Support for Subject LeaderS
Enrich primary science at your school with the best science resources, training for staff, school visits, science visitors and competitions.
There are many ways to develop science in your school, and a good starting point is to find out what is happening in science across the whole school. Our Subject Leader Self-evaluation Tool should help you to audit science in your setting and support you to plan your next steps. The tool can be downloaded from the Resources tab.
We also encourage you to consider taking part in the Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM). This year-long CPD programme focuses on developing effective, confident science leadership for whole school impact on science teaching and learning. PSTT is proud to be a long term supporter of PSQM through a strategic partnership with the University of Hertfordshire.
WHOLE SCHOOL APPROACH
To find out what is happening across the school, you may decide to organise a staff meeting or talk to your colleagues individually. To answer some questions, you may need to arrange time out of class to observe teaching, look at books and displays and talk to children. This section is grouped into 8 areas. Click on the titles below for more information.
Is science taught weekly?
Ofsted's 2013 report, Maintaining Curiosity, recommends that school leaders and governing bodies should provide sufficient weekly curriculum time [for science] so that individual pupils develop good scientific enquiry skills as well as the knowledge they need. The Wellcome Trust's 2018 report, A review of Ofsted inspection reports: in relation to science and maths, states that schools should deliver sufficient weekly curriculum time for science. Children need regular, enquiry-based learning to develop the practical skills necessary for future work in science, technology or engineering. Restricting science to irregular 'science days' in primary schools does not allow enough time for children to develop these skills.
How much time is allocated to science?
There is no statutory requirement to teach science for a fixed number of hours per week and there is a huge variation in the number of hours spent teaching science across schools. The Wellcome Trust's 2017 State of The Nation report of UK primary science education found that on average classes are taught science for the equivalent of 1.7 hours a week and 54% of classes receive less than 2 hours a week.
The Key for School Leaders explains that:
- Maintained schools need enough time to cover the content set out in the National Curriculum.
- Academies need enough time to allow for a broad and balanced curriculum, including English, mathematics, science and religious education.
As long as you meet those requirements, the number of hours of science teaching for any phase is up to the school. The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) suggests that two hours is the minimum time needed to teach primary science with the required level of depth and understanding to deliver the science curriculum.
The PSQM CPD programme, which runs across the UK, supports subject leaders to effectively implement a curriculum for science that is informed by research evidence and best practice data.
What are the statutory requirements?
In all the countries of the UK, it is a statutory requirement to teach science. Despite apparent differences, the curricula in all these countries seek to provide relevance to real life and encourage the development of children’s scientific skills and understanding of scientific processes.
The Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage (published in 2017) sets standards for the learning and development of children up to five years old. All pre-schools and schools with reception classes (ages 4-5 years) must follow these standards. There are seven Areas of Learning. Understanding the World is one of these and involves helping children to make sense of their physical world and their community through exploration and observation of people, places, technology and the environment. The following documents offer non-statutory guidance material to support practitioners implementing the EYFS framework in England:
- Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage (published 2012 by The British Association for Early Childhood Education) which gives age-related expectations referring to the current curriculum and examples of what children could do to achieve them.
- EYFS profile exemplification materials (updated 2014) are a set of materials for practitioners assessing children's development at the end of the EYFS.
Early years providers should also be aware that during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the government has temporarily disapplied and modified certain elements of the EYFS statutory framework. Practitioners should read Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak which outlines the EYFS changes that came into force on 24 April 2020.
A new EYFS curriculum will be introduced in England in September 2021. There are some schools called 'Early Adopters' who are following the new curriculum this year (2020-2021). There are changes to the Early Learning Goals between the two curriculums, so subject leaders need to be clear which their school is following this year. In schools following the new curriculum, subject leaders should refer to the Early years foundation stage profile 2020 handbook which supports practitioners in making accurate judgements about each child’s attainment at the end of the EYFS.
The National Curriculum in England (published in 2003) states that science is a core subject, along with English and maths, and is compulsory in Key Stage 1 (Years 1 and 2/ages 5-7) and Key Stage 2 (Years 3-6/ages 7-11). It emphasises that children should be taught about the nature, processes and methods of science by working scientifically. Children are expected to develop specific enquiry skills (asking questions, making predictions, setting up tests, observing, measuring, recording data, interpreting and communicating findings, and evaluating investigations) through carrying out investigations and studying the science content.
The Foundation Phase Framework (revised 2015) sets out requirements for children aged 3-7 years. It includes seven Areas of Learning. Knowledge and Understanding of the World (KUW) is one of the areas and is comprised of science, history and geography. The emphasis is on asking questions and trying to find answers through exploration, enquiry and experimentation.
The National Curriculum for Wales (published 2016) sets out the requirements from Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11) and science is included as a discrete subject. Children are expected to develop cross-curricular skills within science (thinking, communication, ICT and number).
Note: a new curriculum, Successful Futures, will be introduced in September 2022 for 3 to 16 year olds. There are six Areas of Learning Experience, one of which is Science and Technology. There is considerable emphasis on developing cross-curricular skills (literacy, numeracy and digital competence) and integral skills (creativity and innovation skills, critical thinking and problem solving, personal effectiveness, and planning and organising skills). There is also greater emphasis on the cultural heritage of contemporary Wales. Teachers will need to consider how the geography of Wales, its local industry and Welsh individuals (historical and contemporary scientists and engineers) have shaped its science and technological activity. From September 2020, some schools are beginning to design their curriculum with this in mind. Curriculum Guidance (published in January 2020) is available to help schools develop their own curriculum for Science and Technology. The following documents outlining the four purposes of the curriculum may also be useful:
- The four purposes of the curriculum for Wales (includes Welsh and English statements)
- A new curriculum in Wales (a guide for children and families)
In Scotland, the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) supports the Broad General Education (BGE) designed to provide a rounded education from the early years (age 3) until the end of S3 (age 13/14). The BGE is divided into five curriculum levels (early, first, second, third and fourth) across eight curriculum areas. Primary age learners typically work within early, first and second levels.
Science is one of the eight curricular areas. Through learning in the sciences, children and young people develop their interest in and understanding of, the living, material and physical world. CfE supports science skills and content and places increased emphasis on inter-disciplinary or cross-curricular learning.
Each curriculum area is supported by experiences and outcomes. Experiences and outcomes (often called Es&Os) are a set of clear and concise statements about children's learning and progression in each curriculum area. They are used to help plan learning and to assess progress.
CfE Benchmarks (published 2017) sets out clear statements about what learners need to know and be able to do to achieve a level across all curriculum areas. Benchmarks have been developed to provide clarity on the national standards expected within each curriculum area at each level and to support consistency in teachers' and other practitioners' professional judgements.
Principles and practice - each principles and practice document sets out the purposes of learning within a particular curriculum area, describes how the experiences are organised and offers guidance on aspects such as learning and teaching, broad features of assessment, progression and connections with other areas of the curriculum. The CfE science principles and practice document outlines the importance of developing inquiry and investigative skills and scientific analytical thinking skills across the BGE.
Within CfE literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing are recognised as being particularly important – these areas are seen as being the ‘responsibility of all’ staff. All documents are available in both English and Gaelic.
In Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Curriculum (published in 2007) for The Foundation Stage (Years 1 and 2/ages 4-6), Key stage 1 (Years 3 and 4/ages 6-8) and Key Stage 2 (Years 5, 6 and 7/ages 8-11) is set out in six Areas of Learning. The World Around Us (WAU) is one of these Areas of Learning. It encourages children's natural curiosity and answers some of their questions about the world from the perspectives of geography, history, and science and technology. Teachers should enable children to develop knowledge, understanding and skills in four connected strands of:
- Movement and Energy
- Change Over Time
Where possible, links should be made with the other Learning Areas. Therefore, interpretation of the WAU curriculum by the teacher should ensure that science is taught within a meaningful context rather than in isolation. Focus is placed upon the development of cross-curricular skills including Communication, Using Mathematics and Using ICT.
Do long and medium term plans show progression in both subject knowledge and enquiry skills?
Subject leaders need to make sure that their school curriculum shows progression and sequencing of both subject knowledge and enquiry skills. Although children might be more engaged in a practical science lesson, it is important that they are able to understand and remember the underlying knowledge and concepts of the science that they are learning, and explain what they are investigating, rather than the experiment itself. On the other hand, a curriculum focusing only on subject knowledge will not equip children with the skills they need later to work independently in science and to access the secondary science curriculum. To put this simply, whatever curriculum you follow, children should be doing science to learn science.
