Captain Cartwright’s ten killer questions to develop a high performing science department

by  Ed Walsh

Having had some minor part in the recent Science Learning Centre and Ofsted events last month, I was intrigued to be presenting sessions at the SS Great Britain in Bristol. Alas it wasn’t actually on board the boat (breakout sessions in the lifeboats?) but a great venue nevertheless.Brian Cartwright presents Maintaining Curiousity from Ofsted The key note was by Brian Cartwright, HMI’s Science Adviser. It turns out that Brian is no stranger to life on the water, being a keen narrow boat owner.

It wasn’t much later that our paths crossed again, this time at the Annual Science Adviser’s Conference. Although still very much pursuing the ideas behind ‘Maintaining Curiosity’ (and why not?) the presentation now referred to what to look for in a high performing science department.

Ten things to look for when deciding whether a good job is being done by a team of science teachers.

Any insights are Brian’s and any misrepresentations mine.

  1. Is the team being led to place enquiry at the heart of teaching? A school being good or outstanding overall doesn’t mean that this is necessarily in place. An over emphasis on teaching to the exam may lead to good grades but students disillusioned with the subject.
  2. Are students keen to engage with content as well as to develop skills?  The ‘process card’ can be over played: if dull content coverage is mixed with engaging practical work, students may enjoy the latter but not the former. Science has some great ideas and these should be shared effectively.
  3. Is assessment accurate and timely? In other words does it reflect what students need to be mastering and is it scheduled so that both they and teachers can respond to bring about improvements? The problem with end of topic tests is that they’re, well, at the end of the topic.
  4. Do lessons recognise and respond to prior learning? If some students already know a lot about how light is reflected, for example, does the teacher know that and has the lesson design been modified accordingly?
  5. Do lessons challenge students at the limit of their capabilities? Not beyond, but are they being stretched? Even the higher attaining ones.
  6. Do teachers understand the ‘big ideas’ in science and do they connect the detailed content of particular lessons to this overall perspective?
  7. How well are students mastering the skills that underpin the development of scientific understanding over time? For example, are they coming to appreciate the provisional nature of scientific knowledge and how earlier ideas are replaced in due course with more detailed ones?
  8. How regularly can students discover for themselves the relevance of the big ideas? For example, are they developing first hand experience of how to use these concepts as tools to use to make sense of the world?
  9. How well do leaders monitor and evaluate reasons why students follow certain routes post 16? Students who receive a well rounded education will be able to choose from a range of options and not everyone who did well in sciences at GCSE will go on to study those. You would expect that some would, that leaders would know and would have a response.
  10. How much time is allocated to science? There is sometimes an issue here, especially with Triple Science being ‘shoe horned’ into less time than would be a fair share. Usually the first victim is practical work and high attaining students may find that they are on a compressed content delivery programme. They may persist to the extent of securing reasonable grades but then ‘bail out’ from further study of science.

Compared with some of the forms being filled in that I’ve seen, a pretty concise set of pointers. Set to chart a fair course.

To help you implement some of Brian’s top ten actions, I’ve listed below some CPD activities for primary and secondary teachers which may come in useful.

Primary science courses

Preparing for the New Science Curriculum

Assessment and Progression in Primary Science

New and Aspiring Primary Science Specialist

Secondary science courses

Preparing for the New Secondary Science Curriculum

Progression and Attainment in Science

New and Aspiring Heads of Science

A robot called Dave enthuses budding engineers

By Gemma Taylor

This week’s National Women in Engineering Day has personal meaning, as engineering was the gateway through which I left home, went to university, made new friends, had new experiences, and ultimately learned that it was ok to be a girl, and enjoy making, breaking and finding out how things work. As an engineer, and now in my career as a secondary school engineering teacher, I have the privilege and the challenge, of ensuring that the message of today is an everyday experience for the girls in my school.  Dave the robot

Katie, one of my Year 9 engineering students said “engineering is great. I have always loved technology and making things in engineering teaches me more about this topic. It is amazing. Creating products that work is the greatest feeling ever. I am one of three girls in our engineering class and it is wonderful.”

With the current skills shortage in engineering and the wider STEM careers, it has never been more important for students to see apprentices, graduates and professionals working in industry. Whether it is face to face, a company led project, a factory tour, a talk from a visiting speaker, via social media or Skype, these experiences are readily accessible to students in our classrooms. With so much time being dedicated to assessments, marking, and ensuring the outcomes of students, it would be forgivable for teachers to let these experiences slip by. However the difference it makes to students like Katie, could be the catalyst to become tomorrow’s future engineer.

