'The scientist is not the one who gives the right answers but the one who asks the right questions.'
At Bartley, we offer a science curriculum that provides the foundations for understanding the world, explaining what is happening, predicting how things will behave and analysing cause. Pupils enjoy planning, running and evaluating meaningful investigations in most units and have opportunities to raise and investigate their own questions about the world around them. Our high-quality science education combines statutory and non-statutory objectives to allow pupils to access a broad curriculum; by ensuring a progression of skills as they move through the year groups, pupils are well-prepared for science at Key Stage 3. The principal focus of teaching in lower key stage 2 is to enable pupils to broaden their scientific view. They do this through exploring, talking about, testing and developing ideas about everyday phenomena and the relationships between living things and familiar environments, and by beginning to develop their ideas about functions, relationships and interactions. The principal focus of teaching in upper key stage 2 is to enable pupils to develop a deeper understanding of a wide range of scientific ideas. They do this through exploring and talking about their ideas; asking their own questions about scientific phenomena; and analysing functions, relationships and interactions more systematically. All pupils will discuss how science has shaped our world and current scientific advances, and will develop their knowledge of key scientific figures.
Pupils and staff at Bartley benefit from access to our woodland and extensive environmental area, both as part of our learning and during extra-curricular activities. As part of our robust science curriculum, each year group undertakes an additional unit to the national curriculum that uses the resources available in the environmental area. Pupils are able to investigate different elements of the natural world while practising the skills taught in the statutory units. To complement our curriculum, Bartley also runs a very popular gardening club and STEM club, open to pupils across the year groups. To encourage cross-curricular scientific thinking, Bartley has an ‘I’m wondering…’ box where pupils can, at any time, post questions about science and have them answered by experts from Bartley and beyond.
Science is taught each week for at least 1hr40min. It focusses on knowledge and skills in the national curriculum and covers statutory and non-statutory objectives. There are around 5 units of work for each year group set out in the national curriculum. The length of each unit varies, depending on the breadth of knowledge the pupils require. Each year group also undertakes a non-statutory unit using the resources available in Bartley’s environmental area.
Knowledge sheets, placed into science books at the start of each unit, give pupils an overview of the key vocabulary and knowledge they will learn in that unit. These are then referred to throughout the sequence of lessons and pupils can use them to consolidate vocabulary.
Lessons start with a flashback task where pupils answer questions from previously taught units, both from their current year and previous years. This enables pupils to revisit and recap learning. Teachers use this to assess what knowledge pupils have retained and where some consolidation may be necessary.
Pupils will undertake several investigations and experiments throughout the year. These have been carefully planned to ensure pupils are practising and building on specific skills and knowledge taught throughout their time at Bartley.
Short assessment tasks are completed towards the end of each unit of learning. These are closely matched to the national curriculum objectives, giving teachers an immediate and comprehensive view of how well each concept has been understood. These tasks have been designed so a majority of pupils can access them independently, with task style varying as pupils progress through the school. Assessment tasks are recorded in a separate book, which the pupils keep throughout their time at Bartley.
An area of development within the Science curriculum is the increasing use of the natural environment. Bartley has a unique resource- the natural spaces that form large swathes of the site. During lockdown, it became increasingly obvious that children needed time to experience the natural world in a way that may not be possible at home. Bartley has invested in training adults to deliver an outdoor curriculum. This small forest school inspired outdoor provision is currently in development and is expected to expand once more adults have been trained. While some of the aspects of the ethos, such as the small groups, have been difficult to adhere to, many other aspects have been used as inspiration to enrich the Science curriculum as a whole.
What is Forest School?
Forest School is an educational ethos that originally began in the Scandinavian region, where outdoor learning of this kind is deeply embedded into the educational systems. In 1995, a group of lecturers and nursery nurses from Bridgewater College visited a Danish school to see how this approach worked in practise. They were so impressed, that upon returning to the UK, they began the process of building the Forest School movement that we now recognise today.
Forest School uses a very different approach to mainstream education post EYFS (Year R). The ‘classes’ are very small with a maximum of sixteen pupils. This is so that the leader can act as more of a guide who encourages individuals to explore their interests at their own pace. The leader will often encourage the pupil to explore new skills and act as a facilitator for this to occur, as opposed to overtly teaching in a formal style.
