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UK schools 'not dedicating enough time to practical science'

28/09/2017 Joanna

An excessive focus on exams is leaving many UK schools without enough time to dedicate to carrying out practical experiments.

This is according to a new report from the Gatsby Foundation, which surveyed almost 400 secondary schools across England to determine whether they were meeting ten key benchmarks designed to measure whether they are delivering world-class practical science.

Examples include students experiencing a practical activity in at least half of their science lessons, teachers having specialist training in the science subject they teach, schools offering dedicated laboratory facilities and tests including some assessment of pupils' practical skills and knowledge.

It was found that none of the participating schools met any more than seven of the ten benchmarks, while 36 per cent met none of them, suggesting that many establishments are struggling to achieve the highest possible standards in terms of practical science.

The report also showed that this issue is more pronounced for older students, as although 68 per cent of science lessons in key stage 3 included a practical activity, this dropped to 33 per cent, 55 per cent and 47 per cent in biology, chemistry and physics respectively at key stage 4.

It was suggested that a preoccupation with high-stakes exams means the majority of students' time is given over to preparation and written exercises, leaving only limited time for practical tasks.

Sir John Holman, president of the Royal Society for Chemistry, said: "We have got good labs, relatively, by international standards, and we have got technicians. We are well geared up to do it.

"In view of that, we are perhaps not making full use of those facilities, in particular, not doing practical work as frequently as we saw in some of the world-leading countries."

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