One of the many things we are doing at the National Science Learning Centre is developing ways to help teachers and industry work more closely together. This new scheme is called TIPS (Teacher Industry Partnership Scheme). We’re delighted to be working with CrossRail as one of our first partners. TIPS will benefit teachers by increasing their knowledge about STEM industries, and enable them to draw on authentic industrial examples to contextualise learning in the classroom. With initiatives such as this we’re aiming to help girls such as the ‘Katies’ in my class (and boys too!) continue with their enthusiasm for engineering at university and out into the wider world.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from teaching girls engineering, it’s that nothing engages students more than healthy competition…and a robot called Dave. For the third consecutive year I recently took a group of students to School’s Robot Wars at Bradford University. This year’s robot is the first to be designed and constructed with girls on the team, and unsurprisingly, it’s been the most successful robot we have ever built.

A different Katie (how confusing!) reported “We were given a speed controller and car batteries to control the motors which drove the robot forward and backwards. It was brilliant to make Dave work and in the end he came third which was better than our school had done in any other years. The trip out was awesome and engineering is the best subject ever!”

National Women in Engineering day shines a light on female engineers across the UK, inspiring young girls to think of engineering as a career that is not only open to them, but is also a career in which they can excel. I thoroughly support it!

Telling it like it is – the messages we need to be giving to girls (and boys) about careers in STEM.

By Yvonne Baker

Anyone who knows me for more than five minutes will work out there are three things I really can’t abide – hypocrisy, inconsistency and, more than anything else, feeling patronised. I’m sure I’m not wholly innocent of the first two – if I claimed as much, there would probably be a long line of family, friends and colleagues vying for position to put me right. As for the third, I guess it’s largely up to me what I feel about things, but all too often it’s difficult not to feel vaguely patronised, particularly when it comes to rooms of people talking about women and STEM.Woman working on computerized machine embroidery

That’s why I am so pleased to see more women coming out and telling a different narrative about their life working in STEM fields or studying STEM subjects; a positive and encouraging story of excitement, challenge, fun and achievement rather than the usual chain of issues, barriers, difficulties and setbacks. In this case, it’s Jennifer Purvis working at Lotus who was featured in The Guardian’s Women and Leadership pages on June 16 2014 . She talks engagingly about the excitement of her work and also the satisfaction of being part of a close knit and supportive, even if largely male, team – both things that I certainly experienced in my days working in chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing. She talks positively about encouraging girls to consider careers in engineering which is exactly what we need everyone to do, rather than too often feeding them mixed messages about wanting more girls to study physics and engineering but in the next breath detailing the difficulties that the job (or any job) might entail. Ah but – I hear you say – her father is also an engineer; yes, and we know family influences are important, but that simply demonstrates why we need to get our communication about the positives of engineering better and more effective. After all, what caring parent wants their child to embark on something that people tell them is potentially hostile and fraught with difficulty. No wonder so many children of engineers – male and female – become engineers themselves; they know what a great job it really is.

Certainly for myself and those women I know who have worked in engineering, we couldn’t agree more with Jennifer’s view that engineering is a great place to be. We all need to be communicating better to girls – and their teachers, parents and other influencers – the huge variety of opportunity, environments and activities that the simple word ‘engineering’ can mean. We need to do this honestly and without falling into the trap of trying to ‘feminise’ it in ways which are themselves stereotypical and patronising.

The reason I do the job I have now is that I genuinely want more young people – girls and boys – to understand what a fabulous springboard STEM subjects, such as engineering, can be. This doesn’t mean wanting a world full of engineers – heavens, what a thought! Rather it’s about conveying the excitement, potential, rewards and unbelievable range of opportunities to which a solid grounding in STEM can lead, within a ‘traditional’ STEM career, in emerging technologies or creating the technologies and jobs that don’ yet exist!

It’s great to see some of these messages being reflected in the new #YourLife campaign, and I hope this can provide some real impetus for the positive change we need. So let’s give more air time to Jennifer and others working in these environments who can inspire and engage through positive messages, and let the next generation see the exciting opportunities, rather than hypothetical disadvantages, ahead.

STEM teachers should also a look at our STEM Careers Conference which occurs every year in late June.