What are the benefits of this approach?
When observing the aforementioned classes in Denmark, the lecturers noted that children who were allowed to independently explore their environment grew in confidence, developed a healthy respect for the natural environment and showed a high level of interest in their learning. Many of the skills that are associated with Forest School can be directly applied in other areas of your child’s learning. These skills include:
• Fine motor skills- Using many of the tools involved in Forest School can develop your child’s fine motor control, strengthening grip and handwriting skills.
• Core/upper body strength- Hanging, climbing and carrying equipment can improve a child’s upper body strength. When a child hangs by their arms/hands, they also develop muscles that are linked to posture and general co-ordination.
• Mental wellbeing- Children are given the time to learn how to unwind in a more natural setting. There have been many studies that show that some children struggle with the rigid nature of mainstream education. This may cause stress and anxiety that can be countered by spending some time in a more individual setting.
• Problem solving skills- Forest School education encourages the learner to seek their own solution to a given problem. The leader will nudge when required, however this focus on independence can empower the child to think for themselves.
• Sense of Community- The ethos of Forest School is very much about community and building links with others. Teamwork and using the strengths of others is integral to the overall success of the program.
What Forest School provisions can be found locally?
Forest School is a movement that is continuously growing. Currently, practitioners are trained by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust on their site at Swanwick Lakes in Fareham (https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/forest-school). Over the years, many practitioners have returned to their respective schools and now dozens of schools across Hampshire have a Forest School provision as part of their curriculum. Local Forest School providers include Haven Nursery School and Pembroke Park primary School, who were accredited in December 2017 and May 2018 respectively. Other local providers can be found using the map on website at the end of this paragraph. Other sites that are monitored include Testwood Lakes (Totton) and Blashwood Lakes (Ringwood). These areas provide opportunities for families/schools to visit and join in with sessions led by an experienced leader. The body that oversees Forest School across the UK is the Forest School Association (https://www.forestschoolassociation.org/).
What evidence is there that this approach works?
There have been many studies that support the delivery of Forest School alongside formal education as a means of enabling children to develop a wider range of skills in different settings. One such study was carried out by the Forestry Commission in Scotland (Jamie Hamilton, Outdoor learning: closing the attainment gap in primary schoolchildren in Scotland, February 2018). In this study, 71 primary school children carried out some curricular tasks both indoors and outdoors. They were equally spit along gender and attainment lines, ensuring some balance amongst the groups. Due to the age of the children, formal testing methods were not used. Instead a ‘richness index’ developed by the Forestry Commission, an exploratory approach using questionnaires, was used. The key findings from this study noted the following:
• That children, particularly the lower attaining children, became much more independent as a result of growing confidence and increased use of problem-solving skills.
• The outdoor task was recalled in greater detail by children than the indoor task, and it was remembered first by 74.2% of the children.
• More was recalled about the woodland settings than the playground setting, implying the influence of the natural richness of the woodland settings.
• Children demonstrated explicit problem-solving and gave reflective observations in response to questions following the playground task, but not its classroom counterpart. This indicated that the knowledge they had gained outdoors was sufficiently robust for them to review internally.
One particular area of note was the impact upon the focus and confidence amongst children that were considered lower prior attainers. This is especially important to teachers who want to ensure that all those in their classes have a set of skills that can be used throughout life. If these lower prior attaining children in particular, are given the opportunity to build their confidence and thrive, it should allow them to take more risks in the classroom. While this study does have some drawbacks, such as the small sample size and reliance on questionnaires, it does raise some important points on how children could benefit from using the outdoors to enhance their learning.
In summary, aspects of this ethos are being used with the aim of helping children prosper and grow during their time at Bartley.
Other outdoor experiences are being used to support a variety of scientific concepts. One topic uses the outdoor extensively and has formed a prototype for other projects of this kind. This project is called 'Grow Your Own Potatoes'. It is a topic that is taught in Year 5 where children are each given a seed potato to grow. Children learn about the life cycle of potato plants, how potatoes are grown commercially and how to look after them in the garden. Once the potatoes have grown, they are harvested and used in a soup recipe.