Further support for teachers in England:
You might be interested in reading Ofsted's 2019 report, Intention and substance regarding the importance of knowledge and concepts. It states that all practical work must be firmly rooted in the science that they are learning.
Teachers may find the PLAN assessment resources useful for understanding knowledge progression in topics and progression in working scientifically skills. Teachers need to be confident about the key learning, vocabulary and working scientifically skills appropriate for their year group. Plan Knowledge matrices and PLAN Working scientifically matrices provide this information. PLAN Examples of work show suitable activities for each age group.
PSTT Fellow, Claire Loizos, who has experience in science subject leadership, has created a document to show curriculum progression in primary science for schools that she supports on the Isle of Wight. We believe that other teachers will find this document useful and we are very pleased that she is happy to share these resources much more widely. You can download the document here and you will find it below Resources tab. For each science topic from Year 1 to Year 6, Primary Science Curriculum Progression provides:
- National Curriculum objectives
- prior learning
- future learning
- key questions to ask children
- appropriate vocabulary
- ‘sticky’ knowledge
- key scientists
- linked texts
- possible investigations for each enquiry type
- a BIG question (which could be an assessment opportunity)
Further support for teachers in Wales:
Teachers should refer to the Curriculum Guidance for Science and Technology which defines six statements of what matters (curiosity; design & engineering; living things & the environment; matter & materials; forces & energy; computational processes), the principles of progression and descriptions of learning. The descriptions of learning provide guidance on how learners should progress within each statement of what matters. There are 5 progression steps and steps 1, 2 and 3 correspond to expectations of what learners should attain by ages 5, 8 and 11.
Further support for teachers in Scotland:
Two versions of the Education Scotland STEM self-evaluation and improvement framework for early learning and childcare, ASN, primary and secondary schools are available. One version has been developed for STEM coordinators and senior leaders. A two-page summary version for practitioners has also been produced. The framework includes challenge questions and a series of progression statements for relevant quality indicators to help settings reflect on and plan improvements in relation to STEM.
Teachers may be interested in the Scottish Government second annual report on progress with the STEM Education and Training Strategy which highlights progress made in the first year as the strategy starts to deliver benefits for educators and young people.
Further support for teachers in Northern Ireland:
Teachers may be interested in The Implementation of The World Around Us, a report on a project organised by the Council for the Curriculum, Examination & Assessment (CCEA) and Curriculum Advisory Support Service (CASS) in 2008, which documents how different schools have implemented the WAU curriculum. It includes an audit tool for your school and examples of strategy and an action plan that you may find useful.
Teachers will find the Progression Guidance (published by CCEA), which describes the progression of skills and understanding through the primary years, a useful document.
Are effective cross-curricular links made?
Ofsted's Maintaining curiosity report (2013) stated that teachers who coupled good literacy teaching with interesting and imaginative science contexts helped pupils make good progress in both subjects. This argument could also be applied to other subjects as linking subjects can double the time available to teach both subjects. Several resources are available to support cross-curricular learning and here we have listed some of these:
- Let's Go! Science Trails and Let's Go! STEM Trails (both published by PSTT) provide support and ideas for outdoor learning of science and include cross-curricular links to many other subjects. Suitable for ages 4-11.
- Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (published by PSTT) links the work of 10 famous historic scientists to the work of contemporary scientists, giving children an appreciation of how wider scientific understanding develops over time, and offers a series of engaging practical investigations that encourage children to generate their own questions to explore and develop their understanding further. Cross-curricular links to many other subjects are also provided. Suitable for ages 5-11.
- Titanic Science (published by PSTT) is a multi-disciplinary resource telling the story of the Titanic that contains individual investigations to highlight science concepts and links to creative writing, history and numeracy. Suitable for ages 7-11.
- PSTT's science club resource, Engineering our World, include a history element through introducing 8 famous (mainly historical) scientists and engineers as a stimulus for group-based engineering challenges.
- The PSTT has a series of Science and History resources for older primary children (7-11 years) which offers the opportunity to foster interest and engagement in science through cross-curricular teaching and learning of history and citizenship.
- The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has developed cross-curricular science ideas webs to support medium-term planning. These provide ideas for linking science teaching and learning with commonly used primary curriculum history topics: either to link two discrete science and history topics or to give science lessons a history theme. Each resource contains key questions which can be used to drive enquiry-based learning around science topics. Each web is available in three age ranges (5-7 years, 7-9 years and 9-11 years) to cover different abilities.
- Children's stories provide a wonderful stimulus for learning science. STEM Learning has several resource packs for all ages based around popular children's books for Teaching science through stories.
- A Science Reading Challenge within a school setting, where the focus is reading books for pleasure, can extend children's knowledge of science and show children that science reading can be interesting and fun. To find out more, please click on the link to visit a PSTT resource explaining how to organise your own Science Reading Challenge.
3. Scientific Literacy
Are children using scientific vocabulary with understanding?
None of the primary science curricula of the UK define age-appropriate science vocabulary. It is left to the class teacher to decide.
PLAN Knowledge matrices list key vocabulary for science topics for different year groups. Although this resource is linked to the English National Curriculum, it could also be useful for teachers across the UK.
Are children learning to reason and to explain their ideas?
Children need opportunities to practise using scientific vocabulary and to take part confidently in discussions with others about issues involving science. There are resources available that allow children to do this.
Bright Ideas, developed as part of a PSTT-funded project, offers strategies to encourage pupils to develop their thinking though talking about science and sharing their ideas in a dedicated discussion slot: Odd One Out; Positive, Minus, Interesting (PMI); and The Big Question.
Explorify, created by The Wellcome Trust, provides a range of science activities (including some Bright Ideas strategies, videos and hands-on activities) designed to spark curiosity and debate.
“I can explain!”, created by PSTT Fellow, Ali Eley, consists of beautifully illustrated, high-quality picture cards and language prompts to facilitate rational discussion. Children work in small groups to explore scientific concepts. Through developing and practising effective group talk skills, they link ideas with evidence, and use scientific vocabulary with confidence and understanding.
4. SCientific Enquiry
Are children taught enquiry skills?
Whichever curriculum your school follows, children should have the opportunity to carry out practical investigations in science that help them to develop their scientific skills. These are the skills that scientists need to carry out research and are sometimes referred to as a cycle of plan, do, review. Teachers in English schools will know these skills as working scientifically skills. Elsewhere they could be referred to as science enquiry skills or simply enquiry skills:
- asking questions
- making predictions
- setting up tests
- observing and measuring
- recording data
- interpreting and communicating results
Definitions and examples of different enquiry skills can be found here.
Teachers should be aware of the progression of these skills across the primary phases and plan to teach and assess these skills within children's practical investigations. For example, if children are recording data in a table:
- With children (ages 5-7), you might model how to use a pre-prepared table with column headings to record observations before you ask children to do this independently.
- With children (ages 7-9), you might provide a table (with or without column headings) for children to record their observations.
- With children (ages 9-11), you might expect children to draw their own table with appropriate column headings to record their findings (including for repeat readings and averages).
The progression of working scientifically statements taken from the English National Curriculum can be found here.
PSTT has designed symbols to represent enquiry skills (for consistency in their own resources) that could be displayed in your classroom to help the children identify and recall the particular science skills they are using in their science investigations.
Do children regularly carry out practical investigations using a range of enquiry types?
Whichever curriculum your school follows, over the course of an academic year, pupils should carry out several investigations that involve different types of enquiry:
- comparative / fair testing
- observation over time
- pattern seeking
- identifying, grouping and classifying
- problem solving
Definitions and examples of different enquiry skills can be found here. PSTT has designed symbols to represent types of enquiry (for consistency in their own resources) that could be displayed in your classroom to help the children identify what type of investigation they are doing.
Is every child’s prior knowledge considered when teachers plan units of work?
