Ofsted found that too much time was spent preparing pupils for exams instead of allowing children to do hands-on experiments.
Primary teachers, in particular, lacked confidence, relying too heavily on textbooks and worksheets, according to the report, which looked at lessons in 90 primary and 105 secondary schools.
There was limited training for teachers to enhance their expertise in science, inspectors said.
Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, said: "Science is a fascinating and exciting subject, yet for many pupils it lacks appeal because of the way that it is taught."
Teaching and learning was satisfactory in all schools visited. But exam results have not changed substantially in the past three years, leaving "clear scope for improvement". This contrasts with international studies, which consistently placed England near the top of league tables in science knowledge.
Lesson planning was highlighted as a recurring weakness. Weaker schools focused too much on covering GCSE specifications, leading to "boredom and frustration".
Tests for seven- and 11-year-olds should be broadened so they better assess pupils' understanding of how science works, the report said.
The Government has promised pound;140 million over the next three years to increase the number of specialist science teachers, train new higher-level science teaching assistants and fund school science clubs.
Derek Bell, chief executive of the Association for Science Education, said: "We need to make sure that teachers feel able to do something different to engage students and are encouraged to be risk-takers when they need to be."
Mr Bell will be talking about the issue in a lecture to the Royal Society next week.