Praise for Welsh science teaching despite PISA outcomes

Written by: Greg Lewis | Published:

Inspectors have praised the quality of GCSE science teaching in Wales but called into question why PISA scores have been at odds with teacher assessment in recent years.

An investigation by Estyn inspectors praised teachers in key stage 4 for “strong subject knowledge” and the fact that they “develop pupils’ scientific knowledge and understanding well” by planning interesting lessons.

The inspectorate acknowledged that science is the highest attaining core subject in Wales and stated that girls consistently perform better than boys.

However, the inspectorate urged caution as it highlighted the fact that GCSE and teacher assessment outcomes contrast with the findings in PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) tests in Wales, and called on teachers to take heed of the PISA findings and the feedback from the latest report to inform planning for improvement.

The average PISA scores for science in Wales have declined every three years since 2006. A key factor in this decline has been the deterioration in the performance of the highest achieving pupils, the report concluded.

It also noted that a further anomaly with PISA was that there is no significant difference in the performance of boys and girls in science.

The report – Science at Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 – was drawn up at the request of education secretary Kirsty Williams.

The report will prove difficult reading for teachers of key stage 3 science as the inspectors concluded: “Pupils make good progress in their knowledge and understanding of science in many of the science lessons observed in key stage 4, but in only about half of the science lessons in key stage 3. The quality of teaching is better in key stage 4 lessons than in key stage 3.

“In key stage 3, teacher expectations of what pupils can achieve are often too low.”
Wales’ chief inspector Meilyr Rowlands, has now called on the Welsh government to recruit more science graduates into teaching to boost the subject further.

This is in light of the findings of the report which showed that there is a lack of applicants for science posts especially in Welsh-medium schools and when science staff are absent, many schools employ non-specialist supply teachers to cover.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the number of post-graduate science teachers being trained has fallen short of national targets over several years.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “Pioneer schools are developing new areas of learning and experience and Estyn’s findings on science at key stages 3 and 4 will support their work on developing the new curriculum.

“The education secretary has already announced the development of a National Network for Excellence in Science and Technology to boost practitioner professional learning in this key subject area.

“Our regional consortia are key partners in the network, and will be working to meet the development needs of our science teachers, in line with our programme of education reform.”


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