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Science GCSEs failing to give students practical skills, Ofsted warns

Science GCSEs are failing to give students the practical skills to properly prepare them for further study or employment, the schools watchdog has said.

In a report published today into the quality of science education, Ofsted said schools needed to up their game when it came to practicals, and found nearly half of primary schools did not see the subject as a priority. 

The inspectorate said there were still too few girls taking the subjects, particularly physics, and called for school leaders to challenge assumptions around gender and science.

It also highlighted the “stark difference” in numbers between private and state school pupils taking A level chemistry and physics. 

But it was the lack of practical skills that most concerned Ofsted and it called on the government to ensure science qualifications should include more practical assessments.

The report recommended that heads and governors ensure enough time and laboratory space to allow pupils to undertake experiments.  

Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said many pupils were benefiting from good teaching in science, but added “there was not enough”.  

“Few parents, pupils and teachers would dispute the fact that science is fundamentally important. It opens up further education and work opportunities for young people, and helps England maintain an internationally competitive economy,” Sir Michael said.

“When pupils are taught well, and taught how to think for themselves, the better they learn the subject. This helps them learn scientific knowledge, deepens understanding and encourages progression to further and higher education.”

The Department for Education said it welcomed the report, adding that it was already embarking on introducing a curriculum that focused on practical skills. 

“There will be a renewed focus on science in primary and secondary schools thanks to our rigorous new curriculum, which has a far stronger emphasis on practical work ... We are also strengthening practical elements in new science GCSEs,” a DfE spokesperson said.  

“Our EBacc is encouraging more pupils to take physics, chemistry and biology GCSEs, and that is feeding through to A level – where the number of girls taking the three sciences is at its highest level for at least 14 years."

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