teaching GCSE Sciences?

Filtering the data.

As is the case with many surveys, the data needed to be checked and treated prior to analysis. Out of the 717 responses (17.2% of the secondary schools in England) , 51 needed to be removed at this stage, leaving 666 valid entries (yes, this is indeed terrifying!) Here is a summary of those data that were removed:

  • 11 schools removed for not confirming the school name – this meant I could not rule out duplication.
  • 24 duplicate entries removed – some schools share names so I removed entries that had identical names and responses to Q2-7. Not super scientific, but a fair compromise in the circumstances.
  • 1 international school teaching the English NC removed – this school can not be fairly compared as the outward pressures differ to secondaries based in England.
  • 13 schools removed for entering data in what appeared to be “number of lessons” due to not being able to equate this to minutes with absolute certainty. For example, one school replied “3” to the question about the number of minutes at KS3. This is obviously 3 hours but I have no way of knowing if they run 50 minute, 55 minute or 60 minute lessons.
  • 2 schools removed due to incorrect data entry that I could not resolve.

I also received one response via direct message on Twitter due to an issue accessing the form. I decided this could be added to the data set, bringing the total N for this survey to 667 schools (16.0% of the secondary schools in England).

Ofsted profile of schools involved.

The graphs below shows the profile of Ofsted grades for secondary schools in England (left) and the profile of the schools participating in the survey (right).

As you can see the profiles are pretty well matched with a slight shift from “Good” (-2%) to both “RI” (+1%) and “Outstanding” (+1%) schools. On caveat here is the inclusion of some independent schools who are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), rather than Ofsted. Those schools responded to Q2 with a “best fit”. (In hindsight I needed to either choose not to include Independent Schools or adapt Q2, something to consider if I were to return this type of data collection again.)

All schools data.

How long do schools allocate, on average, to teaching? Here is a table summarising the average number of minutes teaching time per week across all schools. (Nb – the final column is a simple summation of each row for comparison purposes.)

School OfstedKS3 (Y7 and Y8)Y9Y10/11 Combined Y10/11 SeparatesTotal
Outstanding
(N=164)
1872232913621063
Good
(N=368)
1932182893551055
RI
(N=99)
1962232813491049
Inadequate
(N=36)
1932122733421021
All schools
(N=667)
1922192883561055

The table below shows the range of responses for the above.

RangeKS3 (Y7 and Y8)Y9Y10/11 Combined Y10/11 SeparatesTotal
Max3605406009002400
Min606075100295

The following graph shows a total minutes of science per week for a student who would follow Y7 through to Combined Science (left) and a for a student who would follow Y7 through to Separate Science (right).

In these data there is already a small but noticeable difference between the four categories of schools. It seems that “Inadequate” schools offer slightly less time overall. I would suggest here that the reasons for this will vary hugely between schools but could this be linked to a whole school push on Maths and English (or indeed, other priorities) until the school is manages to achieve a higher Ofsted? (This is a crude suggestion, not a criticism!) It is worth noting here that the sample size for those schools graded Inadequate is significantly smaller than the other categories. This means each individual school is more statistically significant in the inadequate data set.

The following graph shows the minutes per week at each stage / course, compared by Ofsted grading. It should come as no surprised that the greatest variation is seen for Separate Sciences offers with “Outstanding” schools allocating more time on average than other schools and “Inadequate” schools offering significantly less.

This then got me wondering if my assumption that there would be a correlation between “schools that offer Separate Sciences” and “Ofsted Grading” existed. So I filtered my data to look for the number of schools in each category who entered a number of minutes for this course (and therefore offer the course?!)

School Ofsted% entering data for Separate Sciences
Outstanding 98% (161/165 of schools)
Good94% (348/369 of schools)
RI82% (82/100 of schools)
Inadequate76% (28/37 of schools)
All schools93% (619/667 of schools)

There is a correlation between Ofsted rating of schools and the percentage of schools offering Separate Sciences in some form. It is interesting that the biggest drop off comes when moving from “Good” to “Requires Improvement” schools (a decrease of 12 percentage points). It is also incredibly encouraging to see the vast majority of schools in the study offering Separate Sciences to their students.

Time allocations – other key themes:

  • In Y7 and Y8 the vast majority of respondents offer between 150-250 minutes (614 out of 652 schools).
  • In Y7 and Y8 the mode for these data was 180 minutes which accounted for 306 out of 652 schools.
  • In Y9 the vast majority of respondents offer between 150-250 minutes (502 out of 658 schools).
  • In Y9 the mode for these data was 180 minutes which accounted for 199 out of 658 schools. (It is worth noting that a significant number of schools increase time for Y9 with 118 schools offering 240 minutes per week.).
  • In GCSE Combined Science (Y10 and Y11) the vast majority of respondents offer between 240-330 minutes (528 out of 642 schools).
  • In GCSE Combined Science (Y10 and Y11) the mode for these data was 300 minutes which accounted for 230 out of 658 schools.
  • In GCSE Separate Sciences (Y10 and Y11) the vast majority of respondents offer between 300-450 minutes (454 out of 613 schools).
  • In GCSE Separate Sciences (Y10 and Y11) the mode for these data was 300 minutes which accounted for 188 out of 613 schools. A further 117 schools currently offer 360 minutes per week.

A note on Separate Sciences.

When I was collecting the responses a number of teachers commented along the lines of “we do Separate Sciences in Combined Science time” Give the stat above it would appear that this is common place amongst schools in England. Each school has their own context is it would be wrong for me to comment on this approach. Indeed we used to run Separate Sciences in this way until 2016 when the new 9-1 Specifications went live. Since that time we have been offering the course in the option blocks to allow us to teach the extra content in sufficient depth.

An interest follow up to this data collection could be to study some of the rationales behind the varying approaches to Separate Sciences as, perhaps unsurprisingly, it had the greatest variation between schools in terms of the time allocated for its teaching.

So when do schools start teaching GCSE?

The final question of my survey was looking at how schools approach KS3 v KS4 and did this by identifying the point at which schools begin teaching GCSE Sciences. The table and graph below illustrate the results.

So over half of schools start teaching GCSE during Year 9. The analysis of these data becomes even more stark when we group “start of Y9” and “part way through Y9” together as illustrated below:

This will make for very interesting reading for those curriculum leaders currently locked in a 2-year vs 3-year KS3 debate!

Closing comments.

So there are some initial thoughts on the data collected last month. I hope you have found something of value to take with you into your own curriculum planning? If you have spotted any errors or inconsistencies in the figures or comments above please do drop a comment below or reach me on Twitter.

Finally, here is a link to the anonymised version of the raw data sued for this analysis. My thanks again to the 718 colleagues from across the UK (and beyond!) who contributed to the data collection.

Feel free to drop me a line on twitter @DJGteaching

Thanks for stopping by.

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