Ofsted has warned that the failure of primary schools to deliver a successful science curriculum could stifle pupils’ interest in the subject later on.
The inspectorate has today published a “snapshot” of its curriculum research, which outlines how science has been side-lined by English and maths in many primary schools.
The report says science has “clearly been downgraded in some primary schools since the scrapping of the key stage 2 test” in 2009.
The study comes as Ofsted prepares to launch its new school inspection framework, which will have a greater focus on curriculum, and is another sign that primary schools may struggle to do well under it.
Today's research is based on a sample of 14 primary schools. Ofsted said only one of these was “providing a successful science curriculum”.
The report says most foundation subjects often have weaknesses in curriculum design that were not present in English and maths.
It adds: “Because science is a core subject within the national curriculum, this is a particular worry.”
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It says that in primaries focused on English and maths, inspectors “saw very little science content”.
“Where this was apparent pupils were often being given low-level worksheets to complete, even in some higher year groups,” it warns.
The report says that in these schools, there was “clearly enough room within the timetable” for pupils to master the essentials of English and maths while building their knowledge of science.
And while the curriculum documentation of some schools with stronger leadership in science suggested a lot of science was going on, much of this was planning was found to be “piecemeal”.
The report adds: “It showed surface-level compliance with the national curriculum, which in practice meant carrying out one-off activities or lessons covering the statements in the programmes of study.”
It also highlights schools that focused on activity-led learning, but where the teacher’s lack of deep subject knowledge meant that pupils remembered the experiment, but not the underlying knowledge they were supposed to learn.
The authors also highlight a link between weak implementation of science, and “superficial oversight” by heads and governors, who did not allocate enough time to monitor how subject leaders deliver the curriculum in subjects other than English and maths.
It adds: “In fact, a few headteachers were shocked to find during the research fieldwork just how limited their science curriculum really was.”
The report concludes that the downgrading of science “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”.
Ofsted said it will carry out further investigations on the primary science curriculum later this year.