We suggest that there are several key aspects to the problem of pupil failure in that the aims of the science curriculum are deficient in a number of ways. First, they are too abstract in terms both of the ideas themselves and of the contexts in which those ideas are usually taught. The difficulty of the ideas for many pupils means that their experience of secondary school science is one of repeated and demoralising lack of success resulting in a vicious circle of failure, demotivation and more failure. Second, they are not sufficiently motivating, in that they lack perceived relevance to pupils’ own lives. Third, they rely on practical work as a means of enhancing ‘conceptual learning rather than acting as a source for the learning of essential skills’ (Fensham 1985). Finally, they are based (wrongly) on the premise that pupils will be able to use ideas, spontaneously, in a wide variety of situations. (The reader is referred to Fensham’s (1985) reflective essay for a detailed and well-argued discussion of these issues.)
By examining the nature of the ‘traditional’ science curriculum and then considering some recent innovations attempting to change the curriculum and its teaching, an argument for a task-based approach will now be developed.