Policy issues

Author: PRIMAS-team

In Europe, many pupils have little interest in mathematics and science and thus do not choose to follow related careers. Consequently, the needs of the European labour market may not be met – a weak point in the ability of the European Union to compete world-wide.

Implementing innovative ways of teaching, such as inquiry-based learning in science and mathematics education, is a key lever in changing this situation by increasing pupil motivation and interest in these subjects.
Even where educational policies are supportive of inquiry-based learning, these are often not reflected in teachers’ practices. Indeed, there is strong evidence that, in practice, inquiry-based teaching and learning is not widely implemented in partner countries at all levels of education. Traditional transmissive teaching still seems to be widely used in most countries, even if there are some local differences.

We aim to inform the development of policy at both a national and international level in relation to inquiry-based learning (IBL) practices in mathematics and science. At different stages of the project, the PRIMAS consortium produced policy documents that analyse policy developments at a national level in relation to the project’s overall aims. These reports may be found below:

What has been done so far

A common framework has been used in each country to explore:
• policy priorities and the values that underpin these
• how systems and structures mediate / manage the implementation of policies
• the processes of providing data and evidence that informs policy decisions

Key finding

In consortium nations there have been policy developments that have had both positive and negative effects on IBL in mathematics and science. This has resulted, at both European and national levels, in many activities and projects that support IBL. However, their effect may have been dissipated because of a lack of comprehensive strategic vision in overall policy direction


1. Current formulations of assessment result in a focus on knowledge recall and standard applications of rules and procedures. Such assessment leads to a narrow curriculum experience for learners as teachers attempt to ensure that students obtain high marks
2. Attempting to make short term gains in the rankings provided by studies (such as PISA) should be questioned and a more long term strategic response that develops IBL practices considered
3. Focusing on performance in international studies can lead to a narrowing of the curriculum in ways that can make it less appealing to those other than the highest achievers. It should be remembered that achievement in assessment is only one outcome of learning and that student dispositions towards mathematics and science are also important and can be influenced positively by IBL approaches.

Curriculum specification and implementation
The next iteration of curriculum design at a national level should:
• be informed by the learner experiences and teaching approaches that are desired
• indicate clearly expectations in terms of learner experiences that might optimize learners’ dispositions as well as outcomes in terms of attainment
• consider the practicalities of implementation through professional development and other support
• indicate expectations in relation to learner experiences and teaching approaches to producers of text books and other resources

Curriculum specification and implementation
Policies that can stimulate curriculum innovation at a national level should be considered and also how schools operating within local contexts and structures can be supported when they wish to bring about curriculum innovation and change.

Professional practice
Within the national context, thought should be given to how good practice in IBL pedagogies can be supported, for example through inspection systems, and disseminated more widely. This needs to be planned for and strategically supported.

Professional development
Strategic support of teachers’ professional development appears to be rare. This is an essential aspect of bringing about curriculum change and needs to be considered urgently in relation to aims, objectives and priorities in developing mathematics and science education.

Last change: 19 december 2013
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