Ian Richardson, who monitors primary science for the schools' inspectorate, said that teachers with poor subject knowledge often tell pupils to complete a worksheet or answer textbook questions in order to avoid probing questions they may not be able to answer. Speaking at the Association for Science Education conference in Birmingham last week, Mr Richardson referred to one primary he had visited where a pupil asked the teacher why a magnet would pick up one 2p piece, but not another. "Oh, what a funny magnet," she replied.
Mr Richardson said: "You need real wisdom and confidence in yourself to know what the next step will be in science." He is inspecting 100 schools prior to the publication in 2008 of his report into primary science. He also highlighted the tendency in some primaries to expect teachers to plan science lessons in isolation.
He said: "Heads may think that's creative planning. I think that's crap. If you are a Year 3 teacher, you cannot plan on your own, without reference to Year 2 teachers, to the previous experience and performance of pupils. You need good, collaborative planning, with cross-curricular links to other subjects, like literacy, numeracy, ICT and PSHE."
Each lesson will have a clear objective, he said, which teachers share with pupils. And teachers will involve pupils in classroom decisions. "I'm staggered by the teachers who don't trust pupils to make decisions. I've always regarded science as an active, participant thing. Pupils can crank the wheel of the mill, and come out with grist."