Some children may have a deeper subject knowledge compared with their peers in areas that interest them, and others may have some misconceptions that need to be addressed. To elicit children’s understanding before planning and teaching a topic, so that you can differentiate your teaching appropriately, you could use one of these Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategies:
- a Concept Map (either a group discussion of initial ideas or children's individual concept maps)
- a Bright Ideas discussion slot (or a similar activity from Explorify)
- a Concept Cartoon® (published by Millgate House Education)
- a sorting activity (for example: materials into different groups depending on their properties or statements into True or False)
- a matching activity (this could include real objects, materials, pictures or vocabulary)
- an exploring walk (for example: a sound walk around the school building, a nature walk to identify living things in the environment)
- a modelling activity (for example: using foil or playdough to create an animal and describe its features)
Note: this is not an exhaustive list.
You can find examples of AfL strategies in the Teacher Assessment of Primary Science (TAPS) Pyramid Tools. Although these examples are taken from English and Welsh primary schools, the strategies that are demonstrated are transferable to any primary school.
- The TAPS pyramid tool for England
- The TAPS Cymru pyramid tool (in English)
- The TAPS Cymru pyramid tool (in Welsh)
Teachers looking for activities to elicit children's understanding at the start of a topic will also find Explore, Engage, Extend (published by PSTT) a useful resource. There are twenty sets of highly engaging practical activities to support teachers with AfL in science. The activities generate rich assessment data, enabling the teacher to plan the topic in response to the children’s specific needs. The topics presented are written for Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11 years), but they are also transferable across year groups, and can be easily adapted for the particular curriculum being followed by the school. A free sample unit is available here.
Do teachers adapt the pace, challenge and content of activities for pupils, including SEND and EAL?
To understand science, children need to be taught some abstract concepts and new vocabulary. This can be difficult for deaf children, EAL children, children with dyslexia and children on the autistic spectrum. To develop science skills, children need to carry out practical investigations that can involve group work, using unfamiliar equipment, moving to a different space (possibly outdoors) and science lessons can be noisier than other subjects. This can be confusing for children with dyslexia, dyscalculia, children on the autistic spectrum and for those with visual impairments. To address children's individual needs, teachers can adapt teaching and learning strategies.
For children with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia:
- introduce new scientific vocabulary in advance
- highlight important instructions and allow more time for children to carry out tasks
- provide a laptop or tablet to record information
- provide handouts to reduce the need for writing
- using Widgit science symbols can be helpful (simply-drawn colourful symbols that illustrate a single concept in a clear and concise way)
For deaf children:
- introduce new scientific vocabulary in advance
- make the lesson as visual as possible with pictures, diagrams and film clips to illustrate meaning
For visually impaired children:
- seat the child at the front of the class, away from glaring light
- describe clearly and familiarise the child with any equipment
- give clear instructions relating to moving around the classroom during practical work (avoid terms such as 'over there')
- describe in detail important visual observations during practical investigations
- offer to read written information (or partner the child with a 'reader')
- enlarge any handouts to a bigger size and a clear font style
For children on the autistic spectrum:
- some children will benefit from seeing pictures or visual stories about changes in routine that might occur during a practical science lesson
- use clear and precise language when giving instructions or explaining abstract concepts
- allow more time for children to process instructions
For EAL children:
- use more visual clues (diagrams, photographs), making sure that these are culturally appropriate
- allow children to work in groups alongside mixed-ability peers during practical work
- model and use a speaking frame that uses key vocabulary and language structures
- use a writing frame to show how text should be organised
- use drama to explain scientific concepts
- provide scaffolding so that learners can move from supported to independent learning
- there may be opportunities to partner the child with another who can speak their home language, so they can converse confidently. Be careful not to overuse this strategy.
For many children with special educational needs and disabilities, PSTT's Science in My Pocket is a highly versatile resource. The carefully designed and simple science activities in the pockets can be used with children from nursery up to age 11. Instruction cards inside each pocket include supporting background knowledge and notes for the teaching assistant/teacher leading the activity. Science in my Pocket activities have been shown to be effective for:
- Speech and language development
- EAL – accessing scientific vocabulary in a safe environment
- Short term emotional disturbance, e.g. if a child arrives at school upset
- Extension work, e.g. children might design their own pockets
- Homework activity
- Development of specific personal habits of mind, e.g. independence, negotiation, resilience
- Developing thinking skills across the curriculum
- Promoting good group work
Finally, for all children, it is important to think about how to organise group work in science lessons, whether it is a card sort activity or a child-led practical investigation. The approach will
probably vary according to what topic is being taught and the needs of
the pupils. Teachers might consider the following strategies:
- Working with a group of children who need more support so that they can scaffold their learning
- Working with the most able scientists in the class so that they can challenge their learning
- Teaching science in mixed-ability groups so that children with good literacy and numeracy skills can support other children. If you do this, it is important that these children do not dominate any practical or group work. It can be useful to assign roles to each member of the group and to make sure that these roles are changed regularly. Here are some suggestions:
- Resources Manager (collects and sets up the equipment)
- Health and Safety (checks that the experiment is carried out safely and correctly)
- Data Collector (records the results)
- Communications Officer (provides feedback to the class about the group's findings and conclusions)
Note: all of the children should be involved in drawing conclusions and evaluating their investigation. The Communicating Officer may need to explain that members of the group have conflicting ideas if this is the case.
Are all children able to demonstrate their science skills and conceptual understanding in an appropriate way?
Children could record their learning in a wide variety of ways. Whilst teachers should help children to develop the skill of communicating in science and drawing conclusions from their investigations, it is not necessary for primary-age children to write a record of their investigations in the traditional format: method, results, conclusions. Children could use many genres for writing in science: instructions, a consumer report (for example, the best material for an umbrella is…), a newspaper report, a diary entry (for example, a day in the life of a red blood cell), writing a letter or a story.
Some children do not have literacy skills to match their science knowledge or skills. They may struggle to record their ideas, predictions or findings in science through written work.
Children could present their findings from enquiries orally, use PowerPoint presentations, drama, hot-seating, posters, art work or film.
Children could demonstrate what they know using annotated diagrams, posters, card sort activities, concept maps, graphic organisers, True/False statements, or classifying and grouping activities.
You could use a floorbook to keep a record of children’s comments, activities and ideas.
Are teachers using formative assessment to ensure children make progress with their subject knowledge and enquiry skills?
Explore, Engage, Extend is a useful PSTT
resource designed to support teachers with formative assessment (assessment for learning, AFL) in
science. The twenty activities generate rich assessment data, enabling
the teacher to plan the topic in response to the children’s specific
needs. The topics presented cover the upper primary age range, but they
are also transferable across year groups, and can be easily adapted for
the particular curriculum being followed by the school.
The Teacher Assessment in Primary Science (TAPS) project, funded by the PSTT, has developed resources that embed assessment of subject knowledge and enquiry skills within classroom primary science activities for ages 4-11 years:
The TAPS pyramid model provides schools with a structure to evaluate and develop their assessment processes. It offers a supportive source of examples of assessment for learning strategies (in the Pupil Layer and Teacher Layer) that can be used as formative assessment. By clicking on each box in these layers, you will be taken to examples from a range of schools. The interactive functions allow you to traffic light your assessment systems (on your own saved copy) and make notes on the approaches in your school. The following pyramid tools are available:
- TAPS pyramid model (for curriculum in England)
- TAPS Cymru pyramid model (for curriculum in Wales) - in English
- TAPS Cymru pyramid model (for curriculum in Wales) - in Welsh
TAPS also provides a database of Focused Assessment plans and examples. The plans have a particular focus on the assessment of working scientifically (science enquiry skills) within a topic context - allowing the teacher to assess one skill within a practical enquiry. Taking one focus (i.e. one science enquiry skill) at a time is more manageable with a whole class and increases the validity of teacher judgements. During the lesson children may well be involved in other aspects of scientific enquiry that are not the focus. For example,
if the focus is on interpreting data, the children may also have
discussed how to carry out the enquiry and used their measuring skills
to collect data, but any recording of children’s learning is around the focused element.
Many teachers find that annotating plans or just noting those children
who have 'not yet met the objective' is sufficient for their record
keeping. Assessment Indicators on the TAPS plans provide suggestions about what the children might do or say to demonstrate their science skills or knowledge during practical investigations. As these plans have been trialled by schools, teachers working independently can feel secure that their judgements are consistent with those of other teachers. Using a TAPS focused task each half-term, means that the full range of children's scientific knowledge and skills can be considered in depth during the year. It is recommended that the TAPS Focused Assessment activities are used about two thirds of the way through a topic so that the assessment information can be used formatively; areas for children's development can be identified and subsequent teaching can address children's needs. Used in this way, TAPS Focused Assessment plans can provide a tool for both assessment for learning and summative assessment.
Teachers will find the following overviews of TAPS Focused Assessment plans showing progression in science skills useful for deciding which plan to use with their class:
- In England - Overview of TAPS plans for Focused Assessment of Working Scientifically
- In Wales - TAPS Cymru Overview of Focused Assessment plans for progression in science skills
- In Northern Ireland - Overview of plans for progression in science skills from TAPS-NI
Is summative teacher assessment reliable?
Whatever method of assessment teachers use, it is important that their judgements are reliable. Not only should subject leaders monitor the children's attainment and progress, they should also monitor the processes used by teachers to make their assessments. It is useful to arrange moderation sessions with other teachers; in larger schools, in academies, in federations and science clusters, it may be easy to arrange a meeting of teachers of similar year groups to share and discuss children's work. In smaller schools, it may be necessary for teachers of different year groups to support each other. However moderation is organised, having a discussion of teacher judgements and a shared understanding of the subject and assessment, will strengthen the reliability and validity of your data.
For moderation of children's scientific knowledge and enquiry skills, these resources may be useful:
- Using TAPS focused assessment plans (as described above) and comparing children's work with the Assessment Indicators.
- Teachers in England may also find PLAN assessment resources helpful for comparison of age-appropriate attainment in knowledge, conceptual understanding and enquiry skills. PLAN examples of work show the work of one pupil who meets the requirements of the knowledge statements in the English National Curriculum for each topic. Comparing PLAN examples of work for your year group with the work of your pupils could help you identify those pupils who are meeting/not meeting the expectations.
7. safe science
Does the school have access to informed advice and consider safety guidance and risk assessments?
PSTT advises teachers to refer to either the CLEAPSS website or SSERC website for up to date health and safety information when planning practical activities for children. You may also find it is useful to have a copy of the book Be Safe (published by ASE) in school. Be Safe includes advice on risk assessments for food hygiene, outdoor learning, making things safely and the safe use of chemicals, animals and plants in school.
The Health and Safety at Work Act and subsequent Regulations require employers to protect their employees by, for example, providing safe working conditions, information & training for health and safety, and (model) risk assessments for activities (required under a range of regulations, including COSHH). CLEAPSS or SSERC membership enables employers to discharge these responsibilities.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, most local authorities are members of CLEAPSS which means that their schools are members. CLEAPSS provides health and safety support for leaders, risk assessments and tried and tested practical activities. If your primary school is a member of CLEAPSS, you can ring the CLEAPSS helpline and get advice on almost anything to do with science. If your primary school is part of an Academy, you will need to check whether your school has membership of CLEAPSS. In the absence of CLEAPSS membership, the employer, be it the governors or trustees, must consider how to fulfil aspects of the Health and Safety at Work Act and its subsequent regulations and teachers should be aware of where they can get appropriate advice.
In Scotland, all 32 Scottish Local Authorities are members of SSERC, a registered charity set up for the benefit of Scottish education. Members can access health and safety advice, risk assessments and whole school guidance.
8. Outdoor learning
Are the school's outdoor spaces and the local environment being used as a learning resource for all science topics?
Outdoor learning is an important way of contextualising science and allows children to engage with the environment around them; something that cannot always be achieved in a classroom. A short review of the literature concerning outdoor learning in primary schools is available from PSTT Fellow, Michele Grimshaw et al. in the ASE's Journal of Emergent Science (2019) Issue 16, p40-45.
The following PSTT resources may help your school to make the most of its outdoor areas:
- Let's Go! Science Trails - a book, developed by a group of teachers in the London borough of Haringey and led by PSTT Fellow Jeannette Morgan, offers support and ideas for 29 science Trails covering all aspects of the primary science curriculum to promote outdoor learning from ages 4-11.
- Let's Go! STEM Trails - a book describing another 29 Trails to explore science concepts in the outdoor environment of the school grounds and locality, which focus on and link this to technology, engineering and maths in thought-provoking ways. Suitable from ages 4-11.
- Playground Science - is a set of fun and informal science activities that children can carry out in their playtimes. The activities use simple instructions and a small amount of equipment to encourage the children to explore the world around them and to develop scientific skills.
- Growing Music - a free booklet describing a PSTT/WOMAD Foundation project which brings together music, science and design technology within a cultural context. The project is based on growing bamboo and playing Colombian pan pipes and is suitable for ages 7-11.
- Science in My Pocket - a set of science activities in small bags (pockets) for teaching assistants to use with children who need emotional and behavioural support. They can be used indoors or outdoors and mostly involve moving around which suits the needs of many children.
- Learning Science Together provides resources for running an Outdoor Detectives family learning event.
ROLE OF THE SUBJECT LEADER
Why does my school need a subject leader for science?
A recent Ofsted report, ‘Intention and substance: further findings on primary school science from phase 3 of Ofsted’s curriculum research’ (2019), states that,
‘Science has clearly been downgraded in some primary schools since the scrapping of the key stage 2 test. This is likely to have a serious impact on the depth and breadth of science understanding and knowledge that pupils take with them into secondary school, which may in turn stifle pupils’ later curiosity and interest in the sciences. School leaders need to ensure that teachers have deep subject knowledge and to consider what curriculum design really involves in science.’
- Schools need a subject leader to support other teachers in their science teaching.
Primary teachers (and science subject leaders) are usually not specialists in science and this is certainly not essential to be a good science subject leader or teacher of primary science. It is the role of the subject leader to support teachers to ensure that science is always taught well, throughout the school, and that teachers aspire to excellence. Part of the role of the subject leader is to model good practice in the subject and to lead by example.
- Schools need a subject leader to ensure that science is taught regularly, taught well and that pupils and teachers are enthusiastic about science.
You may need to make changes to your school timetable or to the curriculum to ensure that pupils are being taught science.
- Schools need a subject leader to ensure that the pupils have access to suitable equipment for science.
You may need to source new equipment. This can be difficult if there is little or no science budget to purchase consumables or larger items. You will need to know where to find free resources and use items that are readily available in school.
Being a subject leader can be a daunting prospect, particularly in science because it covers many abstract concepts and is a practical subject. You cannot tackle everything at once. Below, we have provided five areas for the subject leader to consider and we suggest that you review these individually.
We also encourage subject leaders to condsider taking part in the Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM) CPD programme which focuses on developing effective, confident science leadership for whole school impact on science teaching and learning.
You may also find the Explorify Toolkit a useful resource, particularly if you are new to the role of science leader.
1. Subject LEADer Development
Does the subject leader have time allocated to the role?
Monitoring teaching and learning across school, collecting assessment data from colleagues, keeping up to date with new strategies and resources, and sharing relevant CPD with colleagues takes time. Subject leaders need to plan and set aside time when these things can happen. This should not be in subject leader's own time or in their PPA time. You may need to have a conversation with your senior leadership to find out how much time is available for your subject leader role and to decide together on the priorities for the school. It is also important that science subject leaders use this time to develop the subject, rather than organising equipment and cupboards. You can download a list of leadership tasks from the RESOURCES tab.
Does the subject leader have access to relevant CPD?
Continuing professional development (CPD) covers any activity that prompts reflection on the quality of teaching in a school. For example, further reading to improve your own subject knowledge, working with peers, attending courses or conferences and online discussions. Firstly, you need to identify your CPD needs. This is really important because the CPD you choose may have an impact on your own teaching, your colleagues' teaching, the children's learning and school improvement.
If you are looking to develop your role as a subject leader in science, you may be interested in the Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM). This is a year-long CPD programme that focuses on developing effective, confident science leadership for whole school impact on science teaching and learning. It is a paid-for programme that offers CPD and expert mentoring for the subject leader who will work with colleagues across the school to audit existing provision, create and implement an action plan to develop teaching and learning across the school, and write a reflective submission to demonstrate the impact of science leadership in school. You can read more about subject leaders' stories about their PSQM experiences in the ASE Primary Science Special Issue: Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM) January 2019.
Remember, you cannot change everything at once. These questions may help you decide what areas to focus on (though this is not an exhaustive list):
- Are there any areas of subject knowledge that I need support with?
