Teachers need more support to inspire next generation of scientists

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New research by the CBI shows that the majority of primary teachers believe science has become less of a curriculum priority, with over a third of schools now providing less than the recommended two hours of science education a week.

53% of the 260 primary school teachers surveyed by the CBI believe teaching science has become less of a priority over the past 5 years (32.5% say it has not changed, 14.5% say it is now more of a priority)

A third of teachers (33%) lack confidence when teaching science (13% felt very confident, 54% were confident)

62% want more professional development to build their confidence while 39% called for a science subject specialist within their primary school

Over a third (36%) of schools teaching science at Key Stage 2 in the survey do not provide the minimum recommended 2 hours of science education each week. Only 20% are able to commit over three hours, while 7.5% of primary schools teach under one hour each week.

The CBI argues that the situation has been mainly driven by the abolition of testing at Key Stage Two. Importantly, testing has been maintained for English and maths.

The report also finds that over 70% of primary school teachers want more support from business. Of those, three-quarters would find it helpful for businesses to offer use of their equipment and facilities. Over 60% would like support from companies in lesson delivery and arranged class visits.

John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said: “Science education in primary schools is being squeezed out, with over half of teachers believing it has become less of a priority with too many schools struggling to teach the recommended two hours every week.

“How can we expect to inspire future generations of scientists and engineers if we don’t deliver high-quality and inspiring science lessons at primary school age? If we are not careful, too many children will have lost interest in science before they hit their teens.

“We must also seriously tackle the persistent cultural problem of pigeon-holing boys and girls into certain subjects and career paths."

The report outlines a series of recommendations to overcome the challenges of boosting science in primary schools:

The UK and devolved Governments must set targets to have the best performing schools for science in Europe - and in the top five worldwide – by 2020.  This should be underpinned by a new science education strategy – covering primary, secondary and tertiary education

Primary schools should ensure professional development for science is of a high standard and carried out regularly to build the confidence of primary teachers to deliver high-quality science lessons

Teachers should be encouraged to spend more time with businesses and universities to enhance their understanding of scientific theory and its practical applications

All primary schools should have a subject leader for science in place to drive forward the subject as a priority in each school

Businesses and universities must divert more of their outreach resources to primary schools and not focus purely on secondary. The new Careers and Enterprise Company in England should include primary in its remit and should be funded for the term of the next Parliament.

Russell Hobby, General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers, said: "An understanding of science is needed to understand and thrive in the modern world. As the CBI's report makes clear, this learning is best begun early. Yet primary schools are constrained - by narrow accountability targets and the need for their teachers to be masters of all trades, teaching science with the same confidence they teach English, maths, history and sport.

“We should, as the report recommends, offer maximum support to primary schools and make sure we judge them fairly on a broad and balanced curriculum."

School Leadership Today
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