Improving the literacy skills of poorer pupils is a way of improving their results in science, researchers have found.
A review of leading international research, published today by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Royal Society, also says it is important for pupils to carry out scientific experiments and trials.
The report, Review of Socio-Economic Status and Science Learning in Formal Educational Settings, shows the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers is as wide in science as in English and maths.
The gap, it says, first becomes apparent in key stage 1, and widens throughout primary and secondary school, and on to A level.
The authors write: “In correlational studies of science learning, the strongest and most consistent predictor of pupils’ scientific attainment has undoubtedly been how literate they are.”
They add that there is a “strong relationship” between pupils’ socio-economic status, and their literacy.
According to the report, poor literacy skills can affect how well a pupil is able to understand scientific vocabulary and to prepare scientific reports, suggesting that strategies to boost disadvantaged pupils’ reading comprehension could have a positive impact on their achievement in science too.
The authors also found good evidence that the ability to reason scientifically – by testing hypotheses through well-controlled experiments – is a strong predictor of later success in the sciences, and that programmes that allow pupils to design experiments that test the impact of one thing on another can develop this skill.
Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “The data in today’s report is clear. Pupils from disadvantaged homes are much less likely than their peers to get good grades in science and to go on to take a science subject at A level and beyond.
“Helping schools to use evidence and to understand better the most effective ways to improve results is the best way to tackle this country’s stark science attainment gap. Today’s review identifies some promising approaches with the potential to raise standards and close the gap.”