- Do I need support to be a subject leader?
- Is our school's science curriculum suitable for our children?
- Am I familiar with different types of enquiry and how these might look in the classroom?
- Am I familiar with the progression of enquiry skills that children should be taught?
- Am I confident in the assessment of primary science?
- How can my school enrich science learning?
- What are the needs of my colleagues and can I support them?
There are many CPD providers offering support to primary teachers for science. Many of these organisations including PSTT now offer online CPD. We recommend the following:
- PSTT's Why&How Newsletter is for anyone who has an interest in science and offers practical support and updates on news, research, projects and key dates.
- PSTT provides free online CPD Units which include Material Science (create a Materials Trail using QR codes within your school), Stories in Science (promoting engagement using puppets and story books), Dramatic science (using drama to examine scientific objects, ideas and perspectives), Datalogging and Eco-monitoring and more...
- PSTT also supports a Regional Mentor Programme, webinars and conferences. You can contact our Regional Mentors via the PSTT Office using firstname.lastname@example.org.
- PSTT has a network of PSTT Fellows throughout the UK who may be able to recommend CPD providers in your area. You can ask about this via the PSTT Office using email@example.com.
- The Association of Science Education (ASE) hold regional and national conferences and TeachMeets (informal meetings for teachers to share ideas and good practice).
- STEM Learning organise courses across the UK which can be funded by Enthuse Awards.
- PSTT's Wow Science site links to numerous organisations that support primary science education. Teachers can be assured of the high quality of any resources that are linked to this site.
These learned societies and other organisations also have suitable supporting resources that might be useful:
- The Royal Society of Biology
- The Royal Society of Chemistry
- The Institute of Physics
- The Ogden Trust
Has the subject leader taken part in PSQM CPD programme?
Primary Science Quality Mark is not like other quality marks: it is a year-long CPD programme that helps schools to achieve a quality mark, whether science within the school has been a low profile for a while, or the school wants to improve the provision further. It focuses on developing effective, confident science leadership for whole school impact on science teaching and learning.
There are three different PSQM awards to ensure that all schools can achieve the accreditation. The criteria are different for each PSQM to ensure that there is appropriate challenge and development for all schools, whatever their starting point.
To achieve PSQM, subject leaders work with an
expert hub leader to evaluate current provision for science and put in
place a development cycle that leads to sustanined progress in science
across the school. At th end of the year, schools submit evidence of the impact of a range of activities.
Is the subject leader aware of PSTT Fellows and any science clusters in their locality?
Established in 2010, the Primary Science Teacher College is a national network of over 190 award-winning primary science teachers. These teachers, known as PSTT College Fellows, are some of the most innovative and outstanding teachers within primary science and have been recognised through the Primary Science Teacher Awards (PSTAs). Award-winning College Fellows may be supporting primary science teaching in your area.
Working in a collaborative group, we can achieve much more than working in isolation. School clusters provide the opportunity and environment to develop primary teaching, benefit our schools and have a positive impact in the classroom. PSTT encourages schools to join up into clusters so that they can support one another in their development of science teaching and have more resilience to change of circumstances in any one school. PSTT are currently supporting and providing funding to 29 PSTT Clusters in different areas of the UK, and in Scotland, we support collaborative networks through our partnership with SSERC. All of these PSTT Clusters are built around a PSTT College Fellow. Additionally, PSTT provides advice for all schools interested in creating cluster networks for primary science here.
2. SuppORting colleagues
Do teachers have access to advice from the subject leader and to relevant CPD?
As subject leader, part of your role is to help your colleagues:
- to identify the areas that they need to develop in order to provide excellent teaching in primary science;
- to access quality CPD to address their needs;
- keep up to date with new developments and initiatives for teaching primary science.
To identify teachers' individual needs, you might consider asking colleagues to complete a short questionnaire. A Teacher Questionnaire is available to download from the RESOURCES tab. These are some of the questions you might like to ask (this is not an exhaustive list):
- What would teachers like to know?
- What are teachers unsure about?
- Are there certain science topics which teachers struggle with?
- Do teachers cover all types of enquiry during the year?
- Are teachers using the school's outdoor spaces as a learning resource for science?
- Are teachers making links to real life?
- Are teachers confident in their assessment of science (both children's subject knowledge and enquiry skills)?
- Do teachers know where to access safety guidance for practical science?
Having identified teachers' needs, you will need to consider how to address them. You could organise a staff meeting and share your own knowledge and experiences. You may not feel confident doing this and prefer to find CPD offered by an external organisation. Here are some suggestions.
To improve your subject knowledge:
- Visit the guidance on Common Misconceptions in PSTT's Why&How Newsletter (available in issues Autumn 2017 - Summer 2019). Topics covered include: Light, Electricity, Evolution, Science and Fiction, Levers, gears and pulleys, and Time for a change! (states of matter)
- Try ReachOut CPD (developed with Imperial College London), which is provided free online.
- Dynamic Labs (funded by PSTT) provides resources to support teaching and learning of sound, light and matter.
- The Ogden Trust provides a physics CPD programme for primary teachers and a range of curriculum resources for teaching and learning physics.
For CPD on practice or provision:
- There are a range of CPD Units on the PSTT website that include Materials Science (create a Materials Trail within your school), Stories in Science (promoting engagement using puppets and story books), Dramatic science (using drama to examine scientific objects, ideas and perspectives), and more...
- Our PSTT Regional Mentor Programme offers support to schools across the UK. Regional Mentors are able to provide tailored advice via video conferencing and in some instances, depending on locality, they be able to visit you and provide CPD. You can contact our Regional Mentors via the PSTT Office using firstname.lastname@example.org. There are also opportunities to benefit from Regional Mentor CPD through PSTT webinars and conferences.
- PSTT has a network of PSTT Fellows throughout the UK who may be able to recommend CPD in your area. You can ask about this via the PSTT Office using email@example.com.
- There are many other CPD providers offering to support schools with primary science. You could try STEM Learning, which offers a huge range of courses and online CPD.
- The Association of Science (ASE) organises regional and national conferences that provide excellent CPD opportunities. ASE Teachmeets are also an informal and inspiring way for teachers to share ideas with one another (using an online forum since the COVID-19 pandemic). You can share or just listen.
- Are your colleagues aware of the PSTT's Wow Science website, which provides links to organisations that provide support for science teachers at primary level? Teachers can be assured that materials promoted on this site are high quality. Additionally, Wow Science regularly produces blog posts to support teaching and learning of science, including though-provoking discussions and practical classroom activities.
- The PSQM CPD programme can help all teachers in a school to develop their teaching of science.
3. Monitoring teaching and learning
Does the subject leader review teaching and pupil progress across the school?
There are several ways that subject leaders could monitor science teaching across the school which we discuss below. The PSQM CPD programme also offers guidance and support for subject leaders on monitoring teaching and learning in their setting.
Pupil Voice (using informal interviews with small groups of children, talking to the school council, or children's questionnaires) enables you to understand children's perceptions of science as a subject, whether they engage with science, and what goes on in their science lessons.
Suggestions for arranging a pupil voice session:
- Invite 2 or 3 children from each class.
- Set aside 20-30 minutes for the session.
- Have a list of questions/questionnaire prepared (see below).
- Have a short science activity/demonstration that will interest the children and will help the children relax and engage with you.
- Let the children know the reason you are talking to them is to find out what they think about science at their school.
Some of the questions that you might like to ask are:
- How often do you have a science lesson?
- What do you like about science lessons?
- What has been your favourite part of science this year?
- Do you work in groups in science lessons?
- Do you use equipment in science lessons?
- What do you find hardest in science lessons?
You can download a Pupil Voice Questionnaire from the RESOURCES tab on this webpage and adapt the questions to suit your audience.
Book looks (reviewing a small sample of children's books from each class) will enable you to find out what the children are recording in science lessons, and whether they are using appropriate age-related vocabulary in science lessons. The amount and style of writing in science books might provide an insight into the frequency and types of practical enquiry the children carry out and how the teacher is differentiating science teaching and learning.
Things you might want to look for in a book look:
- Do the children carry out regular practical investigations using a range of types of enquiry?
