PUPILS are not making enough progress in science during their early secondary years, according to a new report by the Office for Standards in Education.
Secondary teachers have failed to build on the success of primary science and are not challenging their youngest pupils, inspectors found.
Instead, most pupils have to repeat a "significant" amount of primary work because teachers mistrust test data about their past achievements, says the report Progress in key stage 3 science which will be sent to schools.
The lowest-achieving primary pupils make the least progress at secondary school. One in three pupils who fails to reach the required standard on leaving primary school makes no progress in the next three years - as measured by national curriculum levels.
Up to 15 per cent of teaching time is taken up with tests and assessments, but too little of this data is used to set targets or raise standards, say inspectors.
The report is based on the inspection of 704 secondaries during 1998-99 plus a detailed analysis of more than 50 science departments, identified by inspectors as exmples of good practice.
Ministers have shifted their focus from primary standards to the lack of pupil progress at key stage 3. In January, Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett highlighted the acute problem in science, saying he was concerned that pupils only made six terms' progress during their first three secondary years.
Primary national science test results have improved steadily, with 78 per cent of pupils reaching the required standard last summer. However, test scores for 14-year-olds have remained constant at 55 per cent.
Investigative science is not yet firmly rooted in the curriculum, inspectors found. Only a minority of pupils take part in high quality experimental science - which is often completely ignored until they are 14.
The quality of science teaching has also declined relative to other subjects. Teaching is now good or very good in nearly six out of ten schools; but inspectors are concerned about the one school in ten where it remains unsatisfactory.
The report can be downloaded from the OFSTED website: www.ofsted.gov.ukpublications