Speed read: Ofsted’s advice for ‘high-quality’ science education

Ofsted has released the first instalment of its research review series designed to help teachers prioritise catch-up content by setting out the most helpful ways of securing progression.

The first one has been published today: a research review into what constitutes “high-quality” science, according to Ofsted.

These are some of the key pieces of advice:


1. Don’t overuse external assessment as it ‘narrows curriculum’

When preparing for assessment, Ofsted say a high-quality education should avoid “overuse of external assessment items” such as GCSE or A-level questions, as this “narrows the curriculum and leads to superficial progress that does not prepare pupils for study”.

Instead, pupils should regularly retrieve knowledge from memory “to help them remember and organise their knowledge”. This, it advises, should be coupled with feedback from the teacher.

Additionally, Ofsted warns that assessment should not be “overly burdensome of teachers’ time” in relation to marking, recording, or feedback. But both teachers and pupils should have “clarity” on what is being assessed.


2. Primary need at least one specialist science teacher

Ofsted states there should be “at least one teacher” in a primary school who specialises in science, and science leaders have dedicated leadership time.

As there are concerns in some primary schools science is being “squeezed out” of the curriculum, schools should ensure timetables allocate appropriate teaching time in science which reflects its status as a core subject.

Ofsted also advises that early-stage teachers have timetable which allow them to develop expertise in one science and do not give them “too many key stages to teach”.


3. Allocate time for pupils to embed knowledge

A high-quality science education should ensure “sufficient curriculum time is allocated for pupils to embed what they have learned in long-term memory”, Ofsted say.

This should be done through extensive practice before moving on to new content. The curriculum should also anticipate areas where pupils are “likely to hold misconceptions” and ensure these are “explicitly addressed” and that pupils learn the difference between misconception and scientific ideas.


4. Avoid separating disciplinary and substantive knowledge

Ofsted said there is a “risk that by categorising knowledge as either disciplinary or substantive in the curriculum, it is taught separately”. They warn this should be avoided.

Substantive knowledge focuses on products, such as the understanding that liquids expand when heated, while disciplinary knowledge focuses on the more practical aspect of science.

Ofsted say pupils should not be expected to acquire disciplinary knowledge simply by taking part in practical activities, but should be taught.

Additionally, scientific processes such as “observation, classification, or identifying variable” should be taught in relation to “specific substantive knowledge”.

The watchdog adds once disciplinary knowledge is introduced into the curriculum “it is used and developed in a range of substantive contexts”.


5. Progression takes account of other subjects

When organising knowledge within the science curriculum, schools should be aware of the “coherence within and between scientific disciplines”,  such as that between maths and physics.

Planning for progression should take account what is taught in other subjects, and differences should be made explicit to pupils and teachers, Ofsted say.


6. Online resources match curriculum

When using online resources, schools should ensure they match “what the curriculum is intending pupils to learn” and are not a source or errors or misconceptions.

The inspectorate states that high-quality textbooks are also an important resource for teaching science.

Ofsted also states that if science kits are used as a resource they must “help achieve the curriculum intent”.


7. Teaching accounts for pupils’ ‘limited working-memory capacity’

The watchdog advises that teaching in a high-quality curriculum takes account of the “limited working memory capacity” of pupils when planning lessons.

It also states pupils should not be expected to arrive at scientific explanations by themselves without sufficient prior knowledge.

In early years and primary classrooms, pupils should have “regular opportunities” to learn vocabulary through story and non-fictions books as well as through rhymes, songs and oral rehearsal.



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