However, teachers’ assessment of science is not good enough in half of secondaries, according to Wales’s education inspectorate Estyn.
Its report on science in key stages 2 and 3 highlights shortcomings in the reliability and validity of teacher assessment. It concludes that a lack of clear assessment criteria and weak arrangements for external verification make it difficult to judge whether the outcomes of teacher assessment give a true account of standards.
Chief inspector Ann Keane said: “Inspectors found that pupils are generally well-motivated in science lessons. Science clubs and field trips offer interesting experiences that help pupils to achieve better standards. Young people who are involved in clubs or field trips are more likely to develop an interest in pursuing a career in science. The quality of teaching is a vital factor in raising standards further. The best teachers possess very good subject knowledge and understand how to capture and sustain pupils’ interest.”
Citing one example from the case studies in the report, Ms Keane said pupils from Cefn Saeson Comprehensive School in Neath learned about the ethics of cloning animals, in an engaging and interactive lesson which developed their scientific understanding as well as their critical-thinking.
She added: “Schools need to provide more challenging opportunities like this to stretch all pupils and have a key role to play in producing the next generation of Welsh scientists.”
The report found that in a majority of lessons more able pupils are not stretched enough and only a few pupils were able to pursue their own scientific interests.
Most teachers working in the same school will tend to share good practice in science teaching and learning, but very few of the schools surveyed establish links with other schools to share good practice more widely. Local authorities and regional consortia do not provide enough professional development or support and advice to science teachers.
The report added that learning experiences in science are planned well in the majority of the schools Estyn visited.
Estyn has recommended the Welsh government reviews the national curriculum to include more essential information, as its survey of schools revealed most still used the pre-2008 version of the subject orders for science to plan programmes of work. This is because the latest version provided less guidance.
The report also recommends that the Welsh government reviews the criteria used in teacher assessment and introduce an element of external moderation. The report states that schools should ensure their assessment and marking practices provide pupils with direct advice on how to improve their scientific understanding and skills.