The CBI is publishing new research showing the majority of primary teachers believe science has become less of a curriculum priority, with over a third of schools now providing less than the recommended two hours of science education a week.
In Tomorrow’s World, a new report with Brunel University London, the CBI reveals 53% of the 260 primary school teachers surveyed believe teaching science has become less of a priority over the past five years (32.5% say it has not changed, 14.5% say it is now more of a priority).
A third of teachers (33%) lack confidence when teaching science.
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62% want more professional development to build their confidence while 39% called for a science subject specialist within their school.
36% of schools teaching science at Key Stage 2 do not provide the minimum recommended two hours of science education each week. Only 20% are able to commit over three hours, while 7.5% of primary schools teach under one hour each week.
John Cridland, CBI director general, said: “Science education in schools is being squeezed out, with over half of teachers believing it has become less of a priority.
“How can we expect to inspire future generations of scientists and engineers if we don’t deliver high-quality and inspiring science lessons at primary school age? If we are not careful, too many children will have lost interest in science.
“Lack of STEM skills are already holding back economic growth and this will only get worse if we don’t energise the next generation. Pupils need innovative, fun lessons with access to the latest science kit and need to break free of the classroom to visit companies and universities.
“We must seriously tackle the persistent cultural problem of pigeonholing boys and girls into certain subjects and career paths. Schools have a big impact here, influencing not just pupils but also parents. The idea the education system is successfully inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers is fantasy.”
The CBI argues the situation has been mainly driven by the abolition of testing at Key Stage Two and not the real world skills future scientists, technicians and engineers need to master. Importantly, testing has been maintained for English and maths, and though we do not want a return to SATs for science, we must ensure science teaching in primary schools is highly valued.
The report also finds over 70% of primary school teachers want more support from business. Of those, three-quarters would find it helpful for businesses to offer use of their equipment and facilities. Over 60% would like support from companies in lesson delivery and arranged class visits.
Tomorrow’s World outlines a series of recommendations to overcome the challenges of boosting science in primary schools:
The UK and devolved Governments must set targets to have the best performing schools for science in Europe – and in the top five worldwide – by 2020. This should be underpinned by a new science education strategy – covering primary, secondary and tertiary education
Primary schools should ensure professional development for science is of a high standard and carried out regularly to build the confidence of primary teachers to deliver high-quality science lessons
Teachers should be encouraged to spend more time with businesses and universities to enhance their understanding of scientific theory and its practical applications
All primary schools should have a subject leader for science in place to drive forward the subject as a priority in each school
Businesses and universities must divert more of their outreach resources to primary schools and not focus purely on secondary. The new Careers and Enterprise Company in England should include primary in its remit and should be funded for the term of the next Parliament.
Professor Julia Buckingham, vice chancellor of Brunel University, says: “The report’s findings should be a wake-up call for everyone in government, business and education. None should be in any doubt of the critical importance of ensuring the education system inspires interest and enthusiasm for the sciences and provides careers advice and guidance as early as possible for students. It is vital to ensure educational and careers opportunities are not prematurely closed-off for young people.
“We are working to address the shortage of highly qualified STEM teachers, develop innovative approaches for the teaching of mathematics and launch the national STEM Outreach Centre for school students, demonstrates our commitment to playing an active part in promoting the teaching of STEM in Primary Schools.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary, National Association of Head Teachers says: “An understanding of science is needed to understand and thrive in the modern world. As the report makes clear, this learning is best begun early. Yet primary schools are constrained – by narrow accountability targets and the need for their teachers to be masters of all trades, teaching science with the same confidence they teach English, maths, history and sport.
“We should, as the report recommends, offer maximum support to primary schools and make sure we judge them fairly on a broad and balanced curriculum.”