The Brave New World

Anyone with any connection to education will recognise that this is no ordinary Autumn term. Although the first day photos persist across my Facebook feed, and new teachers post their nervous thoughts across Twitter, nothing else seems the same. My kids have spent longer picking out a facemask than they did picking out a pencil case, and there is a constant stream of emails from our kids' schools about how the children are to move about. At work the usual CPD agenda has been shifted from teaching and learning to the logistics and considerations of how to teach from a 2m square box and how to sanction late arrivals and non-mask wearers. Under normal circumstances, I would be using examination data to plan ahead for the next year, but the results of this year's mess of a summer series are less use than a chocolate teapot.

The COVID-19 school closures were absolutely necessary and having lost friends to the virus I am not at all thankful for COVID, but the time working at home and the disruption to our business-as-usual in education could well be an opportunity.

I have a personal opportunity: the rethinking and relaunch of Brave Education is a result of years of observing what great science education is and the mission of Brave Education is to enable more young people to BE scientists. The Brave approach is a slimmed down, simplified journey through science, that takes away all of the nasty habits we've developed over the years in a politically driven, high-stakes system. The nastiest habit is teaching to the test. This is an unfortunate result of our assessment and performance management system. Although we need to know how schools are performing, we have conflated great teaching with great exam results. Great teaching does indeed lead to great exam results, but it should also do so much more, and this is the area we have sacrificed for grades. As a science teacher for the best part of 20 years, I am determined to empower young people to BE scientists in addition to getting excellent qualifications that give them access to future study and/or STEM careers.

Over the next couple of months we'll be creating a route through science that allows young people to learn the fundamental concepts of science, and all the resources needed for securing a deep understanding of science anywhere other than in the classroom. For classroom science resources I can highly recommend the Ark Curriculum Plus Science Mastery programme, mainly because it's my baby and it's truly fabulous. Science Mastery's younger sister is a little more rebellious and quite frankly a little lazy, taking the quickest route through and constantly playing games instead of concentrating in 5 lessons a week. In fact, this younger sibling is just on the annoying side of clever, and has an answer for everything. I have taught a few kids who have had these traits and know some excellent professional scientists who are like this too. We wanted the name of this approach to capture the character of these successful scientists and decided that they are Smartarses. So this new programme will be called Smartarse Science. Smartarse Science will support home education, independent learning and tutoring with a set of learning resources and guidance for the educator. We'll be running some training and professional networks too.

In addition to Smartarse Science, we'll also be sharing recommendations of the best training and resources for learning science and we'll be out and about testing what we're making in schools and continuing the day job of supporting science teachers across the UK. You can find out more about our work with updates if you subscribe to the site, and feel free to contact us if you'd like us to come and work with you.

The brave new world is also an opportunity for a bigger rethink in our schools. There are lots of challenges ahead, and for many young people their knowledge gaps and the pressure of upcoming exams are the least of their problems. We can quite easily design the curriculum to identify and address gaps, but we could, and should be prioritising the wellbeing of everyone in our schools. It would be great to see the tragedy of COVID result in a renewed focus on relationships and learning and a curtailment of the idea that the exams are everything. You never know - we could be teaching the next generation of great Smartarse scientists, who create a world without devastating pandemics.

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