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“Science education in primary schools is being squeezed out”

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In Tomorrow’s World, a report co-authored by Brunel University London, the CBI revealed that the majority of primary teachers believe science has become less of a curriculum priority over the past five years.

Some 36 per cent of schools teaching science at Key Stage 2 do not provide the minimum recommended two hours of science education each week. Only 20 per cent are able to commit over three hours.

John Cridland, CBI director-general, said: “Science education in primary schools is being squeezed out, with over half of teachers believing it has become less of a priority with too many schools struggling to teach the recommended two hours every week.

“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 before they hit their teens.

“Pupils need innovative, fun lessons with access to the latest science kits and need to break free of the classroom more to visit cutting-edge companies and universities.

“We must also seriously tackle the persistent cultural problem of pigeon-holing boys and girls into certain subjects and career paths. Schools can have a big impact here, influencing not just pupils but also parents.

“The idea that the education system is successfully inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers is fantasy.”

The situation has been mainly driven by the abolition of testing at Key Stage Two and “the upshot of a system obsessed with exam results, 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 that science teaching in primary schools is highly valued.

Read more on addressing the skills gap:

It was also finds that over 70 per cent 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 per cent would like support from companies in lesson delivery and arranged class visits.

The UK must set targets to have the best performing schools for science in Europe – and in the top five worldwide – by 2020,” the report suggested. “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.”

Furthermore, the CBI called for businesses and universities to divert more of their outreach resources to primary schools and not focus purely on secondary. 

Professor Julia Buckingham, vice chancellor and president of Brunel University London, said: “STEM subjects have become less of a priority in primary schools in recent years. This should be a wake-up call for everyone in government, business and education. None of us should be in any doubt of the critical importance of ensuring that the education system inspires interest and enthusiasm for the sciences and provides careers advice and guidance as early as possible for school students. Not only does the nation’s prosperity depend on this, it is also vital to ensure that educational and careers opportunities are not prematurely closed-off for young people.”

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