Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Wellcome Trust


1.   The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK.  It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending around £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas.  The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.


2.   The Wellcome Trust responded to the (then) Education and Skills Committee inquiry into Testing and Assessment in June 2007.  In our submission we referred to research that the Trust was commissioning into the effects of compulsory national testing in science and said that we would be able to provide interim findings to the Committee.


3.   The summary report from the research is now available and is attached at Annex B.[1]  The research was conducted by the Institute of Education and considered the effects of compulsory national testing on the teaching of science, and teachers, at Year 6 (Y6) in England; and the impact of the abolition of statutory testing in science at Key Stage 2 (KS2) in Wales on Y6 science teaching and teachers.


4.   The research was conducted through a telephone survey of 600 teachers, science coordinators and headteachers (300 from England, 300 from Wales) and sixteen focus groups (8 in England, 8 in Wales) involving a total of 74 Year 6 teachers, science coordinators, headteachers and secondary science teachers.  The summary report is therefore drawn from teachersÕ perceptions of the impact of compulsory testing.


5.   The key points from the report are:

á            teachers consider statutory testing to be leading to a narrowing of the science curriculum and limiting approaches to teaching;

á            teachers in England find it difficult to maintain positive attitudes to science among pupils and suggested that abolishing testing would make science more enjoyable;

á            teachers in England feel that abolishing statutory testing would enable them to respond more to individual pupilsÕ needs and would allow pupils to develop greater independence in learning;

á            teachers support retaining optional test materials to inform teacher assessment (as they have been in Wales); and

á            summative teacher assessment is seen to provide a more accurate assessment of pupilsÕ level of attainment in science than national test results and teachers are concerned about how data from school achievement tables may be used. 


6.   While it is still too early for the effects of the abolition of testing in Wales to be fully realised, Welsh teachers suggest that the emphasis in science teaching is beginning to shift away from the transmission of factual knowledge towards the development of pupilsÕ skills to support their learning in science, and there has been an increased emphasis on small group work and practical activities.


7.   The report makes three recommendations:

á     there should be a review of classroom support for science in Y6 classes to enable practical whole class activities and to support summative teacher assessment of pupil attainment in England and Wales;

á            consideration is needed of how to improve progression in learning during KS2 in England and Wales; and

á     there should be an evaluation of how appropriate it is to use school achievement tables based on KS2 test results for purposes of accountability in England.


8.   The Trust would urge the Committee to consider these recommendations in its review of testing and assessment in England.



March 2008

[1] Research into the Effects of Compulsory National Testing in Science on Teachers and Teaching at KS2, Dr Sue Collins, Professor Michael Reiss, and Professor Gordon Stobart, Commissioned by the Wellcome Trust in association with the Association for Science Education. Not printed.