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What does Ofsted's report, Finding the optimum, tell us about the leadership of primary science?

Updated: Feb 9

“Create a systematic and continuous approach to developing the science expertise of staff and leaders. This should align with the school’s curriculum and take account of any specific needs and expertise.”

The report indicates that there is “limited science-specific CPD taking place in most primary schools”. Where schools are providing it, they report that it is generally focused on teaching the working scientifically skills. This suggests that these schools are already aware that the teaching of the disciplinary knowledge is an area for development, as Ofsted have recorded in its report.

To achieve the systematic and continuous approach to developing the science expertise of staff and leaders recommended by Ofsted, schools need to make the link between the outcomes of the monitoring of science and the school’s action plan for the subject. If monitoring identifies school-wide issues, then all staff CPD might be the appropriate response. If it is the expertise of individual teachers, then the subject leader might provide one or more of the following:

  • planning support

  • team teaching

  • sign posting to subject knowledge CPD

  • external courses

  • support cmdwith assessment.

Having said that, it is important to recognise that the report also records that “not all subject leaders had access to dedicated leadership time and subject leadership training. This is a concern, given their central role in ensuring good-quality teaching.” Where this is the case, it is going to be challenging for schools to develop the approach Ofsted are looking for. Where possible, schools need to provide dedicated time for their subject leader to:

  • develop their expertise in science subject leadership

  • develop their capability in designing the school’s curriculum and monitoring its implementation

  • develop CPD to meet the needs of their colleagues

  • review and revise the curriculum based on what they learn through monitoring and assessment.

For small schools this is likely to be challenging but, without dedicated time being allocated to subject leadership, it is difficult to develop and implement an action plan to improve the teaching of science.

“Ensure that the science curriculum is planned to take account of what pupils learn, particularly in mathematics.”

It makes sense to consider where the working scientifically skills depend on learning that features in the maths curriculum and ensuring that, where possible, these dependencies are taken account of in the sequencing of both curriculums i.e. try to make sure that the mathematical knowledge is taught and learnt before it is applied in science as part of working scientifically. Aside from the obvious benefit of avoiding the risk of disrupting the sequence of learning in maths, it frees up time in science for pupils to focus on learning to work scientifically, rather than learn maths.

The report also notes that “In some schools, leaders had explicitly designed the curriculum to take account of what pupils had learned in other subject areas… This provided opportunities for pupils to consolidate their knowledge.” In addition to this benefit, in circumstances where the time dedicated to science in the school timetable may be less than ideal, it also presents an opportunity to increase the time for science. Our Science: Making Links to the Foundation Subjects looks at some of these opportunities and may help schools who wish to develop their curriculum in this way.


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