To answer this question, we need to know what we mean by a high-quality science curriculum, so we can determine the role of a scheme of work in delivering that.
What do we mean by a high-quality science curriculum? The features of a high-quality science curriculum are that it:
covers the required knowledge, both substantive and disciplinary
is sequenced to build pupils’ knowledge appropriately
engages all pupils
enables all pupils to succeed
helps pupils see the importance of science in their everyday lives by linking it to their experience, interests and local area
helps pupils to see the importance of science in the world
inspires pupils to engage in science beyond the classroom
encourages pupils to believe that science can be a future career option.
What do we mean by a scheme of work? When we talk about schemes of work, we tend to mean commercially published lesson plans and resources that have been developed to cover the content of the National Curriculum for each topic in each year-group. However, many schools develop their own lesson plans to cover the National Curriculum and we should consider these to be schemes of work too. In essence, any sequence of lessons that is designed to cover the content of the topics for each year-group in the National Curriculum is a scheme of work, whether it is purchased or developed in a school.
Can a good scheme of work ensure a school delivers a high-quality science curriculum? It can certainly help a school deliver a science curriculum that has the features of a high-quality curriculum, but it can’t ensure it.
Schemes of work have to be written for a generic pupil, not the specific pupils in each class with their different abilities and experiences of and attitudes to science. Only their teacher can bring that to the curriculum and adapt the content to ensure that it has all the features of a high-quality curriculum.
Teachers can only do that if they:
understand the content they are meant to be covering
know what being secure in the knowledge they are teaching looks like
have good formative and summative assessment skills
have a good understanding of the context of the school and the abilities and experiences of their pupils.
If the teachers using a scheme of work do not have this knowledge and these skills, they can’t adapt the lessons from a scheme of work to make sure they are relevant to their pupils’ experience, are engaging and enable all to succeed. If they can’t do that, then they won’t be delivering a high-quality curriculum.
In addition, a scheme of work can’t do practical work with pupils. Practical work is an essential feature of a high-quality science curriculum. A scheme of work should include practical work in its lesson plans, and potentially identify the resources required, but it can’t gather the resources for teachers, or test the particular resources available, or plan how to deliver the practical work safely and successfully with the specific pupils involved or the physical constraints of a particular classroom. Teachers have to do these things themselves. A scheme that implies this isn’t required is probably not using appropriate teaching strategies.
Does that mean that schemes of work aren’t worth investing in? No. A good scheme of work can:
reduce teacher workload
support teachers that lack science subject knowledge
support teachers to use a range of teaching strategies
ensure coverage of the National Curriculum, including a good balance between substantive and disciplinary knowledge
ensure good progression across the year-groups.
These are all worthwhile benefits of a scheme of work, but they won’t ensure a school delivers a high-quality science curriculum unless it invests in training its teachers to use the scheme properly and without developing their skills in planning and assessing science so they can use the resources in a way that achieves a high-quality outcome.
Which are the ‘good’ schemes of work? There are some essential criteria for a ‘good’ scheme of work. A ‘good’ scheme must:
cover the National Curriculum properly and be sequenced appropriately
use appropriate teaching strategies to support the learning of both the substantive and disciplinary knowledge
explicitly include good coverage of the full range of scientific enquiry types
explicitly teach all the working scientifically skills linked to substantive knowledge
include appropriate outdoor learning opportunities throughout the year.
If a scheme includes assessment materials, they should be assessing against the National Curriculum statements and not additional statements, such as ‘working at greater depth’, which increase teacher workload rather than reduce it.
After that, what makes a ‘good’ scheme of work depends on your school’s requirements.
Before you even look at different schemes of work, identify what your school’s requirements are i.e. What do you need the scheme of work to do for your school and your teachers? For example, do you want it to include:
support for teachers’ subject knowledge
progression documents for the subject leader
embedded formative assessment strategies
summative assessment tools (e.g. end of unit quizzes, retrieval practice, a tracking system)
resources to support and challenge pupils
opportunities for cross-curricular links
relevant scientists, both past and present
worksheets, where appropriate
resources for displays (e.g. key vocabulary, images, questions)?
Once you have a set of requirements to add to the essential criteria, you are ready to look at the different options available.
Before you buy Almost all schemes of work will offer prospective customers the opportunity to review a sample of the content before purchasing. Where possible, it makes sense to at least review one complete topic from one year-group and, ideally, get your colleagues to use the resources and provide you with their feedback.
There are a couple of other issues to be aware of. The first is that more is not necessarily better. Most schemes of work contain far more content than there is time in any school’s curriculum to use, so quality is more important than quantity. Don’t be tempted purely by the scale of what is on offer. If you know what your school and teachers need from the scheme, focus on how well each scheme meets those requirements before considering how much is on offer or additional resources that aren’t essential requirements.
The second is cross-curricular or thematic schemes. It is possible to cover the National Curriculum properly using such schemes, but it is challenging and sequencing the curriculum appropriately can become extremely difficult. If you are considering such schemes, check that they cover all the National Curriculum statements and consider carefully how they deal with the sequencing of learning, i.e. whether they allow your pupils to build their understanding of scientific concepts and develop their working scientifically skills logically.