- When the children write about their investigation, do they focus on writing about one part of the investigation or do they write a full science report (using headings such as diagram, method, results, conclusion)? If the children are required to write a full science report, does this happen in the science lesson or in a literacy lesson? Note: this might tell you how much time is spent writing during the science lesson.
- Does the book show tables and graphs? Are these different for different children (indicating that the children have worked in small groups and collected data themselves) or the same (suggesting that the teacher carried out the investigation)?
- Have the children evaluated their investigation and commented on what they might do differently or next time?
- Have the children used age-appropriate science vocabulary?
- Do children use a variety of ways of recording their learning in a written format, such as a schematic diagram, a newspaper report, a set of instructions, or a story?
- How often do the children complete a worksheet?
- Has the teacher marked the work and have the children been given time to reflect on any feedback from the teacher?
- Has the teacher used a floorbook to record children's ideas and practical work? You can find out more about floorbooks here.
Learning walks provide a quick way to review the profile of science across the school. Subject leaders could do this alone or with their colleagues during a staff meeting. Some things to look out for:
- Is there a science display board in every classroom or in corridors?
- Where there are displays in classrooms, do they display age-appropriate science vocabulary?
- Are there pictures or even objects to engage children?
- Are there examples of children's work?
- Are there questions to prompt further questioning and learning?
- Are there links to everyday life?
Lesson observations could enable you to see some of the strategies that teachers are using in their lessons. Although lesson observations can provide information about the quality of teaching for the observer (the subject leader or senior leadership), and feedback from the observer can identify strengths and areas for development for the teacher, it can be a stressful process for all concerned. Some subject leaders have preferred to use a team teaching approach as described below.
Team teaching (co-teaching) can be a very useful approach for monitoring the quality of science teaching and an opportunity for the subject leader to provide some CPD for the class teacher. To get the most out of a team teaching lesson, it is important to have a professional dialogue with the class teacher before and after the science lesson that you teach together. Some questions that might help you to prepare a team teaching session:
- Is there an aspect of teaching that the class teacher needs to develop? Together, decide on an area for development and how this might be achieved. For example, a teacher may want support on eliciting children's ideas at the start or end of a lesson.
- How could the subject leader address the class teacher's needs? The subject leader should reflect on an appropriate way to address the class teacher's needs. In our example, the subject leader may decide to introduce the class teacher to using a Bright Ideas Time or an Explorify activity in his/her teaching. Before the lesson, both parties should agree what will be taught and who will teach each part of the lesson.
- How could the subject leader effectively deliver CPD to their colleague? The subject leader could model using either strategy during the lesson (at the start to elicit children's existing knowledge and understanding and/or at the end to assess children's learning) and the class teacher could observe this.
- How can the class teacher exemplify their teaching and the children's learning? The class teacher could lead part of the lesson. For example, the class teacher could introduce a practical investigation and supervise the children carrying out their investigation. During this time, the subject leader can observe the teaching and talk to the children about their learning. The subject leader might teach the last part of the lesson, perhaps a plenary.
- How can the subject leader make this a positive experience for the class teacher? After the lesson, there should be a professional dialogue in which both parties are able to talk about what they think went well and what perhaps needs improving.
4. Resourcing science
Do children have a range of suitable equipment for practical science?
Hands-on practical learning is fundamental to science teaching and requires resourcing to be effective. You will need to purchase some equipment from specialist educational suppliers, for example, TTS Group. Other resources such as wool, jam jars, candles, old seeds, etc. could be collected from parents and the local community by sending out a request in the school’s newsletter or the website.
A list of science equipment for all the science topics can be found in the PSTT CPD Unit ‘Resourcing Primary Science’. This includes advice on storage, labelling, health and safety, developing pupil responsibility and science audit lists.
Does the subject leader access funding from external sources to support science?
Several organisations provide grants and funding for primary science projects. Below, is a list of some that might be useful. Click on the links to visit their websites and find out more. This is not a complete list. A spreadsheet listing more possibilities can be downloaded from the RESOURCES tab.
- Royal Society Partnership Grants help schools and colleges to purchase equipment to carry out and investigate STEM research projects.
- The Institute of Physics School Grants Scheme offers for projects which focus on physics.
- The Royal Society of Chemistry provides a number of grants for equipment, for running a chemistry club, and also for chemistry-based school engagement activities.
- The Microbiology Society provides Educations and Outreach Grants which focus on microbiology.
- The British Ecological Society provides Outreach Grants for the promotion of ecological science.
- British Science Week provides Kick Start grants for schools to run activities for students at your school.
- CREST provides funding to run CREST Awards (a nationally recognised scheme for student-led project work in the STEM subjects).
- The Ogden Trust provides funding for the teaching and learning of physics. Schools would need to become part of the Ogden Partnership.
5. Curriculum enrichment
Does the curriculum link science to real world applications?
Science and STEM subjects have a massive impact on our modern lives, whether we study these subjects or not. Yet many socio-economic groups remain underrepresented in science and STEM-related jobs. Many people believe that studying science is only important if they want to become doctors or scientists, but this is not the case.
The PSTT has developed two freely downloadable resources that can help teachers to introduce scientists and their work to primary children:
The PSTT’s I bet you didn’t know… articles and teacher guides provide access to cutting-edge science research for teachers and young children with links to the primary science curriculum topics. The articles explain what scientists have done and suggest questions for children and teachers to consider in the classroom. The teacher guides (which could be used as classroom presentations) describe activities that children can do to mirror the research.
The PSTT’s Engineering our World resource was designed as a stand-alone resource for a science club. Practical activities for children are linked to the work of 'traditional' scientists and engineers. Four males and four females were chosen. Fact sheets for each famous person focus on their main achievement and provide prompts for further learning. Challenge sheets describe an activity that is linked to what the person was famous for and explain the science behind the work.
There are many ways to introduce scientists and their work to
primary children, through visits to museums and science discovery
centres, or by inviting visiting scientists into the classroom using the
STEM Ambassador scheme.
Encounter Edu designs and delivers a STEM and global learning programme for primary age children including live lessons with video links, teacher resources, STEM activities, videos and virtual reality content. Many of the resources are freely available. You can catch up on past live events (e.g. World Ocean Day, Fieldworklive, AXA Arctic Live 2020, and many more) or access either the Teacher Resources, STEAM activities or videos directly. Topics covered include: Oceans for beginners, Ocean Plastics, Submarine STEM, and Google Expeditions which explore many themes such as coral bleaching, Mount Everest, Recycling in New York, volcanoes and rivers.
You may also be interested in Practical Action STEM challenges: a range of free resources that can be used for home learning, science lessons, curriculum enrichment days, and science clubs, which engage children in real world issues including climate change, renewable energy, food security and disaster preparedness.
Does the curriculum link science to your locality?
Linking learning to children's interests and experiences is known to improve outcomes. What science resources do you have in your local area? Here is a list of questions which might help you to make some useful links:
- Are there any parents who work in science-related jobs who would be willing to come and talk to the children about what they do?
- Are there any industries (e.g. engineering companies, solar farms) who would send a representative to school or allow you to visit their workplace?
- What outdoor spaces can you visit to look for evidence of science and its impact on our lives? You will find lots of ideas for taking EYFS, KS1 and KS2 science learning outside in Let's Go! Science Trails and Let's Go! STEM Trails.
- Are there any famous scientists (historical or contemporary) living in your area?
Do children learn about the nature of science and the way scientists work?
Group-based engineering challenges and classroom practical enquiries can develop an understanding of how scientists carry out their work. The PSTT has produced the following resources which link children's practical science to the work of real scientists:
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants offers a series of ten investigations based on the work of an influential historic scientist or inventor. It details activities for children that model those carried out by each scientist. By replicating the scientists' methods, children learn about the 'messy' process of carrying out scientific enquiries and how these scientists all worked in different ways (employing different types of enquiry to solve problems).
PSTT’s Engineering our World resource (already mentioned above) provide eight activities linked to the work of a famous engineer or scientist. The approach used (Fact sheets and Challenge sheets) can be used to find out about other scientists or engineers in the world. Other scientists may initially be prompted by the teacher/parent/carer, but children can also be drivers here, taking more ownership of their learning, following their individual curiosity, and consequently fostering stronger connections with science and scientists. We suggest that both teachers and children could take ownership of their science club by brainstorming different scientists that they could investigate in a club sessions, or at home, or in a science week.