 

The Problem with Professional Development.

by Yvonne Baker

I sometimes wonder which profession really is the oldest. You have to say that engineering has a good claim – after all, you can argue that those who discovered the wheel kind of started civilisation off – while medicine probably has a reasonable shout. No doubt teaching is up Computer Engineerthere – someone had to work out quickly how to effectively pass on skills and knowledge to the next generation – while accountants and lawyers were a little later to the party, sitting quietly on the sidelines, taking it all in, working out how they could make a few quid.

Whatever order they arrived in, the key defining factor among these great professions is a lifelong commitment by its members to continuously improving their knowledge and skills, keeping up to date with developments in their fields and ensuring they remain ‘at the top of their game’. This commitment is usually encapsulated in three little letters – “CPD”, shorthand for Continuing Professional Development – so easy to trip off the tongue, but how often do we really consider what this is (or is not), and what does it mean?

A commitment to continuously develop

This is a topic currently close to my heart – both in terms of the ‘day job’ and as a member of the Engineering Council. Engineers, and those teaching young people about engineering and related STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), all operate in fast moving fields. It is often not only the technologies and applications of science that move on so quickly but also, on regular occasions, the underpinning science itself.

When those working in engineering become registered – as Chartered Engineers, Incorporated Engineers or Engineering Technicians – they agree to continually develop their skills and knowledge throughout their careers. Ensuring this happens is the role of the Engineering Institutions – whichever they have chosen as their professional home – and a new code of practice has just been agreed on how to ensure this happens.

For teaching, there is no doubt that the majority of teachers – and certainly those we have the pleasure to work with through the National Science Learning Centre and National STEM Centre – are equally committed to making sure they stay up to date in their chosen fields. After all, how can you effectively inspire and teach young people if you are not up to date with what’s new and exciting in science, technology or maths yourself? Some of these teachers have even taken the step of becoming a Chartered Science Teacher via the ASE, and others are ‘fellows’ of the Primary Science Teaching Trust – both of these recognise a commitment to professional excellence including on-going CPD.

At the same time, despite much discussion, there isn’t any immediate likelihood of a general system across England for ensuring all those teaching STEM have access, support and incentive to engage in regular subject-specific CPD. True, it is part of the Teachers’ Standards in England and the Ofsted framework; as Ofsted themselves point out in ‘Maintaining Curiosity’ – teachers’ engagement with subject-specific CPD has a positive correlation with the effectiveness of science in schools. However, we still have a way to go until this becomes a standard part of Ofsted’s conversation with heads, principals and governors, let alone a strategic discussion within many schools and colleges themselves.

Demonstrate the benefits of ongoing subject-specific CPD

So what is to be done? Firstly, perhaps we all need to be clearer on the benefits of encouraging teachers to engage. Evaluation shows that working with the Science Learning Partnerships or the National Science Learning Centre is not a costly luxury – rather it is something that brings benefits to teachers and young people that schools cannot afford to do without, including better achievement by young people and improved retention of staff. ENTHUSE Award bursaries are there to help make participation possible – thanks to the generosity of supporters including BP, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, there really is no reason for any school to not get involved.

Secondly, we need to be clear that professional development comes in many forms, and all have their place. It is great to see the growing emphasis on school-to-school support across the system and there is clearly much that teachers can learn from their colleagues in other schools as well as those with whom they work directly. We know that many of those who have benefited from working with the National Science Learning Centre, the National STEM Centre, the scientific societies and others spend significant time and effort passing on this ENTHUSE Celebration Awards eveningknowledge to their departments and neighbouring schools. We also know that there are many innovative teachers and schools who have plenty of ideas of their own to pass on. At the same time, it is folly to think that this means there is no place for ‘external support’ – great teachers, engineers, doctors, accountants and others know that without the input of different perspectives, expertise and views, they will not stay for long at the top of their game.

Thirdly, we need to ensure we recognise and celebrate those teachers, technicians and school and college leaders who ‘get it’ about making time and opportunity for STEM-specific professional development and, in doing so, make a massive contribution to young people across the UK. That’s why we are holding the second ENTHUSE Celebration Awards at the House of Commons later this month.

The problem with professional development is that, all too often, it can seem more like a chore than a pleasure, something that consumes time and money but gives little benefit. However, for all teachers it is vital and for those teaching STEM, it is of even more importance. We know how to make STEM-specific professional development effective, impactful and affordable – come and talk to us to find out more.

