Education

Programmes

Good Practical Science

We are committed to supporting practical science in schools and colleges. In September 2017 we launched Good Practical Science by Sir John Holman. The report provides a framework for good practical science in schools. Using international visits, surveys and literature reviews, we’ve developed a series of ten benchmarks for schools to use when planning their own approach to delivering practical science.  

Good Practical Science
Good Practical Science
Good Practical Science

Every school should have a written policy that explains why teachers use practical science, the outcomes they expect from it and how they achieve those outcomes. The process of producing the policy is as important as the policy itself.

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Good Practical Science report

The Benchmarks

1 Planned Practical Science

Every school should have a written policy that explains why teachers use practical science, the outcomes they expect from it and how they achieve those outcomes. The process of producing the policy is as important as the policy itself.

2 PURPOSEFUL PRACTICAL SCIENCE

Teachers should know the purpose of any practical science activity, and it should be planned and executed so it is effective and integrated with other science learning.

3 Expert Teachers

Teachers should have subject-specialist training (bothinitial and continuing) in the subject (biology, chemistry, physics etc) and age range they teach, so they can carry out practical science with confidence and knowledge of the underlying principles.

4 FREQUENT AND VARIED PRACTICAL SCIENCE

Students should experience a practical activity in at least half of their science lessons. These activities can be short or long, but should be varied in type.

5 LABORATORY FACILITIES AND EQUIPMENT

Schools should have enough laboratories to make it possible for every teacher to do frequent practical science safely. Each laboratory should have sufficient equipment for students to work in small groups.

6 TECHNICAL SUPPORT

Science departments should have enough technical or technician support to enable teachers to carry out frequent and effective practical science.

7 REAL EXPERIMENTS, VIRTUAL ENHANCEMENTS

Teachers should use digital technologies to support and enhance practical experience, but not to replace it.

8 INVESTIGATIVE PROJECTS

Students should have opportunities to do open-ended and extended investigative projects.

9 A BALANCED APPROACH TO RISK

Students' experience of practical science should not be restricted by unnecessary risk aversion.

10 ASSESSMENT FIT FOR PURPOSE

Assessment of students' work in science should include assessment of their practical knowledge, skills and behaviours. This applies to both formative and summative assessment.

The Recommendations

1 The 10 Benchmarks

To schools, policymakers, Ofsted and teacher trainers
We recommend Benchmarks 1 -10 as defining the elements of good practical science in secondary schools. Schools should use them, policymakers should be guided by them, and teacher trainers and professional development leaders should use them to help shape their programmes. Ofsted should guide schools towards them if their science needs improvement. Schools, and the science departments within them, should be funded adequately to enable them to achieve the benchmarks.

2 TRAINING EXPERT TEACHERS

To government and teacher trainers
Secondary science initial teacher training (ITT) should have a strong subject-specific component relating to the science they will teach, especially its practical aspects. This should be reflected in the standards for Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), which should apply to teachers in all state-funded schools, including academies. Government-funded Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) courses for prospective science teachers should include sufficient laboratory time to develop practical skills. Courses that are only delivered online cannot provide this experience. Government should ensure that the Teacher Supply Model (TSM) accurately forecasts the number of specialist teachers required. Government should use the TSM to increase the number of specialist teachers in each of the sciences, through additional recruitment and through retention programmes, so that schools have enough high-quality applicants when they advertise posts.

3 Continuing professional development for teachers

To government, teaching unions, professional bodies and other stakeholders
Over the next five years, England should move towards an embedded system of continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers, with clear expectations of quantity and quality of CPD. Teachers' CPD should have a strong subject-specific focus and in the case of science teachers it should include practical work.

4 Accountability and Practical Science

To government
Government should review accountability measures compared  with other nations, to assess how they could give teachers more autonomy and freedom to innovate in the way they teach,  particularly in the case of practical science.

To Ofsted
When inspecting school science departments, Ofsted should take particular note of the quality and frequency of practical  science, and record it in the report on the school.

5 Valid Assessment

To government and Ofqual
Government and Ofqual should monitor current arrangements  for assessment of practical science at GCSE and A level to check  their impact on the quality and frequency of practical science.  If negative effects are found, changes should be made.

To research funders
Research should be done into valid, reliable and manageable ways of assessing practical science, in particular where assessment is indirect and by means of written questions.

6 Projects in the curriculum

To government and Ofqual
The curriculum should evolve to include more requirements for extended projects in science. In particular, an extended project should become an embedded, compulsory part of post-16 study for all students on pre-university courses. For those studying a majority of science subjects, the project should have a science focus.

7 Recruiting, retaining and deploying specialsist teachers

To school governors, headteachers and science leaders
Schools should take a strategic approach, using a combination of shrewd recruitment, retention measures and CPD, to get a better proportion of science subject specialists in their science team. Where subject specialists are scarce, they should teach within their specialism where possible, and schools should take a strategic  approach to deciding which classes and age groups to use them with.

