State-funded secondary schools have just 70 per cent of the equipment and materials considered essential to teach practical science.
Research for SCORE – the Science Community Representing Education – finds that the amounts schools are spending on practical science activities varies wildly.
In 2011/12, state secondaries spent as little as 75 pence per student and as much as £31.25, while independent schools spent between £7.18 and £83.21.
In secondary schools, nearly half of teachers said that they do not have enough funding for practical work.
The research also found that some state secondaries have shortages of commonplace equipment such as microscopes, eye protection and connecting leads for circuits, while some teachers said that they lack essential support from qualified technicians for practical work.
Elsewhere, 70 per cent of secondary schools admitted that staff had paid for items required for core curricular practical activities out of their own pocket and had not always been reimbursed.
The findings are based on research, surveys and school visits including 552 responses from 448 secondary schools and 6th form colleges.
Chair of SCORE, Professor Julia Buckingham, said: “Taking part in practical work is an integral and essential part of learning the sciences, but our findings indicate that teachers do not feel equipped to give their students the full learning experience. Practical work is being limited by missing equipment and a lack of access to appropriate facilities such as laboratories and outside space.”
Prof Buckingham, who is also vice-chancellor of Brunel University, added: “The extent of the variation (of spending) we have seen suggests a worrying inconsistency in the way funding is allocated both to and by schools.
“The evidence shows that, in many schools, practical science is a low priority when it comes to allocating budgets. Low resourcing for practical work is a long-term problem and not one that is a simple matter of lack of government funding. Schools must share part of the responsibility for allocating funding for this important aspect of science learning.”
To encourage teachers to make their case for funding, SCORE has published a set of benchmarks outlining the quantities and specifications for equipment and facilities that it considers reasonable.
SCORE is a collaboration of organisations, which aims to improve science education in UK schools. Members include the Association for Science Education, Institute of Physics, Royal Society, Royal Society of Chemistry, and Society of Biology.
SCORE’s research reports and the benchmarks are online at http://score-education.org/policy/curriculum/practical-work-in-science