We need to prioritise science in the primary school curriculum. Catching children’s interest and imagination when young will inspire more to study sciences beyond GCSE. Giving children a solid foundation of scientific principles and facts when they leave primary school will prepare them for success with secondary school science.
As well as a creative, explorative approach to science, the children need to learn scientific principles and facts and be tested on them. Scientific knowledge builds cumulatively. I have tutored secondary school science to children who do not have the basic foundations which are in the primary curriculum but were not committed to memory. It is very hard to paper over the cracks.
Tests need not necessarily be through reintroducing the science SATS, although this option should be explored. Children love taking quizzes – there are many on-line science sites using knowledge/ test formats that could be used, taking advantage of the increased number of devices available in schools as a legacy of on-line teaching this year. There are excellent on-line science animated videos, many only a couple of minutes long, which anyone could screen during a science lesson. These short videos are designed to help children understand underlying theories and learn the necessary facts. Anyone, of any level of scientific expertise, could screen them. Introducing them as homework will give parents the opportunity to learn more about how to support their children’s scientific education.
Primary school teacher training will need to be reviewed to ensure teachers have the confidence to teach the primary curriculum. Science specialist teaching assistants could be recruited to support staff. There could even be a specialist science teacher in every primary school or a group of primary schools. A level science students and STEM undergraduates could do work experience as volunteers at a local primary school, supporting class teachers in science lessons and helping run science clubs and on-line science sessions. Perhaps this element of “giving back” or “inspiring Britain’s future scientists” could be rewarded as a module within a science A level. For undergraduates, it would be useful for their CVs as well as possibly inspiring them to train as science teachers themselves.
At some level primary schools will need to be rewarded for their improved science education in a way that is reflected in the league tables and in Ofsted inspections. There could also be science prizes available borough-wide (I say borough-wide as schools compete with their neighbouring schools for pupils – that is how the league tables are used by parents). Schools could be encouraged to twin with local science-based industries or departments in local universities. They could be challenged to become “super scientists” schools. Their children could be tracked to their GCSE science results and these results included in the primary schools’ league tables or reflected in some other way to reward the scientific foundation built at primary level.
Perhaps there could be a “Britain’s Future Scientists” levy on our scientific industries that is fed into the science education of primary school children. But much of the above does not require extra funding. It requires energy, excitement and incentives to stimulate primary schools to inspire and educate Britain’s future scientists.