Nuffield Coordinated Sciences

General Editors: Grace Monger (Biology), Andrew Hunt (Chemistry), Geoffrey Dorling (Physics), and Mark Ellse (revision for the National Curriciulum edition)

The 1985 government policy statement Science 5-16 set down the requirement for schools to provide courses of broad balanced science for all pupils in 20 per cent of curriculum time.

Then in 1986 the introduction of GCSE brought with it an explicit expression of the growing wish among scientists and science educators that children of all ages and abilities should be taught about the processes and skills of science as well as about the knowledge content.

At about the same time, in his 1986 presidential address to the ASE, Professor Paul Black demolished the rationale, based on process science, for integrated science. As academic adviser to the Nuffield-Chelsea Curriculum Trust he recommended a co-ordinated approach to double-award science. 

So the Nuffield Co-ordinated Sciences team set out to provide a science course covering biology, chemistry and physics in two subjects-worth of curriculum time.

Significance and contexts

The team was influenced by the significance test of Nuffield Secondary Science. Andrew Hunt was taking a leading role in the SATIS project at the same time and some of activities were developed jointly for the two projects with their emphasis on the applications of science and the implications related to the practice of science in society.

Earth science topics did feature in the course, primarily as contexts for teaching biology, chemistry and physics.

Co-ordination

Nuffield Co-ordinated Sciences was the first Nuffield project to publish for GCSE. It was also the first time that Nuffield biologists, chemists and physicists had worked together closely. It was the last time that Nuffield curriculum developers could devise a science course at this level unregulated by a National Curriculum. 

There were several strands to co-ordination:

  • co-ordination of content and the sequence of topics - so that ideas introduced in one subject could be taken up and applied in the others.
  • co-ordination of concepts - notably the treatment of energy, the use of explanations in terms of atoms and molecules, and the coverage of environmental issues.
  • co-ordination of strategy - leading to a common approach to teaching and learning, a shared emphasis on the development of literacy through science and a common rationale for practical work.
Practical work

A key feature of Nuffield Co-ordinated Sciences was the continuing Nuffield tradition of starting with practical work and then moving on to the theory. Pupils were helped to construct their world view by reflecting on their own experience. The science pupils learnt in one subject was related to what they learnt in another so that they could form a coherent whole. 

Influenced by the Assessment of Performance Unit (APU), the team adopted their categories of performance as a basis for making sure that the course included a balanced coverage of practical skills.

The three main purposes of laboratory activities were:

  • to give students first-hand experience of phenomena
  • to teach practical skills
  • to provide opportunities to plan and carry out investigations.
Publications

The first publications appeared in 1988. As well as a detailed Teachers' Guide and three files of Worksheets with activities, there were three Students' books. The students' books were much more like conventional textbooks than earlier Nuffield publications for students. The team decided that students had to have direct access to the 'storyline' of the course, and not be reliant on their teachers to explain what they needed to know and understand.

A second edition in full colour was published in 2002. This was to match new GCSE specifications matched to the new National Curriculum.

Impact

The Nuffield Co-ordinated Sciences course was published in 1988, just as the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) was funded on a large scale to reshape the curriculum for 14-16 year olds. Schools only had access to the funding if they agreed to move to double, balanced science courses. Nuffield was first in the field with a rigorous course that was attractive to the more academic schools. The publications sold extremely well and the course was widely adopted, with GCSE assessment provided by the Midland Examining Group (MEG, now part of OCR). A national committee helped to support a network of user groups.

Revisions to the National Curriculum effectively killed off Nuffield Co-ordinated Sciences when the syllabus had to be radically revised and lost its distinctive appeal. Nevertheless a syllabus based on the course was examined until the end of the 1990s when it merged with another MEG syllabus. The model for co-ordinated courses lives on. 

The Nuffield Co-ordinated Sciences network 1988-1998

The first approach to aftercare centrally planned by Nuffield was the setting up of a network of volunteer user groups for Nuffield Co-ordinated Sciences – based roughly on the model pioneered by Nuffield Primary Maths.

There was a National Committee well-supported by the subject officer at the Examining Board (MEG) as well as the leading examiners.

The National Committee and regional groups ran for about ten years with minimal Nuffield support. Setting up and helping to organise this kind of activity became possible for Nuffield with the advent of computer databases. 

Also on the web

Download the publications from the STEM Centre. See particularly the introductory chapters in the Teachers’ guide

Nuffield Co-ordinated Sciences  

Nuffield Assessment in Science