 

 

The strange allure of numbers

Ed Walsh

In ‘The Little Prince’, the children’s book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the prince visits an asteroid on which a businessman is engaged in the activity of counting the stars.  When questioned about the purpose of this, he is insistent that if only he can count them all then they will be his.  Putting a number to them grants control.  If tagged, they are owned.OfstedLogo

I remember in the mid 1980s going to a presentation by Professor Paul Black at the University of Cardiff.  He introduced us to the idea of numbered levels in the National Curriculum and the notion that such a taxonomy could be used as a way of categorising concepts and processes.  Certain concepts were more complex and would therefore be at a higher level.  A pupil mastering that concept might be at, say, Level 5 as opposed to a pupil who hadn’t and would, therefore, be at a lower level.

At the time it seemed pretty alien and certainly quite different from ways we had thought about progression previously.  We knew that some ideas were more complex than others and that you wouldn’t structure a teaching sequence with the most challenging ideas first.  However the idea of attaching a numbered scale seemed slightly odd.

Since then a lot of water has flowed under the bridge and we’ve mastered levels.  When it was announced that the system of tracking progress through the use of levels was to be dropped, the immediate cheer was closely followed by anxious thoughts of what would be used instead.  Some people even planned to ‘level’ the new programmes of study, so that putting a number on attainment could continue.  Why the enthusiasm?

I think that there are a number of reasons.  Some schools report that parents are keen to continue to receive information in such a way.  It’s not difficult to see why.  Everybody wants their child to do well and there’s security in a numbered scale.  If they were 4c last year and 4a now, they must therefore, be making progress.

There’s also the business of discerning the inspector’s agenda.  What will pass muster?  If a key performance indicator is the number of levels of progress and schools want to show that pupils part way through are ‘on track’, then assessing using levels is attractive.

There’s also the psychology of using a numbered scale.  Learning is actually quite an untidy business.  Pupils learn all kinds of things;

  • some quite thoroughly and others superficially
  • some they retain and some they don’t
  • some they can apply to other contexts and others seem to evade any such usage

Putting a number on it tidies it up – “he’s working at Level 4”.

We’ve learned a lot from levels and it’s important to understand what.  They’ve focused the mind upon steps in progression and that’s important.  Not using levels doesn’t mean pretending that some concepts and skills aren’t more challenging than others.  Teachers still need to know how to alter the level of challenge and how to recognise when something more challenging has been mastered.

I think what’s done it for levels is the ‘mash up’.  We gather evidence of attainment, sometimes quite a lot of it.  It goes in the blender and comes out as an aggregate.  We often do this with tests.  We line up a selection of statements of attainment from a range of levels, and set questions.  Pupils do the test, we mark it and allocate levels based on the score.  Pupils who get a lower score are deemed to have mastered the lower levels tested for and those with a higher score the higher levels as well.  Right?  Well, up to a point.  Sometimes pupils achieving a lower score haven’t necessarily picked up their marks on the questions based on the lower level attainment statements, but from all over the place.  They haven’t necessarily mastered the lower level statements in the same way that they haven’t failed to understand anything about the higher order statements.

Pupils tend to have a spiky profile.  Some things they may ‘get’ and other things, even though nominally at the same level, they don’t get.  As teachers we need to know this – it should inform our planning.

Assessing without levels doesn’t mean not testing, or not recognising higher or lower order outcomes.  It doesn’t mean not reporting to parents or not being accountable for pupils making progress.  What it means is avoiding the mash-up and retaining the spiky profile – because we need the fine detail.

So how do we sell this to Mr and Mrs Ofsted when they drop by for tea and biccies?  The National Science Learning Centre has been developing a CPD event with Ofsted based on the HMI triennial review of science ‘Maintaining Curiosity’.  A common comment from inspectors is that teachers do lots of assessment but then fail to act on it.  Teaching happens, irrespective of the evidence.  One of the sessions at the event is therefore going to be on ‘Assessment without levels’ and has had to be approved by Ofsted.  Key message? Don’t use levels, or anything that looks like levels.  Retain the granularity of assessment evidence.  Use it to inform teaching.

 

Creativity + Curiosity = Science

Yvonne Baker

There’s no question that the arts are at the heart of our culture; our music, literature and theatre provides variety and brightens our lives. NeuronsIndeed, if pushed, I would say music is my first love but I realised quite early on that, although technically able, I lack that key performance flair which distinguishes great from the everyday. However, I do feel that all too often, particularly perhaps in education, we allow the arts to monopolise the concept of creativity and forget that science too offers young people channels to really exercise their imaginations and creative talents.

