The success of national curriculum primary science is widely acknowledged and pupils now start secondary school with a much better foundation in the knowledge, skills and terminology of the subject. Ten years on from the introduction of science for all primary pupils, are we feeling the benefits of this at key stage 3?
During the summer term 1999 Her Majesty's Inspectors of schools visited more than 50 secondary schools where previous inspection showed progress in KS3 science to be good. The inspection set out to answer fundamental questions such as:
* What are the characteristics of effective science teaching at KS3?
* Are pupils motivated by science and what can be done to improve attitudes?
* How can continuity from KS2 to KS3 be achieved more effectively and progress during the key stage be improved?
* What part should assessment play in raising standards?
* How can experimental and investigatory science be used to improve learning?
* How can leadership contribute to good progress in KS3 science?
A report will be published later this term. It will raise key issues, indicate where progress has been made, highlight weaknesses and show how some schools have successfully tackled them.
The first three years of secondary school are vitally important. Not only is it essential that the foundations laid in primary schools are built on, these are also the years when pupils form long-lasting views about science and develop the concepts that will be the basis of later study. The report shows that many pupils do not make adequate progress during KS3 and that schools are not yet giving sufficient priority to improving this situation. But there are encouraging signs of improvement and the report provides many examples of effective practice. Progress is likely to be greatest when:
* expectations at the start of KS3 are high and the curriculum is organised so that pupils build on what they have learned at KS2;
* teachers are aware of the vocabulary used and the contexts in which science is taught in primary schools so that they can more readily establish what pupils already know;
* teaching throughout the key stage includes clear exposition; use of questions which challenge pupils to think scientifically; careful use of analogies and models; and constant probing of pupils' knowledge and understanding through the skilful use of questions;
* pupils' interest in science is cultivated and enhanced by a broad range of effective classroom and extra-curricular activities;
* curriculum planning takes account of work covered in KS2, topics and activities are sequenced so that pupils' knowledge is developed progressively and experimental and investigative science is included throughout;
* practical activity has a clear purpose and includes demonstration and experiments to develop understanding, and has structured opportunities to develop skills of investigation;
* assessment is used as a tool for raising standards by informing teaching, setting targets, and identifying individual success and under-achievement;
* the key stage co-ordinator for science provides good leadership so that teachers work together and pupils enjoy a lively and coherent experience of science at KS3.
Bob Ponchaud, HMI, is the Office for Standards in Education subject adviser for science See box on page 13 for report details