The importance of ‘practical’ science remaining a priority
Dan Sullivan, founder of Empiribox – a whole-school solution that makes it easy for primary schools to deliver thought-provoking science in their classrooms – shares his thoughts on why practical science should remain strongly within the primary national curriculum…
In January 2018, Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, announced that science is being “squeezed out” of the primary curriculum, to allow schools to focus on traditional subjects, such as English and mathematics - the aim being to improve their results in Key Stage 2 SATs and climb the league tables published annually by the Department for Education.
Spielman followed this announcement with the championing of traditional-book based learning when teaching science at a primary level, supported by teacher-led demonstrations, as opposed to interactive enquiry-based learning.
On the contrary, having worked in primary and secondary schools for over 17 years, I believe we should be engaging children in science directly and giving them the tools to solve practical problems within their lessons. By making science lessons compulsory for KS2, children will be given the opportunity to embed important skills, develop into confident learners and, if they chose, move on to become the next generation STEM professionals - important given the current skills shortage in the STEM sector announced recently by The Home Office.
At present, 97% of primary teachers are not science graduates and are reliant on the limited training they receive as part of their PGCE training programme. In the one-year course, trainees have at most just one month of compulsory science training as it is only one element of the many pedagogical practices the course must cover.
Combine this with the limited budget available for science lessons, a reduction of science within the curriculum will no doubt come as a relief to many teachers who lack the time and resources to provide engaging science lessons. The result would be extremely unfortunate for the children who will be forced to sit through uninspiring, demonstration-led classes on an infrequent basis, which fail to capture the attention of our future scientists.
I strongly believe that the government should be investing in staff CPD and promoting practical, hand-on experiments. My view is also supported by Sir John Holman in his 2017 Good Practical Science Report, produced by the Gatsby Foundation, in which he states that the excitement of scientific investigation brings to life fundamental scientific concepts and nurtures a lifelong interest in science. Additionally, Holman reports that practical science experiments develop important transferable skills such as teamwork and resilience, a prerequisite for careers in science and other fields.