Pupils in England are being "turned off science" by months of test preparation in their last year of primary school, a study for one of the world's largest scientific charities has found. The report for the Wellcome Trust found that practical work was often marginalised in the spring term of Year 6 because of the focus on revision. And some parents were so concerned about their child's test results, they ended up crying.
The study, by academics at London's Institute of Education, was based on telephone interviews with 300 primary teachers in England, 300 in Wales, and focus group discussions with 74 primary and secondary staff. It will increase concerns about the pressures of testing and schools' ability to promote interest in science.
"Test preparation in its current form contributed little to pupils' understanding," the report quoted focus group members as saying. "The sole purpose was to equip pupils with sufficient factual knowledge and scientific terminology to answer written questions on science test papers."
Teachers felt compelled to prioritise cramming because of league-table pressures, although 95 per cent believed teacher assessment provided more accurate data. And most teachers in Wales believed their country's decision to dispense with statutory tests and tables in 2004 was a positive change. Some 62 per cent of Welsh heads said standards had improved as a result, with only 17 per cent disagreeing.
Welsh teachers were relieved they no longer had to deal with parents weeping because their child had failed to reach desired levels of attainment at key stage 2. In contrast, pupils in England entered Year 6 with generally positive attitudes, but were turned off by cramming and teacher-directed revision.
One teacher reported somtimes having to stop pupils' investigations mid- flow because they had covered all the test objectives and needed to move on to more revision. Some staff, however, said testing was good for some pupils. One said: "Behaviour improves and they work hard."
Some 82 per cent of heads in England agreed that "test preparation dominates science teaching in Year 6", compared with only 34 per cent in Wales. Most English schools spend two terms revising the four-year KS2 curriculum, said the report.
But test preparation is not the only reason schools find it difficult to focus on practical experiments. Some 34 per cent of those surveyed complained about a lack of resources, while 23 per cent bemoaned a general lack of time.
The report's authors, Sue Collins, Michael Reiss and Gordon Stobart, said the Government should consider how the tests in England can be reformed, while league tables should also be reviewed. Their report has been passed to a parliamentary committee, which will report on the testing regime next month.
A Department for Children, Schools and Families' spokeswoman said: "We do not accept that tests can be passed without properly understanding the subject. National tests help teachers check if children are progressing, as well as letting them show what they have learned and motivating them to achieve more."