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Science is being squeezed out of primary schools

Science is being squeezed out of primary school education, according to more than half of the teachers surveyed in a report by Brunel University London.

In the new report, co-authored by leading business lobbying organisation CBI, 53% of the 260 primary school teachers surveyed said teaching science has become less of a priority in the past five years.

Meanwhile, a third of teachers (33%) felt they lacked confidence when teaching science, and 62% want more professional development to build it.

More than a third (36%) of surveyed schools teaching science at Key Stage 2 don’t provide the minimum recommended two hours of science education each week.

Professor Julia Buckingham, Vice Chancellor and President of Brunel University London, said: “The report’s findings – indicating that STEM subjects have become less of a priority in Primary Schools in recent years – 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 to young people. 

“The work we are doing at Brunel University London 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. 

“We are clear that it is our responsibility to work with schools in advancing this agenda and that business has a vital role to play as well. The scale of the challenge requires that we must all work together.”

The report, called 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.

John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said:“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.

“A lack of science, technology, engineering and maths 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 more to visit cutting-edge companies and universities.”