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Science teaching 'needs to keep pupils engaged'

28/11/2013 Joanna
Schools need to consider ways to improve pupil engagement with the sciences.

Over the past couple of years the government has unveiled a series of initiatives designed to improve attainment across England, with specific reference on the quality and standard of GCSEs. 

Education minister Michael Gove has spoken of the need to boost performance in maths and science, as he believes these subjects are vital to the future success of the UK's economy. 

The latest figures from AQA show that 52.9 per cent of students gained a grade C or better in double award science in 2013 - this is down from 54.1 per cent in 2012 and represents a 20-year low. 

This demonstrates how improvements need to be made and a new report by Ofsted seeks to set out guidelines for doing just that. Entitled 'Maintaining curiosity: a survey into science education in schools', it was compiled after 180 school inspections were completed. 

According to the report, pupils are more likely to continue studying science if they are encouraged to understand the subject on their own, while this will also boost general interest levels. 

Keeping pupils curious 

Ofsted believes the current set-up of GCSE science does not include enough practical examinations, which means those in teaching jobs are unlikely to spend the requisite amount of time developing these skills. 

The research also discovered that almost half of primary schools are failing to set targets for science because they do not view the subject as a priority, while too few female pupils go on to study physics at A Level. 

A difference has also emerged between fee-paying schools and non-selective state schools when it comes to sitting science exams. While 17 per cent of pupils attending fee-paying centres took physics at A Level, this dropped to only ten per cent for state locations.

HM chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said: "Few parents, pupils and teachers would dispute the fact that science is fundamentally important. It opens up further education and work opportunities for young people and helps England maintain an internationally competitive economy.

"When pupils are taught well, and taught how to think for themselves, the better they learn the subject. This helps them learn scientific knowledge, deepens understanding and encourages progression to further and higher education."


In order to sustain young people's natural curiosity, Ofsted is calling on schools to challenge assumptions about gender and science, while the most able should be given the space to undertake scientific investigations.

Headteachers and governors also have to make sure enough time is set aside for science lessons, while laboratory space needs to be proportional to the number of pupils attending a school. 

The recommendations put forward by the regulator have been welcomed by a number of education groups. For example, the Wellcome Trust pointed out it is clear "practical enquiry is integral to science and to an excellent science education".

Dr Hilary Leevers, head of education and learning at the body, stated young people are naturally curious and so this needs to be "nurtured and stimulated" over time.

Driving excellence

The Association for Science Education (ASE) also supports the publication of the document and it thinks all schools concerned with driving excellence in the teaching and learning of science should study it closely. 

ASE's chief executive Annette Smith said the report makes it clear how important it is to provide youngsters with ample opportunities to develop their understanding of the subject through practical experience. 

Central to this is adequate resourcing, which means having the right equipment, access to laboratory space, technician support and investment - this should come from a school's senior leadership. 

The Primary Science Quality Mark, which allows primary schools to evaluate, strengthen and celebrate their science provision, has been described as a successful way to encourage the profile of science in school by the ASE. 

Posted by Theo FouldsADNFCR-2164-ID-801666356-ADNFCR
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