The power of the Primary Science Quality Mark

Jane Turner is PSQM programme leader and Associate Director of the Science Learning Centre East of England.

Attitudes to science are made in primary school; by the age of eleven most children have made up their mind about whether or not they like science[1]. That is why it is so important that young children experience science education of the highest quality while they are in primary school; science teaching and learning that enthuses and motivates them to carry on learning science, and equally importantly which develops the conceptual understanding of scientific ideas and the processes of enquiry that lie at the core of scientific understanding.

But for a number of years science in primary schools has been the Cinderella subject,  lagging behind English and maths in perceived importance and status, and consequently in curriculum time, budget allocation and teacher CPD.  Other subjects in danger of being side-lined such as Art, PE, Design Technology and Geography asserted their value through kite marking schemes, with various levels of sponsorship and support. However until 2008 no kite mark or award scheme existed to develop and celebrate the quality of science teaching and learning in primary schools.

Aware of this gap and of the impact of already established marks, a project was proposed by a partnership of the national network of Science Learning Centres, the Association for Science Education and Barnet Local Authority to pilot a Primary Science Quality Mark. The Wellcome Trust was approached for funding, and supported a two year pilot phase.  Following the success of this, the Trust awarded further funding to support the national roll out of the scheme in 2010.

Since then 600 primary, first and middle schools across the UK (including five British Forces schools in Germany and Cyprus) have achieved PSQM awards at either bronze, silver or gold levels. The award differs from other schemes in that an audit of current provision is the beginning, not the end of the process. It takes a year to achieve a Primary Science Quality Mark, a focused year during which subject leaders galvanise their colleagues, pupils, parents and governors to raise the profile and quality of science in their school. Supporting them to do this is their local expert PSQM hub leader, who offers professional development sessions, advice, support, feedback and encouragement. This overwhelmingly developmental model ensures that the final submission stage, when subject leaders write reflections on the impact of their leadership over the last year against each of the 12 PSQM criteria, often marks a milestone along a longer journey of growth in the profile and quality of science in their schools.

Every subject leader that has taken part in PSQM so far has reported a rise in the profile of science in their school, with colleagues, senior management and children and parents all gaining in confidence and awareness of the subject. One of this year’s awardees described a science fair at her school in these terms:  The best part was being able to stand back and watch everyone just get on with it. That’s when you know it’s something embedded, valued and owned by everybody.

But the impact of PSQM is not just self-reported. Ofsted recognised the value of the scheme in its first year, describing it as an important mechanism for bringing about improvement in primary science[2].  The Ofsted report also noted what Imran Khan called for in his rallying cry for a kite mark for science in secondary schools in the TES[3] earlier this year: evidence that strongly motivated professionals in science education can work with science-based industry and other agencies to promote higher standards in science education[4].

It can and has been done in primary schools; over 400 schools have already signed up, (and paid!) to work for and achieve a Primary Science Quality Mark Award in 2013. For more information go to www.psqm.org.uk

You can contact Jane at: j.turner@herts.ac.uk



[1] Royal Society. Taking a Leading Role. London: The Royal Society; 2006.

[2]January 2011 Ofsted Successful Science

[3] 15.04.12 Khan TES We need a Kitemark for science and maths

[4] January 2011 Ofsted Successful Science

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