Practical science in schools

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By Kirsty Younger

The Practical Work in Science study is nearing the end of its final year of data collection.

The study, funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation with a contribution from the Wellcome Trust, investigates how practical science in schools has been changing during a period of curriculum change and budgetary constraints.

Collecting data longitudinally over three years means that the CEM researchers are well-placed to investigate the impact of changes to the way that practical work in science is assessed in schools in England. Adding this to data collected from university staff and students is helping us evaluate how well school science is preparing young people for undergraduate study.

Response to the survey

We would like to say a big thank you to all the teachers and science technicians who have contributed to the research. Over 2,000 respondents from 1,220 schools and colleges in England and Scotland took part in the survey this year!

We were especially impressed with the response from science technicians: over 1,200 of you gave us feedback about your role and the resources and equipment for practical work in your school.

Twenty-four schools took part in focus groups this summer (seventeen of these had taken part in the study in all three years) and an additional 15 schools participated in telephone interviews.

All of this gives us a large sample of detailed qualitative data that we will analyse alongside our survey data to understand changes that have taken place over the past three years.

Practical Science in Universities

Another aspect of the research is what happens when students get to university.

Two further surveys for higher education are now closed.

  • staff teaching first year science laboratories and
  • students in their first year of a science degree

This year’s new undergraduates will be the first to have completed the practical endorsement as part of their A level assessment. Our research will look at how they and their tutors perceive their practical work skills, confidence and preparedness for practical work, compared with previous years.

What next?

The findings of the study will be published in 2018.

If you would like to be notified when the report is available, please contact us to be added to the mailing list for this purpose: