Written evidence submitted by Ofsted (Sch
I am pleased to forward a short written submission
from colleagues at Ofsted in response to the call for evidence
and questions issued as part of the above inquiry.
I also enclose
a copy of our recent survey report on science education in England
from 2007 to 2010, which was published at the start of this year.
This report, Successful science, is one of Ofsted's triennial
surveys on the national curriculum subjects.
Parliamentary Affairs Manager
27 May 2011
Ofsted response to the House of Commons
Science & Technology Committee's call for evidence on practical
experiments in school science lessons and science field trips
Ofsted's most recent evidence on science education
is summarised in the report Successful science: an evaluation
of science education in England 2007-10, published in January
1. How important are practical experiments
and field trips in science education?
The importance of practical work is summarised in
the first key finding of the Successful science report:
In the schools which showed clear improvement
in science subjects, key factors in promoting students' engagement,
learning and progress were more practical science lessons and
the development of the skills of scientific enquiry.
This importance is emphasised in the report's recommendations
Primary schools should ensure that pupils are
engaged in scientific enquiry, including practical work, and are
developing enquiry skills.
Secondary schools (and colleges) should ensure
that they use practical work and scientific enquiry as the key
stimulus to develop scientific knowledge, understanding and skills.
However, practical work needs to be well planned,
with clear learning objectives if students are to benefit from
it. In paragraphs 20-22 of the report, Her Majesty's Inspectors
(HMI) analyse what makes effective practical work. In the schools
visited where students' progress in science was no more than satisfactory,
the opportunities for them to design and carry out experiments
were limited; too much of the practical work was prescriptive,
with students merely following instructions. In the schools where
the highest standards were observed, students were involved in
planning and carrying out regular science investigations, so that
they understood the processes involved.
Two contrasting examples of practical work in science
are provided in paragraph 35 of the report. The first illustrates
how simply exposing students to practical work does not, in itself,
promote learning. The second illustrates some of the best practice
observed, where the teacher had very effectively prepared students
to generate their own questions, form hypotheses and plan and
carry out their own practical work. This example also demonstrates
how ICT can be used to enhance the analysis of data generated
by experimental work.
One section of the Successful science report
focuses specifically on features of outstanding teaching and learning,
and the case studies in paragraphs 93 and 95 deal particularly
with practical, experimental work. Another section of the report
indicates how satisfactory lessons can be improved, to make them
good; case studies relating specifically to practical work are
provided in paragraphs 101, 103, 104, 105 and 107.
Many schools organise one-day science-related trips
to science exploratories, museums and zoos etc. However, few organise
field trips that might involve exploration of the natural environment;
school grounds tend to be used for this area of learning. Few
schools organise science-related field trips that involve overnight
Inspectors report that enrichment and extra-curricular
activities generally had a positive impact on primary pupils'
attitudes to science (paragraph 49). The range of extra-curricular
activities seen in secondary schools was broader than that in
primary schools, but activities did not usually engage large numbers
of students (paragraph 56).
2. Are practical experiments in science lessons
and science field trips in decline?
There is no evidence from inspectors' visits to schools
that there is a decline in practical work carried out in science
lessons. In referring to the key issues from the previous triennial
science report (published in 2008), the Successful science
report comments that scientific enquiry continues to be at the
heart of the most successful science education. It also notes
that practical work has had a high profile in the last few years,
and that its importance has been widely recognised.
Ofsted has no evidence to indicate that there has
been a decline in science field trips.
3. What part do health and safety concerns
play in preventing pupils from performing practical experiments
in science lessons and going on field trips?
The evidence from specialist science visits is that
schools give good consideration to health and safety issues. Guidance
for schools generally places sensible restrictions on what they
can and cannot do in science.
There may be individual schools where health and
safety considerations have affected practical science work and
field trips. However, there is no evidence from the visits to
schools carried out by HMI that this is a widespread or serious
4. Do examination boards adequately recognise
practical experiments and trips?
This question could be interpreted in a number of
ways. In paragraph 20 of the Successful science report,
inspectors note that schools in which practical work was too prescriptive
were often influenced too much by the specific ways in which practical
work and scientific enquiry skills were assessed for GCSE and,
as a result, were less concerned with providing opportunities
for wider-ranging investigations.
27 May 2011
78 This publication is available at: www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/100034