This has never been so true as with the advent of new technologies and the Google and Apple ‘revolutions’. Where we once saw the arts and science as being largely separate entities on parallel paths, modern industry creates more crossover than ever before, especially in the world of technology. Design and technical wizardry combine for business success across a dazzling array of new products and business models.

Arts and Science are intertwined

In reality, arts and science have always been intertwined – where would the architect be without the civil engineers to ground their vision? Where would the latest ergonomic invention be without product designers to make it feasible and real? Science is at the heart of modern life, providing the wherewithal to realise artistic endeavour as well as technological advances – the investigative skills that we learn in school are the very building blocks on which this depends.

Engineers – for example – are hugely creative people, to the point where personally I think they should be renamed ‘professional problem solvers’ to reflect more accurately what they do. No one can provide you with a ‘recipe’ for engineering projects such as the Channel Tunnel, the Shard or creating a new medical device – you have to apply your knowledge in new and creative ways, taking calculated risks along the way and often coming up against obstacles before it finally works. Indeed, if you’ve been watching Masterchef recently, you will have recently seen Luke, the Robotics Engineer, whose approach to food illustrates perfectly how creative engineers are.

‘Ooh how did that happen?’

Yet we still have work to do to persuade parents, teachers and students that science is somewhere they can stretch their imaginations and exercise their creativity. Too often young people – and those around them – somehow think that science is all about finding the ‘right answer’ rather than the ‘ooh how did that happen?’ moment that has led to many discoveries over time. To compound this, it still seems lamentably acceptable within our society for people to say they ‘can’t do science or maths’ when it is so fundamental to how the world works.

I always sigh when, on the bus or train, I hear young girls (and it is often girls) discussing how they want to pursue arts subjects at school so they can ‘be creative’. Of course that is true but not exclusive to arts, and the good news is that increasing numbers of women are realising this. The Sunday Times reported recently on a big increase in women in construction roles and we know that more and more girls are pursuing science and maths as they understand better what exciting opportunities can result. What we still need however, is a major shift in attitudes so that everyone across society understands and talks about how creative science really is – then we really will be making progess.

For further reading I would also refer you to Karen Hornby’s blog on the National STEM Centre website “Don’t be bamboozled by the new secondary curriculum” which demonstrates how scientists use their creativity to solve real world problems on a daily basis.

If as a science teacher or technician you are looking for ways to develop your students creative skills in science we have a range of professional development  courses which will help you to develop creative thinking.

Primary:

Science and the Creative Arts

Running a Successful Science Club

Moving from Enquiry to Working Scientifically Outside the Classroom

Primary Science Annual Conference

Secondary:

Bringing Science to Life: CSI Forensics

Leading Change in the Secondary Curriculum

Differentiation: Challenging Able Students in Science

NQT Summer School

Teaching and Learning Conference

Science Technicians:

Technicians as Demonstrators

The Trouble with Practical Science

by Yvonne Baker

You may – or may not – have noticed a bit of a furore developing recently around practical science, or more specifically the Mentos Coke Bottle Science demonstration. National Science Learning Centre. York.assessment of it. For A level in England, Ofqual have announced that assessment of practical science will no longer be included in the final grading, with a separate pass/fail for defined practical techniques reported alongside.

Unsurprisingly, this has excited a range of science based organisations including the Wellcome Trust, the Royal Society, SCORE (Science Community Representing Education) and the CBI, all of whom have criticised the proposals, calling it a ‘backward step’ which will damage British science. On the other side of the debate, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, for example, says that current qualifications often do not provide the type of training and skills which employers need. A point which Ofqual says is part of their thinking in removing the shackles of practical assessment, resulting, they claim, in ‘more and better science practical work being carried out’. Most interestingly, a possibly surprising number of teachers and technicians also find themselves in agreement with Ofqual, citing formulaic, ‘correct answer’ practicals, which are not reflective of ‘real science’, as a reason for change.

Science is essentially a practical discipline

So what does this all mean? Science is, after all, essentially a practical discipline, as suggested by the phrase ‘practising scientists and engineers’ – so can we really teach, or prepare young people for potential careers using science effectively without assessing those skills? Conversely, when many scientific discoveries and innovations are actually a result of practical experiments or trials ‘going wrong’ (think of the story behind the ‘post-it’ note for example), are we giving young people the wrong impression of, and risk dampening their enthusiasm for, science if practicals themselves – and particularly assessment of those practicals – are seen to be ‘go/no go’ activities where young people need to get the answer ‘right’?

