Primary schools 'need specialist science teachers'

science lesson The Royal Society says knowledge gaps are exposed at secondary school

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Primary schools in England do not have enough specialist teachers to provide youngsters with a high quality science education, a report says.

A Royal Society study of UK science and maths teaching for five to 14 year olds said every school should have a teacher with a sound scientific background.

The study said England's testing regime "stifled creativity" as teachers "drummed" facts into pupils' heads.

The report also called for maths tests for 11 year olds to be scrapped.

Key Stage 2 tests in science, taken in the last year of primary school, have now been abolished and were sat for the last time by pupils in England in 2009.

The Royal Society, which champions science in the UK, called for a move away from "teaching to the test", a major new drive to recruit specialist science and maths teachers, as well as a greater emphasis on practical work to help youngsters understand the subjects.

Start Quote

It is essential that we ensure that children have positive experiences with science education, from teachers that are qualified to provide it”

End Quote Prof John Pethica Royal Society

The society found testing in England's primary schools became high-stakes when it was used by central government to compare schools and drive up standards.

But the focus on targets had had "little effect" on pupils' results, with any improvement more attributable to "teachers becoming increasingly adept at, and focused on, teaching to the test".

The study said this caught up with pupils when they went on to secondary school.

"Their [pupils'] ability to perform in the tests masks an inadequate conceptual understanding of these subjects that is exposed at secondary level when science is disaggregated into biology, chemistry and physics."

It went on: "Science is a practical subject and it needs to be taught and assessed as such and greater emphasis placed on building understanding of how science and mathematics work than on rote learning of 'facts'.

"Achieving this depends on developing a workforce that is confident in teaching these subjects."

Prof John Pethica, vice-president of the Royal Society, said: "Early education is a particularly formative time for young people, when they can either be inspired by the way that science helps them to understand the world around them, or switched off from exploring it.

'Raising standards'

"It is essential that we ensure that children have positive experiences with science education, from teachers that are qualified to provide it.

"The UK government must increase the number of science specialist teachers at primary level to ensure that all children have the best start in science."

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the government would take the reports findings into account as it developed plans for curriculum and qualifications reform.

"This government is committed to raising standards in maths and science - one of the main reasons we are not proceeding with the previous government's planned primary curriculum is that it risked moving away from traditional subjects like these," Mr Gibb said.

"We also want to go further in recruiting excellent science and maths teachers and are looking at how we can encourage even more maths and science graduates to come into teaching."

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