Literacy strongest predictor of science grades

A new report on socioeconomic status (SES) and science learning has found literacy is “the strongest and most consistent predictor of pupils’ scientific attainment”.

Reading and writing skills are particularly important for helping pupils to understand scientific vocabulary and prepare their own scientific reports, according to the research from the University of Oxford.

The Education Endowment Fund, which commissioned the report together with the Royal Society, will use the findings to inform guidance on science teaching, due to be published in spring 2018.

Commenting on the research, Diane Murphy, founder of literacy consultancy Thinking Reading, told Schools Week: “Addressing literacy is key to achieving genuine social justice – such skills are gatekeepers for access to wider knowledge.

“These findings are very encouraging as it suggests that if we successfully address reasoning and comprehension skills, we can overcome any disadvantage due to SES.”

Building on the report’s findings, Marianne Cutler, director, curriculum innovation at the Association of Science Education, said while literacy skills were important, they shouldn’t overshadow scientific approaches.

ASE’s own research, she said, found primary teachers “often do not focus on providing feedback in pupils books (and elsewhere) on working scientifically but rather on English literacy skills”.

She suggested it could be beneficial for primary school teachers to look at joining up to two skill sets.

The Wellcome Trust has also commissioned a ‘state of the nation’ report on UK primary science education, which was produced this month by the University of Manchester and CFE Research.

The extensive report found only half of all science leaders in primary schools received release time to carry out their responsibilities, unlike leaders in English or maths who got more.

Regular science meeting were also found to be unusual, suggesting arrangements for supporting science teaching in schools tended to be “informal” and “adhoc”.

And just over a fifth (21 per cent) of pupils’ in the study described science as “boring”, while 44 per cent felt “you need to be clever to do science”.

The research involved telephone interview of 902 science leaders, an online survey of 1,010 teachers and an online survey of 1,906 pupils (aged 7-11).

In light of the findings, the Wellcome Trust is launching a tool for primary school teachers called ‘Explorify’, as part a wider primary science campaign.

The scheme will involve a free resource of creative science activities available to all primary school teachers, designed with the aim of encouraging discussion and debate and helping to make science education at primary level “exciting, inspiring and relevant”.

The Wellcome Trust will evaluate this campaign to examine what impact it has had on the quality and quantity of science teaching.