A report published by Ofsted has found that the more pupils do science for themselves, the more they learn, the more interested they become, and the more likely they are to continue to study science in the future.
The report, Maintaining curiosity: A survey into science education in schools , is based upon Ofsted visits to 180 schools over the past three years. The inspectors found that strong leadership and skilled teachers generally give young people a profound knowledge and understanding of science.
The report says: “Science achievement in the schools visited was highest when individual pupils were involved in fully planning, carrying out and evaluating investigations that they had, in some part, suggested themselves.”
However, the report also suggests some areas where improvement could be made or where the current education system falls short in maintaining pupils’ curiosity.
In particular, Ofsted remarked that current GCSEs do not test practical skills enough, making young people ill-prepared for a future career in science, that science is not given a high enough priority at primary level, and that too few female students study physics beyond the age of 16. They also noted that there is a stark difference between the numbers of students taking physics or chemistry GCSEs at fee-paying schools and non-selective schools, with far fewer students opting for these subjects at non-selective schools.
The report said that: “In most of the schools visited, pupils from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 4 had limited opportunities to work independently, particularly to develop their individual manipulative skills in practical work, because teachers only required them to work in pairs or small groups.”
The concern is that without an ability to work independently or with initiative, the future economy could be under threat as the workforce would be ill-equipped to maintain an “internationally competitive economy”.
This is something that the CREST Awards scheme has been trying to tackle, by rewarding young people – both in primary and secondary education – for project-based investigative work in an area of STEM of their choice.