Investigation: Is science 'dying' in our primary schools?

Teacher training courses, Sats, Ofsted and funding are being blamed for the apparent decline in primary science

Martin George

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Science in primary schools is being squeezed out by English and maths to the extent that it feels like a “dying field”, teachers are warning.

The fears for the subject come despite the government stating that “our long-term prosperity depends upon science, technology and innovation”.

Concerns include:

One NQT told Tes: “As people even said in the training, it seems to be a dying field. You have to have people who champion it.

“People try to champion it, but it’s not given enough time.”

A previously unreported Wellcome Trust study of science in primary initial teacher training highlights problems facing the subject that begin before teachers are even qualified.

It says “there is a feeling that there is insufficient time available to concentrate on science during their courses”.

Assessment emerges as a particular worry, with the report adding: “Teachers report that they did not feel suitably prepared to assess science and notably, providers made little reference to the assessment of science in describing their courses.”

Many of the concerns come back to the emphasis placed on maths and English in the government’s primary school accountability measures, and in January, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman told science educators that an “understandable desire to ace the English and maths SATs has been squeezing the science curriculum out”.

She added that the inspectorate will be “looking in depth at science curriculum in primary” in the second part of its research into school curriculums, which “will feed into the way we address curriculum in the new inspection framework for 2019”.

The Department for Education said science is “an important subject” that all primary school children are required to study.

A spokesperson added: “We have a new more rigorous science curriculum and have backed that with £12 million of investment to establish a national network to share best practice among teachers.

“We have also provided a further £10 million for bursaries for science teachers to continue on the job training and development.”

This is an edited article from the 23 March edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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Martin George

Martin George

Martin George is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @geomr

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