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What does Ofsted's report, Finding the optimum, tell us and what can schools learn from it?

Updated: Feb 9

The simple answer to the first part of this question is that it confirms what we largely already knew.

  • Timetabling remains an issue with insufficient time being allocated to enable all the knowledge in the National Curriculum to be covered properly which seems to result in schools focusing on substantive knowledge, at the expense of disciplinary knowledge, and sometimes expecting pupils to learn more content than they are capable of in the time available.

  • The substantive knowledge in the National Curriculum is generally covered better than the disciplinary knowledge.

  • Progress has been made in ensuring that the vocabulary and experiences that children encounter in the EYFS are designed to prepare them for accessing the science curriculum in Year 1, but there is still more work to do.

  • Schools using thematic curriculums can have problems with sequencing the science curriculum appropriately.

  • Practical work is generally linked to curriculum objectives, but sometimes the objectives aren’t always made explicit, so pupils aren’t clear about what they are learning and sometimes they are being asked to learn too much at once.

  • Scientific vocabulary is carefully taught, on the whole, but sometimes pupils are taught more advanced vocabulary before they are secure in the foundational knowledge.

  • Teachers are establishing the prior knowledge their pupils may have of the topic they are about to teach, but they are not necessarily establishing whether they recall the learning from previous years that is linked to it or any misconceptions they may have.

  • There isn’t a lot of science-specific CPD offered by schools and what there is relies heavily on subject leaders who aren’t always given sufficient time to lead the subject.

  • Where subject leadership is strong, subject leaders have the time to monitor the implementation and impact of the curriculum and use what they find to develop the teaching of the subject and the school’s curriculum.

  • Children find it hard to recall what they have learnt in science which suggests that more time is required to consolidate their learning before moving on.

  • 'Ambitious’ curriculums risk:

    • limiting the time available for children to consolidate the foundational knowledge

    • disrupting the sequence of learning in Key Stage 3

    • teaching content that children do not necessarily have the foundational knowledge to access.

The picture the report presents will not reflect the reality of any individual school. Your school’s action plan for science should identify what your school is doing to develop its teaching of the subject which may, or may not, include some of the issues the report identifies.

What schools can learn from the report are the areas that Ofsted has identified as the most significant opportunities to improve the teaching of science in England at present. If they feature on your school’s action plan then, in future blogs, we’ll try to suggest ways that you might address them.


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