Nuffield Chemistry 1962

Organisers: Frank Halliwell (1960s), Richard Ingle (1970s)

In the late 1950s the content of the chemistry curriculum and the methods used to teach it in secondary schools had barely changed since the 19th century. Rote learning tended to mean that students understood little of what they had learnt. Students needed to experience science for themselves through practical work, rather than just reading about it.

Teachers recognised that something needed to be done, but the British government did not want to intervene directly. The Nuffield Foundation selected organisers to do the job and provided funding which enabled them to build a team, develop materials with modern content and teaching approaches, and try them out in schools.

Modern content and teaching approaches

The rationale for the Chemistry development work was spelled out in the Handbook for teachers. Much of the innovation concentrated on practical work, with the outcomes being summarised in a book of Collected experiments. The commitment to guided discovery through practical investigations meant that there was limited material for students in the first edition. A notable innovation was the lively series of Background Books which amplified and extended the work done in class, and stimulated students’ interest in the wider aspects of their study.

The developers were keen to emphasise that the scheme was only a sample, and that many other items of chemical subject-matter could be taught using the Nuffield approach; an approach which put particular emphasis on students finding out things for themselves under careful direction, rather than being told facts and made blindly to learn them.

Professional development for teachers

New styles of hands-on professional development for teachers were supported by the Inspectorate and local education authority advisers.

Assessment in the spirit of the course

New approaches to assessment in the spirit of the new course were developed in partnership with London Examinations – ‘We exist to examine what you teach’.  The first chief examiner, John Mathews was determined that the ‘backwash effect’ of the examinations should encourage teaching in the spirit of the course. For many years there was no syllabus (specification). The senior examiners also taught the course and examined in the spirit set out in the publications for teachers.

Resources

Resources included teachers’ guides, guides to experiments, and chemistry readers (background books) for students. The resources were revised in the 1970s. 

Outcomes

The course was taken up by about 20% of British secondary schools. The books were widely translated, and the approach was taken up particularly enthusiastically in Malaysia with project team members and teachers visiting to provide advice. 

Detailed instructions about how to carry out chemistry experiments live on in the Practical Chemistry website.  

Also on the web

Download from the STEM Centre website

Nuffield Chemistry 

See particularly the Introduction and guide and the Handbook for teachers.  

Nuffield Revised Chemistry 

See the information about the aims of the course in Teachers’ guide 1

Entry in the King's College London archive

Nuffield O-level Chemistry papers