To science professional bodies and funders
A study should be commissioned to produce practical recommendations for schools on how to achieve the above. The result of this study would be a practical guide for schools, illustrated with case studies, on how they can get a better proportion of science subject specialists, and how best to deploy them.

8 Valuing Science Technicians

To school governors, headteachers and science leaders
Technicians should be valued as an integral part of the science department.

They should be given professional development opportunities to refresh their professional skills and their expertise in health and safety, and to give them new ideas for practical science. They should have opportunities to get professional recognition through Registered Science Technician (RSciTech) and Registered Scientist (RSci).

They should have opportunities to get professional recognition through Registered Science Technician (RSciTech) and Registered Scientist (RSci).

9 Planning for Success

To the Association for Science Education and science professional bodies
Drawing on the experience of schools, guidance should be produced on how to go about developing a written policy for practical science.

10 Managing Risks

To school governors, headteachers and science leaders
All schools in England should belong to CLEAPSS, either individually or through their local authority or Academy Trust, and should use its expert advice to ensure a balanced approach to risk.

The Five Purposes of Practical Science

A

TO TEACH THE PRINCIPLES OF SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY

B

TO IMPROVE UNDERSTANDING OF THEORY THROUGH PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE

C

TO TEACH SPECIFIC PRACTICAL SKILLS, SUCH AS MEASUREMENT AND OBSERVATION, THAT MAY BE USEFUL IN FUTURE STUDY OR EMPLOYMENT

D

TO MOTIVATE AND ENGAGE STUDENTS

E

TO DEVELOP HIGHER LEVEL SKILLS AND ATTRIBUTES SUCH AS COMMUNICATION, TEAMWORK AND PERSEVERANCE

Experimentation gives science its identity. Science uses experiments to discover the realities of the world, and this practical approach is as intrinsic to young learners as it is to professional researchers.

Practical science is important for learning, not only because doing experiments is a good way to learn scientific ideas and theories. The UK needs more scientists, engineers and technicians if our knowledge economy is to flourish, and practical science shows students at first hand how scientists and technicians work. It engages students to follow science further, on academic or technical routes. It gives them practical skills and attitudes that will be valuable in their future careers.

Our Good Practical Science report has shown that many of the ingredients of good practical science are the ingredients of all good science learning – expert teachers, well-planned lessons and technicalsupport. So, much of what we recommend relates to good science teaching in general. We judge that by world standards, the UK is well equipped with schoollaboratory facilities, and our benchmarks suggest how to make the best use of them.

There is more to learning science than learning how to perform well in exams, important though that is. We carried out this international study to find out what ‘good’ looks like in practical science, visiting six countries where science education is  highly successful. We found that, in these countries at least, practical science is alive and flourishing, and valued highly by professional scientists, teachers and, most importantly, by students.

Other Projects

Assessment of practical skills

Ensuring that practical skills form a central part of qualifications requires good quality assessment. In 2016 we funded the Royal Society to organise a conference exploring new research directions in the assessment of practical science. The conference report is downloadable here.

We are also partnering with the Wellcome Trust in a new funding scheme to support high quality research into how best to assess practical science skills in schools and colleges. Details of the scheme are available here

Monitoring of practical work

With recent reforms to both the science curriculum and to qualifications there will inevitably be impacts on practical work taking place in schools and colleges. With additional support from the Wellcome Trust we are funding research to monitor changes in the quality and quantity of practical work in school science across the UK.

Supporting teachers and technicians using practical science

Teachers and technicians are the cornerstone of good practical science taking place in schools and colleges. We have therefore supported several initiatives that aim to tackle some of the challenges teachers and technicians face.

We have funded the design of a practical hub on the National STEM Centre eLibrary to help teachers find resources to support practical work more quickly, and the development of a STEM Ambassador training module that encourages STEM Ambassadors to make use of their practical skills when they visit schools. 

For several years we have been advocating the critical role school science technicians play in enabling good quality practical work in the classroom. To support their role we have: collected advice from experienced technicians to support new staff, funded CLEAPSS to publish up to date equipment buying guides, and worked with the National STEM Centre to produce case studies illustrating the value of developing the technical support within a science department.

Local networks play a critical role in supporting and developing science technicians, we have therefore funded the production of a technician network booklet aimed at encouraging technicians to start up their own network.

Science demonstrations can be memorable, emotive and engaging for students, and we want to encourage and celebrate teachers choosing to use them. We have supported the British Science Association to create a series of resources and organise Demo Day, an annual event encouraging teachers to try out new demonstrations as part of British Science Week. 

Our programme of support for practical science in secondary schools and colleges will track changes in practical work over time, build a secure evidence base on which to inform science curriculum and qualifications reform, and generate ideas for where and how practical science can be strengthened through supporting both teachers and school science technicians.We are working in partnership with the Nuffield Foundation and Wellcome Trust on this programme, which aims to explore how we can better enable all schools and colleges to engage their students with good practical work in science.