An example that worked well with children in one school is Tim Peake (a British
astronaut who visited the International Space Station in 2015), with linked
challenges to create and investigate stomp rockets.
The PSTT’s I bet you didn’t know… articles and teacher guides (already mentioned above) link cutting-edge science research to the primary science topics. When the children’s investigations mirror the scientists’ research, the children see themselves as scientists because they can copy or reproduce an aspect of real research. This fosters a ‘can-do’ attitude and engages children who may otherwise not have seen themselves in this role.
Does the curriculum support the development of science capital?
much evidence showing that children’s interest in science is shaped
before they leave primary school. This means that primary teachers play a
crucial role in developing children’s scientific literacy and their
enthusiasm for science.
Science Capital is a concept that is a measure of a person’s engagement and relationship with science. Research shows that by growing science capital in individuals, we can help more people to recognise that science is an important part of their lives and cultures, which will help to broaden opportunities and access for STEM-related jobs in the future. Science lessons at primary school may be the first time a child develops an awareness of science and its part in their life.
The 1001Inventions initiatives are great resources to help support children's appreciation of diversity in science. These celebrate the contributions of lesser-known inspirational men and women of different faiths and cultures during the golden age of Muslim civilisation that spread from Spain to China. There are a variety of educational materials (online exhibits, video clips, books, teachers' guides, activity sheets). Note: 1001 Inventions is a UK based not-for-profit science and cultural heritage organisation founded in 2006.
PSTT's Wow Science site specifically sets out to identify the best resources for supporting science learning for primary school aged children, through games, videos, experiment/investigation ideas and other activities that they will find engaging. We aim to provide reassurance to parents that these materials contain accurate scientific explanations where applicable and provide a safe environment for their children to explore. The site therefore provides links to excellent primary science learning materials either on the internet or in apps, helping children (and other family members) to enjoy science both inside and outside the classroom and build science capital.
You can read more about science capital in ASE's Primary Science magazine (June 2020), Issue 163A, p30-34: Increasing science capital by building relationships between industry and the local community (open access).
PSTT's Engineering Our World and I bet you didn't know... resources could be an early step towards addressing the inequalities that currently exist in those who partipate in science post-16 and those who do not. You can read more about the benefits of introducing scientists' work (historical and contemporary) in the primary curriculum with regard to science capital and social justice in an article published in Science Teacher Education* (2020), Issue 88, p25-33: Introducing scientists to primary children: Does this always enhance children's science capital?
*We are grateful to the Association of Science Education (ASE) for making this article open access.
RAISING THE PROFILE OF SCIENCE
There are many ways that teachers can raise the profile of science in their school. Click on the titles below for more information.
1. Science cluBs
Do children have the opportunity to join a science club?
Science clubs in primary schools can be run a number of different ways and there are resources available to support teachers running science clubs. A useful starting point is PSTT's CPD Unit, Science Clubs, which outlines the benefits of running a science club, shares experiences of science club leaders and introduces CREST Awards.
You may also be interested in the PSTT & Children's University Science and STEM Clubs aimed at teachers or other adults looking for support to introduce a primary science or STEM club. These club packs are all free to download and each provides 8 standalone sessions to use with clubs:
- Engineering Our World club introduces 8 famous scientists, engineers and artists as a springboard for group-based engineering challenges and is suitable for children aged 7-11.
- Sensory Sparks club provides activities aimed specifically towards children with special needs.
- Challenge Chasers club provides 8 science activities presented as challenges to solve for children aged 7-11.
- Earth Explorers club aims to develop environmental awareness through activities and is suitable for children aged 5-7.
PSTT continues to develop club resources; several new packs are currently in development. These will be freely available from our website.
2. Science competitions
Do children take part in local and national science competitions and citizen science surveys?
Many organisations run regional and national competitions which can be exciting for primary children to take part in. This list below offers some examples but it is by no means exhaustive:
- The Great Bug Hunt is an annual competition organised by the Royal Entomological Society and the Association for Science Education. Children are encouraged to explore a safe outside space and report back on their findings. Entries can be a poster, report, video, podcast or a poem. There are three categories: years 1 and 2, 3 and 4, and 5 and 6. The school of the winning pupils in each category, selected by a panel of experts from both the ASE and Royal Entomological Society, receive a bundle of insect exploration-related prizes.
- The Nancy Rothwell Award, organised by the Royal Society of Biology, celebrates specimen drawing in schools and highlights the benefits of combining art and science. There is a category for children aged 7-11.
- The Special Species Competition, organised by the Linnean Society, asks children to create a new species and is suitable for all age groups.
- The FIRST® LEGO® League, organised by the Institute of Engineering and Technology, provides hands-on STEM experiences for children aged 4-16 years. To take part, schools will need Lego® kits which can be expensive. However, there are a number of funding packages available for educational settings, home schoolers and youth groups.
- The Great Exhibition at Home is an engineering challenge for children aged 7-14 organised by Big Ideas and supported by The Royal Academy of Engineering.
- The Classroom Display competition allows teachers to upload and share their classroom displays to inspire others and is organised by STEM Learning.
- The Primary Engineer Leader's Award asks children to consider, 'If you were an engineer, what would you do?' and submit their designs in this annual competition.
3. Science visits
Do children experience science outside school?
Across the UK, there are over fifty science and discovery centres and museums that work with researchers from local universities and industry to provide opportunities for school children to ‘meet the experts’, attend curriculum-based workshops and careers events, and become involved in large-scale experiments. These centres employ over 5000 professional science engagement specialists, who have the skills to create and deliver fun and engaging activities for all parts of society. A list of science centres can be accessed here. There may also be smaller museums in your region, as well as nature reserves or parks which you could visit.
However, we know that there are many challenges in getting a class of primary children out of school: an already packed timetable, time consuming form-filling and cost. Many UK science centres charge entry fees (except for the national museums) but, even if entry were free, the cost of transport to the centres can be prohibitively high.
If you are unable to arrange a visit to a science-based museum, you can still take science learning outside and we recommend that you do. Further suggestions for outdoor learning are given on this page, under the WHOLE SCHOOL APPROACH - see section 8. Outdoor learning.
You might consider inviting a science 'expert' into the classroom through the STEM Ambassador scheme and the use of local experts (including parents).
The following resources enable teachers to introduce science 'experts' in the classroom remotely:
- PSTT's Science At Work provides videos of present-day and historic scientists and engineers talking about their work and answering questions submitted by children.
- PSTT's I bet you didn't know... articles and teacher guides introduce the work of contemporary scientists in language that children can understand and describe investigations which children can carry out to mirror cutting-edge research.
- PSTT's A Scientist in Your Classroom is a CPD unit which explores the many ways in which you can work with a scientists in your classroom.
- Facetime a Farmer, offers free fortnightly video calls between famers and classrooms (organised by LEAF Education).
4. Science events
Do children take part in school, local or national science events?
There are many ways for children to experience science events:
A Science Day or a Science Week
You will need to plan for this at least a term before the event: talk to senior management about any changes to the regular timetable, agree a budget, apply for funding from external organisations, invite any external providers, and share your ideas with staff so that they understand the purpose of the event and what is required from them. You could choose a theme for the whole school to follow. Children might carry out investigations with their own class teacher, or you might arrange a special timetable which allows children to visit different teachers and carry out a number of different practical activities during the day/week. Children could stay with their own class or you might decide to create mixed-age groups. The choice is up to you. The following list of questions are intended to help you to think about the different options and assist with planning for a science event:
- Will you work with other local primary or secondary schools to share resources and ideas?
- How will the regular timetable change? Do you need to inform meal time supervisors of any changes to using the hall?
- Will you have a whole school assembly to launch the event?
- Will you invite external providers?
- Will the older children run any activities?
- Will you ask staff to plan their own science activities or will you provide a list of activities?
- How will you use the outdoor spaces?
- Will you have a celebration assembly at the end to share the children's experiences? Will parents be invited to this?
- How might you share the outcomes of the science event with a wider audience? For example, will you use the school website, the school newsletter, or invite the local press?
British Science Week is a ten-day celebration of STEM subjects that is usually held in March. It is coordinated by the British Science Association (BSA) and is funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). You may want to organise your school science week to coincide with this but you could organise your event at any time. British Science Week
A Science Fair
A Science Fair can be a stand-alone event or part of a Science Week. It can be an event that showcases children's work or an event that provides hands-on practical activities led by children for visitors to try.
