Why practical work is vital - and not just in science

Roger Titcombe's picture

OfSTED published a major report into science teaching here.

They found that dull teaching - accompanied by a lack of practical work in the subject - was putting pupils off the subjects.

In some schools, not enough time had been set aside in the timetable for pupils to do practical work.

Girls, in particular, were likely to ditch physics - with only 11, 390 going on to do it in the sixth-form in 2011 despite 159, 745 getting two good GCSE passes in science.

In addition, a minority of secondary schools were 'pre-occupied with tests and examination results as ends in themselves' rather than aiming to improve pupils' deeper knowledge of the subject.

The report points out that getting good grades in science is not necessarily the same as "getting" science."

All this is true but the principles are general and relate to all learning. Practical work is not just necessary for developing 'practical skills' but for promoting cognitive development that spills over into all subjects and all learning. This is explained in my post here.

OfSTED are right that, 'getting good grades in science is not necessarily the same as "getting" science', but they omit to make the connection that this is true for all subjects. But you have to read between the lines to make the most important inference of all.

When league tables and floor targets drive teaching and learning then there are always far reaching adverse consequences with regard to pupil curiosity, morale, progression and deep learning. This applies to more than 'a minority of schools'.

Increasing diversity and competition in the school system creates just such perverse incentives and it therefore follows that the consequence is likely to be not just poor quality science teaching but a general decline in the cognitive ability of our school leavers.

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