Practical science in schools

We are committed to supporting practical science in schools and colleges. We will continue to strengthen the role of technicians, to support teachers carry out good practical science and to improve the assessment of practical skills.

Practical science in schools
Practical science in schools
Practical science in schools

Ensuring that practical skills form a central part of qualifications requires good quality assessment.

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Science is a practical subject and all students should have the opportunity to experience an engaging and motivating hands-on science education. Practical work gives students the necessary skills for higher education and employment, deepens their knowledge of scientific ideas and enables them to engage in the processes of science. It can only flourish in schools when teachers are confident in its use, schools and colleges are sufficiently resourced and the practical skills gained by students are appropriately recognised in science qualifications.

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.


International review of practical science

This significant study began in January 2015 and is being led Sir John Holman. We aim to identify the features which lead to successful practical science in countries which perform well in international comparisons of science education.

This study includes a focused piece of desk research gathering existing evidence, surveying and visiting high-performing countries from who we have most to learn from in the UK, and surveying secondary schools across England to see where support is most needed. Using all this evidence we will produce a report to help schools carry out good practical science. The report will also make policy recommendations and be used to inform Gatsby's own future work in practical science.

The report will be published in autumn 2017.

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.