Teaching Science – evidence and best practice in the primary phase and KS3

by | Feb 3, 2023 | Curriculum, Leadership

Glynis Frater author of Primary Curriculum Design and Delivery which will be published in March talks about the latest report from OFSTED ‘Finding the Optimum: the science subject report’ into science teaching in schools in England.

Teaching Science

She will be hosting an important event Sequencing Science in the Primary Stage and Key Stage 3 on 26th April at the Royal Society of Chemistry in Piccadilly, London.

Teaching Science – evidence and best practice

Science is deemed a core subject within the National Curriculum and within the programmes of study from early years onwards. The depth and breadth of knowledge requires teachers to have high levels of science expertise and the ability to create accessible, rich and innovative approaches to learning in the classroom. OFSTED’s latest report into science and how it is planned and delivered ‘Finding the Optimum: the science subject report’ provides the basis for an opportunity to reflect on how to recognise best practice and then focus on how to create the right strategies for ensuring science is a pivotal subject in defining how to maintain the highest quality pedagogy and learning in science and across the wider curriculum.

The report is revealing in what it says about where there is evidence of where science teaching helped pupils to learn detailed and connected knowledge of the curriculum and remembered what they had learnt previously. They reveal how this is evidenced through strong leadership that saw the science curriculum as a path to success across a wider curriculum trajectory, building on prior learning, using effective recall and reflection and relating science to other subjects such as mathematics.

In the best cases leaders saw this path as provisional so that the curriculum could be refined and developed in ways that would improve it, year on year.

OFSTED (2023) Finding the Optimum: the science subject report

Substantive Knowledge and Disciplinary Knowledge

The programmes of study for key stage 1 and 2 are set out as individual years and define the knowledge that pupils are expected to know at the end of each year. In key stage 3 there is less prescription in relation to what will be taught in each year but there is a profound depth of content knowledge and the essential need to create the pedagogy where pupils work scientifically.

Knowledge for learning

OFSTED published a research review series in 2021 of which science was included. In this publication they used the terms substantive knowledge and disciplinary knowledge. Substantive knowledge is the factual knowledge of the mechanics of science, such as models, laws and theories. The second category is ‘disciplinary knowledge’, which is knowledge of the practices of science and the actions taken to gain knowledge such as enquiry, experimentation and practical procedures.

The findings of this most recent report reveal that evidence suggests that many schools in both the primary and secondary phases emphasise substantive knowledge over disciplinary knowledge. However, the emphasis within the programmes of study that pupils ‘work scientifically’ requires the recognition and inclusion for deep knowledge and how to use it which the report says is not always accentuated. They conclude that the focus in primary and KS3 is on simply selecting practical activities for pupils to complete.

The need for specific staff development to deepen the expertise in how teachers teach the curriculum is an issue especially in the primary phases and in KS3.

Very few teachers used approaches that were based on evidence or that were specific to science….few schools had developed a systematic plan of how to develop teachers’ knowledge of science and how to teach it.

Our findings suggest that there needs to be a much greater focus on developing teachers’ expertise in relation to specific areas of the science curriculum and engaging with science-specific research.

OFSTED (2023) Finding the Optimum: the science subject report

Recommendations the report makes in a nutshell

Capturing the imagination through science

The report is 47 pages long and takes a deep dive into curriculum, pedagogy and assessment as well as a focus on subject leadership. Here I will endeavour to provide a summary of the recommendations and provide a resource that you can use to assess the strengths of your science curriculum, how it is designed, defined in terms of the sequence of knowledge and delivered in relation to pedagogy, learning and assessment.

I have created a proforma for you to use as part of your current provision, what is working well and what you would like to develop and change as you plan for the next steps in developing your science curriculum and your plan for whole school, team and individual improvement.

If you would like a copy of the proforma use our Contact us page on our website and put in the message column Science Curriculum Proforma.

Remember to book your place for Sequencing Science in the Primary Stage and Key Stage 3 with me, Glynis on 26th April at the Royal Society of Chemistry in Piccadilly, London where I will share my considerable knowledge and enthusiasm for creating a seamless science curriculum that will ignite the passion for learning for all who have the privilege to work with science and with learning in these very special phases of education.

The recommendations in a nutshell

  • Focus on sequential knowledge that links what has already been taught and hopefully remembered with their planned learning as they progress to their next year, stage or phase
  • Create partnerships where subject leaders and teachers can work together to create a seamless curriculum offer that takes account of what has been taught in previous key stages or year groups
  • Ensure lesson planning creates opportunities for pupils to learn and remember key knowledge and how it connects with what they already know and their next steps in learning
  • Ensure that the curriculum identifies and sequences the disciplinary knowledge that pupils need to have to work scientifically
  • Make sure there are opportunities for pupils to take part in high quality practical work that has a clear purpose in relation to the curriculum
  • Create opportunities for cross-curricular collaboration to ensure that the science curriculum is planned to take account of what pupils learn in other subjects where it is science related
  • Ensure that teachers have planned carefully how they can support pupils to connect new learning to what pupils have already learned
  • Create opportunities for pupils to present their learning in different ways to help create the right conditions for pupils to remember and use their growing learning in different contexts
  • Check for misconceptions and misunderstandings and that pupils can remember scientific concepts and knowledge that are integral to their learning
  • Create opportunities for subject leaders and teachers to work together to share their understanding of different pedagogical approaches that may be relevant in the teaching of specific science content
  • Ensure assessment checks whether pupils remember the substantive and disciplinary knowledge they have learned in previous years or from previous topics
  • Ensure there is a rigorous approach to developing the science expertise of subject leaders, teachers and support staff involved in science curriculum development and teaching
  • Give pupils time to learn and remember what has been taught so that they develop increasingly sophisticated and connected scientific knowledge

If you would like a copy of the proforma use our Contact us page on our website and put in the message column Science Curriculum Proforma.

Join me, Glynis Frater, on 26th April at the Royal Society of Chemistry for a deep dive into the science curriculum in the primary phase and in key stage 3 and take away a wealth of deeply researched materials, have the opportunity to use interactive resources and build your knowledge of how to make sure your science curriculum delivers deep learning through high quality planning and pedagogy. Sequencing Science in the Primary Stage and KS3.

New Books


The book ‘Primary Curriculum Design and Delivery by Glynis Frater‘ has now been published.

Find Out More

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