Annette Smith is the Chief Executive of The Association for Science Education (ASE).
A previous blog on this website followed the Royal Society “State of the Nation” report from last year, in which it was noted that only 5% of primary teachers have a significant science or mathematics background. The Royal Society advocates that every primary school in the UK has access to a science ‘specialist’ teacher which could require a tripling of existing primary science ‘specialists’, depending on how one defines a science specialist.
My own experience would indicate that there was (when I taught primary teachers) certainly a question of confidence in the teaching of science in initial teacher education. Without the confidence which comes with a sound background in science, primary teachers can avoid science or teach it without fully engaging the children. In reality, however, there are simply not enough science graduates going in to primary school teaching in this country to fulfil the desire for a science teacher in every primary school, if that is how one defines a specialist. There are other ways of securing excellent science teaching and learning in primary schools and of giving non-specialist teachers the confidence to take science to a higher level.
The Importance of Quality
Primary Science Quality Mark is designed, not as a tick box exercise, but as a deep, engaging, school-wide transformation project. The aim is to raise the profile of science across the school by firstly auditing the science teaching and learning in the school then making a commitment to raise the standard by taking part in professional development, reflecting on practice and taking part in special projects and activities. This whole school approach to improving science fits very well with the current thinking about science in primary schools and the approach has been recognised as valuable by OFSTED and other organisations.
An aspect of PSQM that cannot be ignored is the evident enjoyment that the schools and teachers derive from the project. This is vital if the improvements are to be sustained. The teachers taking part often set the project leaders an agreeable challenge in overloading the online system with evidence of their activity – this makes the compelling and essential task of reviewing the material quite difficult. Another important part of the project is the celebration of the achievement of the Mark, which has just taken place across England for around 200 schools. I presented certificates at the London event and it is clear that the award is valued highly by the schools taking part.
So this is one solution to raising the standard of science in primary schools, but it is at present at a relatively small scale. It does provide some useful pointers to the way forward, however, and there is capacity to expand.
A very useful feature of PSQM is the move away from the idea of a single specialist in science to making the subject a whole school commitment. This is an important point to consider when discussing the issue, as one specialist per school probably isn’t a sufficient condition to ensure that every child in primary school is taught science well.
PSQM is a joint project led by the Association for Science Education, the national network of Science Learning Centres, and Barnet Local Authority.
The team is now rolling out the Primary Science Quality Mark™ across England, an award scheme to develop and celebrate the quality of science teaching and learning in primary schools. Schools can achieve bronze, silver and gold awards.