OFSTED IS COMING, BUT IS PRIMARY SCIENCE READY?
Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools, has tasked inspectors with putting a sharp focus on Science over the coming years. As a result inspectors will look closely at Science and give it the same status as English and Maths. In 2014 only 27.4% of Ofsted reports mentioned Science and only 11.1% mentioned practical Science. In 2016, 51.9% of reports mentioned Science with 21.2% mentioning practical Science. In future, inspectors have been told that all reports must mention both Science and practical Science. The big question is, are Primary schools ready for this level of Science inspection?
Recent inspections have found that Science has become the “poor relation” in the primary curriculum with the focus on the 3Rs pushing Science to the margins of the curriculum. Although the majority of primary pupils enjoy studying Science there is a weakness in the provision, such as, a lack of time allocated to the subject, lack of teaching expertise and poor working arrangements with secondary schools. Inspectors found that over half the schools inspected did not prepare their pupils well enough for the rigours of KS3 Science. Primary schools are being reminded that they need to lay the foundations of the statutory subjects before the pupils move on to the secondary schools. Whilst the majority of schools were spending four hours or more on English and Maths, none devoted a similar time to Science. Therefore, a sharper focus needs to be placed on Science.
HMI found the quality of Science teaching was variable and there is a link between teachers’ subject knowledge and how well pupils develop their Science skills. They also found that the best Primary schools were capable of effective Science teaching without undermining progress in literacy and maths.
In the past Ofsted inspections have prioritised the quality of provision in English and Maths but all that is about to change. In future inspections there will be a sharp focus on Science. As a result inspectors have been told to look closely at Science and give it the same status as English and Maths.
WHAT WILL OFSTED BE LOOKING FOR WHEN THEY NEXT COME TO VISIT?
Every inspection report should comment on Science particularly in regards to, sufficient weekly curriculum time, professional development for subject leaders and regular monitoring of pupil progress in Science. They should also mention the provision of practical Science with respect to both its quality and quantity. In 2013 Ofsted found that 50% of schools set no Science targets; many schools were failing to ensure full coverage of the Science curriculum; limited opportunities to work independently and limited opportunity to develop skills in practical work. Inspectors will be looking for schools to give sufficient weekly curriculum time and “laboratory” space so that individual pupils can develop good scientific enquiry skills. They will also be looking for the regular monitoring of pupil progress in the subject. In half the schools previously inspected scientific evaluations and conclusions made by pupils were limited. There was little feedback or guidance focused on Science knowledge and understanding.
“Practical Science enthuses and inspires pupils. It is a vital element of learning Science”.
SO, WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
Ofsted requires all Primary schools to be delivering the new Science Programme of Study, to all year groups. The new Science curriculum demands that 40% must be delivered by investigative Science. Schools must also have an assessment scheme in place that will assess the pupils’ SC1 skills. Inspectors will be looking to see if the school has suitable facilities to deliver practical Science and that there is suitable equipment to meet the needs of the new curriculum. They will also want to see staff who can plan and deliver effective investigative Science lessons as well as good professional development opportunities for staff.
Many schools are finding it extremely hard to deliver what is being asked with the likelihood that Science will, therefore, become a problem factor in the next school inspection. This at a time when primary staff are under huge pressure and school budgets are being stretched to breaking point.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO ENSURE SCIENCE DOES WELL IN YOUR NEXT INSPECTION?
The new Science curriculum is extremely rigorous with areas of study such as “evolution and adaption” and “micro-organisms”. Planning a Science course for Y1 to Y6 which covers all the areas of study and which 40% is delivered through investigative Science would tax many secondary school Science specialists. In primary schools where it is often the case that no member of staff is a Science specialist this is proving very difficult indeed. The other particularly difficult area is the assessment of practical Science. There is little “out there” that can be bought in as even the experts are finding it difficult. Yet, if schools can deliver great Science lessons then the cognitive ability of pupils will be developed and attainment in all subjects will increase.
Primary schools need help if they are to avoid slipping into a lower Ofsted category because of how they deliver Science. Some schools will have great staff who can plan the curriculum and ensure that all staff in the school are delivering what is being asked. However, for everyone else it is trying to find support wherever possible. There are lots of companies offering in-service training but this is only part of the solution. Schools still need to have “laboratory space”, suitable equipment, assessment schemes and well-planned investigations. One option that schools might want to consider is The Mobile Primary Science Workstation that turns any classroom into a Science lab. It comes complete with a gas tap for a Bunsen burner, sink, electrical outputs and a range of Science equipment. Most important of all is that it comes with a course book, “Helping You To Deliver KS1 & KS2 Investigative Science” covering all the investigations needed from Y1 to Y6 as well as risk assessments and an assessment scheme for SC1. This can be purchased separately. The company that supplies it is a non-profit making company run by ex-head teachers who are passionate about raising Science achievement throughout the primary age range. For this reason the price has been kept to an absolute minimum making it a cheap and instant option for schools to be able to deliver the new Science curriculum. It is certainly worth a look.
Remember: Science is essential as it enables young people to develop their understanding of Science concepts and make sense of the world around them. It develops transferable skills including problem-solving, reasoning and enquiry. We must do all we can to ensure Science teaching inspires primary pupils.
To find out more about the Mobile Primary Science Workstation:
Go to “You Tube” – Primary Science Workstation.
Sources: Sir Michael Wilshaw, Monthly Commentary.
Welcome Trust – A Review of Ofsted Inspections.
Keith Atkins J.P., Cert Ed.,B.Ed(Hon),M.Ed
Chief Marker for KS2 Science
Ofsted Inspector for both secondary & primary Science
Headteacher for over twenty years
In-service trainer for both primary & secondary Science teachers
Designed the first Science Studio for the government’s
“Schools For The Future” project.
Managing Director of K.L.A. Education Consultants Ltd.