Primary Science Subject Leaders Creating Communities of Practice: Stories of Professional Development
A policy epidemic of marketisation and accountability in education (Ball, 2003) has led to a narrowing of the curriculum in English primary schools, and the importance of science has declined (Spielman, 2020). In addition, the identities of teachers have been adversely affected (Ball, 2017). The abolition of the science Standard Attainment Test (SAT) in 2009 was key in the deprioritisation of science. In 2010 the Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM) was introduced nationally with the aims of raising the profile of science and improving the quality of primary science teaching and learning. In this programme, schools’ science subject leaders embark on a year-long programme of evaluation, action planning, implementation and reflection, based on the PSQM framework. Four half days of PSQM training, and on-line support, are provided by a PSQM hub leader. At the end of the year evidence is submitted for review and an award is made. The result depends, not on outcomes measurable through tests or examinations, but on a review of the evidence of participation and reflection. English primary school teachers usually teach most, if not all, subjects to their classes. Each curriculum area typically has a subject leader responsible for the monitoring and development of her or his subject throughout the school. While this offers a model for distributed leadership it imposes an additional burden on hard-working class teachers. Despite this, over 3500 science subject leaders have led their schools to gain a PSQM. Evaluations of the PSQM programme suggest it is successful in supporting the development of leadership and improving the profile and quality of science teaching and learning. This research sets out to examine the ways science subject leaders and science teaching and learning changed over the course of the PSQM year and to understand the processes involved in these developments. The research is based on a study of eight science subject leaders who narrated their experiences throughout the PSQM year. Using narrative methods, I collected their stories using both minimally-structured interviews and rivers of experience; an arts-based method. These data were analysed in comparison with Lave and Wenger (1991) and Wenger’s (1998) conceptualisations of situated learning, communities of practice, legitimate peripheral participation and identity. Science subject leaders developed science teaching and learning within their unique school settings, in addition to raising the profile of science. Each operated as a master within her own school community and, either developed a science community of practice where none existed before, or, if a science community of practice existed, she was able to strengthen it. They were able to do this because participating in the PSQM enabled border crossings between their own schools’ communities of practice and the broad primary science community of practice. The values and understandings of the broad primary science community of practice became apparent in the discourses of the participants. The discourses influenced practice in their schools which developed as a result of the engagement of the school communities in science events and activities. In addition, the identities of the participants changed over the course of the PSQM year with engagement and reification playing important roles. By the end of the year, they identified themselves, and were identified by others, as effective science subject leaders. In addition, some perceived themselves as better leaders and better teachers, not just of science. Where their roles as science subject leaders conflicted with other identities, for example, some perceived themselves as not ‘sciency’ people, while others’ inexperience led to hesitation about leading more experienced colleagues, they were able to reconcile these conflicts.
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