Inspection reports of 79 schools visited in 1993-94 showed that teaching quality was unsatisfactory in more than a quarter of both infant and junior lessons. Meanwhile, at sixth form, teaching in 735 schools visited by independent teams was good or very good in almost half the lessons, and unsatisfactory in only a tenth.
An Office for Standards in Education report, Science: a review of inspection findings 199394 (Pounds 3.95, HMSO), published this month, says most secondary schools have met the basic requirements for national curriculum science assessment and recording, but there are "unacceptably wide variations" in primary schools.
But secondaries should not be complacent. Inspectors suggest "planning and teaching in science needs to take more account of the different capabilities and achievements of pupils", though they did find that achievement was particularly good in upper ability classes, They also say that while science lessons are mostly well planned, "over-prescription limits achievement in a significant proportion of lessons in all key stages and in the sixth form". They suggest that "the range of teaching approaches used should be reviewed to ensure that pupils are appropriately challenged to think for themselves and to take more responsibility for gathering the information they need".
Secondary schools should also improve the quality of marking. "Weaknesses in the routine marking of pupils' work are common and include a lack of common approach, inconsistent standards, a failure to focus on the scientific content of the work, and little helpful feedback to the pupils," they say.
In a fifth of secondary schools, a shortage of laboratories restricts the quality of provision and can limit pupils' access to double science courses.
In primary schools, steps are needed to enhance teachers' subject knowledge, particularly those teaching older junior classes. At key stage 2, investigative activities are often less well-linked to the development of knowledge than in infant teaching.
"In the upper years of the key stage, shortcomings in teachers' understanding of science are evident in the incorrect use of scientific terminology and an overemphasis on the acquisition of knowledge at the expense of conceptual development. Pupils are at widely different stages in their scientific development by the end of the key stage."
While the report found that teaching at key stage 1 was unsatisfactory in more than a quarter of lessons, it was good or very good in a third. At junior level, nearly a third of lessons were unsatisfactory (31 per cent), more than a quarter (27 per cent) were good or very good.
The inspectors say primary science co-ordinators need sufficient non-teaching time to develop their role more fully and to monitor science teaching throughout the school.
They say that in schools where the science co-ordinator has some non-contact time to work alongside colleagues, it has "a very positive effect on subject development in the school".