Whichever type of Science Fair you plan, there are some questions that you will need to consider in advance. Here are some questions to support your planning of the event:
- Will all the children take part or will it be optional?
- Will the children present individually, in small groups or as a class?
- Will there be a theme or will you invite children to share something of their choosing?
- Who will remind the children/teachers to have their work ready on time? You might need to keep reminding children and staff about the event via School Council, assemblies and staff meetings.
- Where will the event take place? For example, will it be inside or outside? Is your school hall big enough?
- Will there be a guide showing where different stalls are located?
- Will visitors be asked to follow a one-way system to visit the stalls?
- Who will organise tables, positions and display boards?
- Who will you invite to attend? For example, each class could have a period to showcase their work to the rest of the school, or you might invite parents/carers to come.
- How will you publicise the event? For example, will it be in the school newsletter, the school website, social media, or the press.
- Will children receive certificates for taking part?
If the Science Fair is to showcase children's work, you may also want to consider these questions:
- Will the children carry out their investigations and prepare what they will present at school or at home? For example, will staff provide time in science lessons or will teachers set home learning projects?
- If children are carrying out their investigations or preparing their presentations at home, how will you make sure that they all have access to the equipment they might need?
If the Science Fair is to present hands-on activities, you may want to consider these questions:
- Will the stall holders explaining the activities be from just one year group, from the science club or from across the school?
- How could younger children be supported to be facilitators?
- Will you provide instructions for each activity?
- Will you train your facilitators?
The Great Science Share for Schools (GSSfS) is an annual campaign that encourages children to share their science questions with new audiences. The website also provides resources to support teachers in holding a GSSfS event. This event runs each June and children are encouraged to explore their own science questions and then share their findings using practical resources, becoming ‘teachers’ to other pupils.
Useful resources for project ideas:
- PSTT's Why&How Newsletter contains a regular pull-out feature (The Why&How Challenge) which could be used as a class or whole school challenge
- PSTT's Science Fun At Home - simple activities using household resources
- PSTT's Science For One - activities based around one easy to obtain resource
- PSTT's Science and STEM club packs
- PSTT's Learning Science Together - activities for children and parents to do together at a school event
- The Great Bug Hunt
- Practical Action STEM Challenges
- CREST Awards
- British Science Week activity packs
- Wow Science contains links to organisations that promote science investigations that children can carry out at home
A Science Reading Challenge
A Science Reading Challenge within the school setting, where the focus is reading science books for pleasure and is not too teacher-directed, can show children that science reading can be interesting and fun. To find out more about the benefits for children and how to organise a Science Reading Challenge in your school, visit the PSTT's Science Reading Challenge resource. You can download ideas for possible launch events and activities. You can also download bookmarks, passports and certificates.
An Inter-school Science Challenge
You may be able to work with other primary schools in your locality to organise a science/STEM challenge. The event could be a one-day event when children from different primary schools work together to solve a science/STEM challenge. Alternatively, the children might work on a challenge in their own school over several weeks (perhaps just one year group working on a project in their science lessons or a mixed age group in a science club) and then meet at an inter-school event to share their work and develop it further. It might be worth approaching a local secondary school to see whether any of their pupils would be able to support your primary children with their activities, and whether they could host this event.
Resources that could support an inter-school science challenge:
A Citizen Science Project
Citizen science is scientific research conducted in whole or in part, by amateur scientists. Several organisations organise citizen science projects that primary children can take part in. The following is a list of some suitable projects for primary age children, but is by no means exhaustive:
- Zooniverse is the world's largest platform for people-powered research. It lists several research projects but not all will be suitable for primary children. You will need to decide what is suitable for your children.
- PSTT's Air Pollution Research resource provides support for primary school children, their teachers, parents and other stakeholders to learn about and carry out investigations into air pollutants is a great starting point for a citizen science project.
- The Garden Bird Watch organised by The British Trust for Ornithology since 1995, asks people to keep a simple list of the species of birds that visit their garden, to understand how and why populations of garden birds are changing.
- The Big Butterfly Count organised by the charity Butterfly Conservation since 2010, is a nationwide survey of butterflies each summer to assess the health of the environment.
- Open Air Laboratories (OPAL), founded by Imperial College London in 2007, organise UK-wide citizen science projects suitable for all ages.
- The Natural History Museum has projects and downloadable resources to enable you to set up your citizen science project
- Dark Sky Meter is a project investigating the effects of light pollution and might be suitable for children aged 6-10 years.
5. Wider community
Do children share science wIth parents, e.g. family learning nights, interactive homework?
There are several ways to engage parents and carers with children's science learning:
- Teachers could send home science challenges - for ideas see PSTT's Science Fun at Home.
- Invite parents/carers to a Science Day or Science Fair - suggestions for organising science events are given on this page, under the RAISING THE PROFILE OF SCIENCE tab; section 4. Science events.
- Involve parents in a whole school Science Reading Challenge - for further information, visit PSTT's Science Reading Challenge resource.
- Invite parents and children to come to school together to learn science through problem solving and investigative activities. PSTT's Learning Science Together provides everything that you need to do this in your own school.
- Consider creating a central science display in school, something that visitors may see that includes examples of science from across the school.
Do children work with community groups, e.g. in local parks?
PSTT's Garden Watch encourages children to identify wildlife in their communities, understand why it's there and get hands-on to nurture it. This resource includes class presentations, explanatory letters for parents, promotional flyers and survey activity books.
Does the school publicise its science, e.g. on its website or email newsletters?
Consider how your school shares the children's achievements in science. There are lots of ways that you could publicise what is going on in regular science lessons, science clubs and science events:
- Does the school website have a science section?
- Does the school website celebrate what each class is learning and is science included in this?
- Does the school newsletter share children's science learning and publicise science events that will happen/have happened in school or even notable external science events? For example, would you mention when there is an eclipse of the moon, or a sighting of a comet?
- Does the school use social media to advertise events?
- Are science events published in the local newspaper?
The following resources may be useful for subject leaders wanting to audit and develop science in their schools:
- Subject leader self-evaluation tool, which could inform your action plan (available in colour and black & white)
- Guidance for Science Subject Leaders - Whole School Approach
- Guidance for Science Subject Leaders - Role of the Subject Leader
- Guidance for Science Subject Leaders - Raising the Profile of Science
- Subject leader tasks
- Pupil voice questionnaire
- Teacher questionnaire
- Progression in science enquiry skills across year groups (statements taken from the 2013 English National Curriulum)
- Primary Science Curriculum Progression for all science topics (includes key vocabulary and possible enquiries)
- Funding opportunities
Subject leader self-evaluation tool - colour copy [92.79kB]
This self-evaluation tool will help you to audit science in your school and identify your next steps.
Subject leader self-evaluation tool - B&W copy [94.19kB]
This self-evaluation tool will help you to audit science in your school and identify your next steps.
Whole School Approach [712.96kB]
Guidance for science subject leaders (1) - a downloadable copy of the subject leader toolkit
Role of the Subject Leader [260.99kB]
Guidance for science subject leaders (2) - a downloadable copy of the subject leader toolkit
Raising the Profile of Science [255.81kB]
Guidance for science subject leaders (3) - a downloadable copy of the subject leader toolkit
Subject leader tasks [91.95kB]
Use this document to prioritise tasks.
Pupil voice questionnaire [44.65kB]
Use/adapt this questionnaire to find out how children view science in your school, and to identify strengths and weaknesses.
Teacher questionnaire [45.40kB]
Use/adapt this questionnaire to identify teachers' strengths and weaknesses, and to plan relevant CPD.
Progression of working scientifically (enquiry skills) [200.66kB]
This document shows progression of enquiry skills from ages 4-11.
Note: the statements are taken from the English National Curriculum (2013).
Primary Science Curriculum Progression [766.27kB]
For each topic, from Year 1 to Year 6, this document provides National Curriculum objectives, key questions to ask children, appropriate vocabulary, key scientists, possible investigations for each enquiry type and more...
Note: the objectives statements are taken from the English National Curriculum (2013).
Funding opportunities [168.39kB]
This document lists some organisations that provide grants for primary science.