The representation of scientific research in the national curriculum and secondary school pupils’ perceptions of research, its function, usefulness and value to their lives

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Young people’s views on what research is, how it is conducted and whether it is important, influences the decisions they make about their further studies and career choices. In this paper we report the analysis of questionnaire data with a particular focus on pupil perceptions of research in the sciences and of the scientific method. The questionnaire was a 25-item Likert Scale (1-5) distributed to seven collaborating schools. We received 2634 returns from pupils across key stages 3, 4 and 5. We also asked teachers to complete the questionnaire in order to explore how they thought their pupils would respond. We received 54 teacher responses. Statistically significant differences in the responses were identified through a chi-square test on SPSS. As what is being taught influences secondary pupil views on research we also consider how the term ‘research’ appears in the national curriculum for England and Wales and the three main English exam boards. The main theoretical construct that informs our analysis of the questionnaire data and the national curriculum is Angela Brew’s 4-tier descriptor of perceptions of research (domino, trading, layer, journey). We use this framework in order to map what, when and how research is presented to school pupils in England and Wales. We also use this framework in order to highlight and discuss certain pupil views that emerged from the questionnaire data and which indicate areas where curriculum and pedagogy intervention may be necessary: pupils seem less confident in their understanding of research as involving the identification of a research question; and, they often see research as a means to confirm one’s own opinion. They do however understand research as involving the generation of new knowledge and the collection of new data, such as interviews and questionnaires as well as laboratory work, field trips and library searches and they appear relatively confident in their statements about their ability to do research, their school experiences of research and the importance of research in their future career choice.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1442
Early online date14 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2016

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