Levitt Hagg kilns and What continuity in science at 11-16?

Levitt Hagg kilns

Stuart Walker, Doncaster

A wall built from stones from the quarry

In response to Simon Bourne's interesting letter on the history of the River Crane Park Shot Tower in London (see Educ. Chem., 2008, 45 (1), 11), I would like to report another important remnant of our historic chemical industry. Immediately to the west of Doncaster, lies a band of magnesian limestone bisected by the River Don. The flow of the Don over the millennia has created a steep gorge several miles in length, which is famous as the setting for Sir Water Scott's novel, Ivanhoe. The sheer sides of this gorge have long been quarried for their high quality dolomite (CaCO3.MgCO3) and many local buildings, most notably the 12th century Conisbrough Castle, were constructed using the stone from these quarries.  

However, a short trip further down the Don gorge from Conisbrough leads one to an impressive pair of tall abandoned mid-19th century limekilns, which are the only surviving structures in the once thriving quarry community of Levitt Hagg. The limekilns are built into the side of the gorge and consist of a brick-lined furnace, supported by a stone-fronted retaining wall with lower level access portals. Additional reinforcement has been provided by brick-built buttresses which include similar ventilation holes as those in the stone-built retaining wall to ensure a continuous supply of oxygen to the centre of the kiln.  

Inside a limekiln

The size of these limekilns was dictated by the sheer weight of the limestone coal charge, which took around a week to load, fire, cool and unload. Indeed, the caustic nature of quicklime must have made unloading the kiln a particularly onerous task. Quarried limestone was carried to the limekilns on tramways or hauled in tubs by donkeys, where it was burnt using local coal to produce dolomitic lime (CaO.MgO). This product was much in demand from the building trade and the Sheffield steel industry, which in 1843 was producing 90 per cent of British steel and almost half of the entire European output of steel. On average, similar kilns produced some 30 tonnes of lime per week (ca  3000 tonnes per annum), which suggests that a further six or seven kilns must have been in operation when Levitt Hagg produced its peak output of 23,000 tonnes of quicklime in 1876. Further investigation of the site revealed the remnants of at least four adjacent limekilns.  

An adjacent imekiln

Quicklime production at Levitt Hagg gradually died out throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries as more modern production methods took hold elsewhere. This eventually led to the abandonment and clearance of the site in the 1950s, leaving the Levitt Hagg limekilns as the sole reminder of a local chemical industry that helped to make Sheffield steel world famous. 

What continuity in science at 11-16?

Keith Taber, University of Cambridge

I question the logic and rationale of the new structure for the National Curriculum (NC) for science that is being introduced in England. The new KS4 curriculum has been in operation since September 2006. The new KS3 curriculum has now been published by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), and it is disappointing that there is so much discontinuity in the way these two documents have been formulated.  

In the KS4 science programme of study (PoS), there are two main groupings of four sections. The first concerns 'How science works', and the specification of required topics is called 'Breadth of study' (a term which was used rather differently in the previous version of the NC). Here section headings continue to avoid using the names of science disciplines such as 'chemistry' used in schools, and instead are labelled: 

  • 5. Organisms and health;
  • 6. Chemical and material behaviour;
  • 7. Energy, electricity and radiations
  • 8. Environment, Earth and universe

A major change here is the separation of Earth science and astronomy topics that were previously included in Sc3 (Materials and their properties) and Sc4 (Physical processes) into a separate section. 

Yet after adopting this format for KS4 last year, QCA has formatted the KS3 science curriculum quite differently. So at KS3 the topics to be covered are listed in one of four main sections of the PoS, and given a different heading - 'Range and content'. The biology and physics components have been swapped around to give: 

  • 3.1 Energy, electricity and forces;
  • 3.2 Chemical and material behaviour;
  • 3.3 Organisms, behaviour and health;
  • 3.4 The environment, Earth and universe

To complicate matters further, the KS3 curriculum retains attainment targets (AT, the basis for assessment) based upon the previous, now replaced, PoS rather than the new structure. The AT for 'scientific enquiry' has transformed into a broader AT1 called 'How science works'. However, this heading is not actually used in the new KS3 PoS, where this material is split between 'Key concepts' and 'Key processes'. The new section 3.4 is illogically split up for assessment purposes between three different attainment targets. 

This all seems unnecessarily complicated and bizarre. I understand that QCA wanted the new KS3 curriculum to have a common format across subjects, but it is surely more sensible to offer continuity within a subject area across Key Stages. The new curriculum is a chance to put right the over-prescription of science teaching that has done so much harm to students' engagement and teachers' enthusiasm in recent years. The confused format is not a good start.  

In response

Colin Osborne, RSC education manager, schools and colleges, says: 

I approached QCA for comments on Keith Taber's letter. In its response QCA pointed out '... that other KS4 programmes of study (eg mathematics) which were developed after the KS4 science programme of study follow the same format of the KS3 programmes of study. A future revision of the KS4 science programme of study will afford an opportunity to bring it in-line'.  

On assessment at KS3, QCA commented: 'The final decision made by the [then] Department for Education and Skills (DfES) was to maintain the status quo. Attainment target 1 is now called "How science works", these aspects of the programme of study being covered through a combination of the key concepts and key processes'. 

Overall, this discord in science at 11-16 highlights the problem with the incoherent approach to curriculum development in England. If science teachers are to be released from the burden of managing yet more change and allowed to focus on enriching students' learning experience of science, the Government, QCA, and professional bodies, such as the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), must work together to agree a direction for science learning at 11-19 for the long term, which preferably would involve trials first.