Practical science is important

To be clear, nobody – least of all Ofqual – is suggesting that practical science is not important. Ofqual and others believe that reducing the Isaac Asimov- Eureka wall quote National Science Learning Centre. Yorkburden of assessment means that teachers and schools will have the freedom to teach a wide range of practical skills in more creative and innovative ways, encouraging the ‘free thinking’ upon which science depends. Practical work also helps young people develop resilience, independence, resourcefulness, team work, communication, evaluation and risk assessment – all key employability skills. As Isaac Asimov said – and we have on the wall of the National Science Learning Centre – “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That’s funny…”. At the same time, in order to achieve all this, young people clearly need to be taught a good understanding – and practical experience – of a range of scientific techniques and methods, which enable them to approach projects and scientific investigations in a productive way.

So what to do? Well, I’m not about to wade into the murky waters of debating assessment here – plenty of my colleagues are better qualified to do this than me, and the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee recently held a session to do just that. No doubt the debate will continue; in the meantime, we need to work together as a community to ensure that those teaching science and other STEM subjects have access to sufficient high quality support, activities and ideas to provide every young person with appropriate and varied opportunities in practical science. This is precisely what Project ENTHUSE – supported by the Wellcome Trust, Department for Education, BAE Systems, BP, Rolls-Royce, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and others – does through the National Science Learning Centre, along with the wider network of Science Learning Partnerships across England and our partners in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Experiential professional development

Far from being ‘just courses’, our professional development work with teachers – and school and college technicians – is experiential, with a huge focus on participants’ own practical involvement as well as ensuring they can develop practical skills in young people in safe, engaging and, importantly, affordable, ways. Excellent practical facilities at the National Centre at York are coupled with local facilities and support through the 50 local Science Learning Partnerships, led by and working through outstanding schools and colleges, committed to and experienced in practical science (find your local Science Learning Partnership here). A coherent programme of support and professional development opportunities – with practical science embedded throughout – provides all those teaching and involved in science and other STEM subjects with pathways to develop confidence and ideas, and take these back into their classroom.

In addition, the National STEM Centre eLibrary contains a wealth of practical science and wider STEM resources among its quality assured 8,500 items – a search for ‘practical science’ returns more than 3,500 results, with the ability to focus using criteria including age group and subject. Our subject specialists have also pulled together a range of collections to help make it easier for teachers and others to find what is most relevant to and useful for them. This includes a range of excellent videos such as Demo:The Movie, highly recommended by the Guardian. The Centre is also planning new on-line demo support, including video tutorials, webinars and discussion groups, which will be launched soon.

As Mat Galvin, a teacher at Birley Learning Community in Sheffield puts it;

“Practical work should not be about getting the ‘right result’ but about developing true investigative skills. Through excellent, tailored National Science Learning Centre support, our team was able to think in more depth about the basic point of practical work in science lessons, and practical sessions were redesigned to be open-ended investigations rather than recipe following ‘plods’. With this new found focus, through a mixture of self-designed projects and National STEM Centre e-library resources, coursework marks have risen dramatically, students are regularly commenting that they enjoy the practical work more and even our local MP was impressed with the outcome of our catapult design competition! “

Wendy Thorburn RSci, a science technician at Kingdown School who has also worked with the National Science Learning Centre, adds;

“Students should have access to practicals as much as possible. Had it not been for the support of the Science Learning Centre and the resources you provide, myself and colleagues would not have been able to introduce the many new ideas that we have. This keeps things fresh, and not only us but also the teachers, and most importantly the students, interested and enthused.”

Across the UK, we have made significant progress in encouraging more young people to pursue STEM subjects over recent years, although more remains to be done. We believe that providing inspiring practical science for all pupils is crucial if we are to sustain and develop this progress, and this means convincing school and college leadership and governors, alongside policymakers, to give practical science the emphasis it deserves.

Teachers and technicians tell us that, when practical science is taught well, one of the most common phrases heard from young people is “I wish I could do this more often”. Similarly, most people working in STEM-related jobs will tell you that it is the practical nature of science which makes what they do special. Teaching science without good practical work is like teaching art without drawing – surely you wouldn’t do it? The fundamental issue therefore is – regardless of assessment – how do we ensure all young people get the varied, exciting and accurate practical experience of science that they need? That is precisely what we and many others will continue working to achieve.

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