Science is being ‘squeezed out’ of primary school curriculum

CREDIT: This story was first seen in The Telegraph

Science is being “squeezed out” of the primary school curriculum, the Ofsted chief has said, as she attacked governing bodies for failing to hold teachers to account, The Telegraph reports.

Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s chief inspector, said that undue focus on examinations and schools’ league table performances has seen many students sitting weekly tests in English and Maths, while teachers are “forfeiting a deeper education in science and other subjects”.

In a speech to the Association for Science Education, Ms Spielman criticised schools that pursued a narrow curriculum and allowed “grades and stickers” to take precedence in the classroom.

“Too few governing bodies look to understand curriculum quality or hold leaders to account for the curriculum beyond looking at test outcomes,” she said.

An Ofsted study, published as part of the watchdog’s new strategy to conduct its own research into education alongside its main role of school inspection, showed that primary school pupils in particular were at risk of having science lessons culled in favour of early exam preparation.

She said: “In science specifically, the results of our study were not too dissimilar from the picture more generally. In primary, there is a continued narrowing of the curriculum where schools’ understandable desire to ace the English and maths SATs has been squeezing the science curriculum out.”

Key Stage 2 SATs results, taken by students at age 11, are fed into league tables published annually by the Department for Education, which often influence parents’ school choices.

Only some schools are chosen to sit science at Key Stage 2 SATs, while all schools have tests in English and Maths.

Ms Spielman also warned that opportunities to take more GCSE qualifications in science were often dependent on predicted exam performance at the beginning of key stage 4, meaning that most schools “overlooked pupils’ own aspirations” to perform better.

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Yet even where pupils spent time on science, it was a “dangerous game” to focus on “quantity rather than quality”.

Citing analysis from the OECD, she suggested that “enquiry-based learning” such as designing and completing practical experiments in the classroom might be less effective in science than teacher-led demonstrations.

She said that while the research was “just one piece of evidence” it suggests that abandoning Bunsen burners for books in the classroom could help the UK claw its way up the international PISA league tables.

Katherine Mathieson, CEO of the British Science Association, said that science practicals are a “critical part of an effective science education for all students, not just future scientists”.

She added: “I worry that cutting back on science lesson time will further damage the quality of learning from practicals, directly contradicting the recommendations from the recent Gatsby report from expert Sir John Holman.

“With the right support and joined-up education policymaking, I believe teachers don’t have to pit one subject against another. Time spent on science is not ‘lost’ to other subjects, as they all enhance each other.”

Ms Spielman’s comments come after Ofsted’s findings that schools increasingly teach GCSE qualifications over three years instead of two, to “game” the system and increase league table performance.

Since her appointment in January 2017, Ms Spielman has criticsed schools that delivered curriculum in a way that reduces pupils’ understanding of the broader contexts of school subjects.

She said that she found it “surprising” how few people had read the national curriculum, which sets out the government’s vision for what is taught in schools.

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