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The Society of Biology welcomes the Ofsted Maintaining Curiosity report published on 21st November 2013. The report highlights the importance of enquiry-based learning in science, to allow students to develop their conceptual understanding and application of scientific ideas.

Ofsted’s surveys of 180 schools demonstrated that achievement in science is highest when pupils were involved in planning, carrying out and evaluating practical investigations.

Ofsted’s report highlighted some best practice which led to high standards of science education. Dr Mark Downs, chief executive of the Society of Biology, says: “It is clear that many schools have found ways to challenge and inspire their pupils. Many teachers maximised the benefits of their practical work by ensuring pupils had ownership of their experiments and by relating the practical work to the theory. Science is relevant to many aspects of our lives, and relating classroom learning to the world around them can really help to enthuse students.”

Despite this evidence for the benefits of practical and investigative work, evidence from SCORE shows that it is not adequately resourced in many state-funded primary and secondary schools. This will have a negative impact on the amount of inspiring practical work taking place in science lessons. It is also likely to limit opportunities for pupils to carry out individual investigations which are crucial to the development of independent learning. Benchmarks to help schools address poor resourcing have been developed by SCORE, Science Community Representing Education, of which Society of Biology is a partner.

The report found a ‘strong correlation between school’s provision of CPD for teaching science and overall effectiveness of science’, but also that many teachers do not receive such training.

Dr Downs says: “It is essential that that science teachers and leaders have real opportunities to access high quality, subject-specific CPD. Professional bodies and subject associations are well placed to provide this support for teachers, and the Society is currently expanding the free resources and training we offer.

The report also draws attention to impact of accountability measures on school practice.

Dr Downs said: “One extremely worrying finding from the surveys is a decline in perceived importance of science in primary schools since the removal of statutory tests. This decline is unacceptable – science is a core part of the National Curriculum and must be recognised as such. Whilst we do not advocate reintroduction of statutory science tests at key stage 2, it is essential to find other ways to ensure that science retains its place in the curriculum.” 

In addition, the report emphasises the need to ‘ensure that skills of scientific enquiry are assessed as an integral part’ of qualifications. The Society of Biology has serious concerns that the time frame for the current GCSE and A level reforms is not adequate to put appropriate arrangements for practical assessment in place. In addition, the proposal to assess and report practical work separately from the A level grade in the sciences is likely to have a diminutive effect on the amount of practical work undertaken in schools.

Dr Mark Downs says: “Proposals to alter A level grading so that students could fail their practical competence assessment and still achieve the highest grade in A level biology are unacceptable. Practical work is a core skill, and should be assessed as such.”