Science experiments ‘axed in favour of exam preparation’

Traditional science experiments are being pushed to “the margins” in schools because of the pressure to achieve good exam results, Government advisers have warned. This is from the Telegraph

Schools are dropping practical laboratory work – seen as the “essence of science” – in favour of drilling pupils to pass GCSEs and A-levels, it was claimed.

The Council for Science and Technology – the Prime Minister’s independent advisory group on science – warned that many teenagers were “poorly equipped” for the demands of university after failing to get enough hands-on experience at school.

In a letter to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, experts suggested that schools were prioritising worksheets and textbooks over the use of Bunsen burners, circuit boards, microscopes and lasers.

The group cited a report that warned that science without practical work was “like studying literature without reading books”, claiming there had been a steady erosion of school laboratory projects over the last 20 years.

It called on the Government to use forthcoming reforms of GCSEs and A-levels to reinstate the importance of practical experimentation.

The comments follow the publication of research earlier this year that found teachers lacked many of the necessary tools for lab work because schools invested significant chunks of the science budget on photocopying and worksheets.

Secondary teachers lacked around a third of necessary resources, including microscopes, eye protection, connecting leads for circuits and essential support from qualified technicians, it emerged.

The letter said: “Practical laboratory work is the essence of science and should be at the heart of science learning.

“By international standards, England’s schools are well provided for school laboratory facilities, but we are concerned that the pressures to perform in public examinations – especially GCSE and A-level – are pushing inspiring practical work into the margins as teachers concentrate on preparing for examinations.”

More at:  Science experiments ‘axed in favour of exam preparation’

Has your school cut pack on practicals in science? What reason is behind this and what impact do you think it is having? Please share in the comments or on twitter… 

Parents’ fury as school sends out wrong GCSE results
Teach children how to grow food, urges chef Raymond Blanc
Categories: Secondary.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove The final paragraph of this article hits the nail squarely on the head – pressure from Ofsted and govt for results to blame

  2. BarryNSmith79

    MaryMyatt SchoolsImprove do kids actually learn much science in experiments? Would an expertly analyzed demo give better learning return?

  3. BarryNSmith79

    MaryMyatt SchoolsImprove I’ve seen lots of science lessons where lots of time seemed to be wasted & where lots of kids not really involved

  4. BarryNSmith79

    MaryMyatt SchoolsImprove I wonder about what science they remember? Isn’t the real issue how can we max memory & science understanding?

  5. chemDrK

    BarryNSmith79 MaryMyatt SchoolsImprove You could say that about ANY activity in any lesson! It depends on how it’s taught/ run

  6. BarryNSmith79

    MaryMyatt I don’t know. I’m questioning the need. I’d be v interested to know more. What’s learning impact of experiments?

  7. chemDrK

    BarryNSmith79 MaryMyatt SchoolsImprove What do you think science is,if it’s not about prac skills as well as concepts? It’s not ALL ideas

  8. BarryNSmith79

    MaryMyatt or another example if ‘group work’ being invariably unmanageable & offering poor learning return in time invested

  9. chemDrK

    BarryNSmith79 MaryMyatt Totally depends on how pracs are used. Discovery vs illustration etc Discovery ideal. But not necessarily always

  10. chemDrK

    BarryNSmith79 MaryMyatt So just give up? Never do group work? What about it pupils work individually in pracs? Would that allay fears?

  11. BarryNSmith79

    MaryMyatt lack of carefully considered systematic subject specific routines are a blight in many lessons in my experience

  12. BarryNSmith79

    chemDrK MaryMyatt SchoolsImprove agree. But trying to get to issue: experiments what’s return? What’s opportunity cost?

  13. BarryNSmith79

    chemDrK MaryMyatt SchoolsImprove I’m questioning use of lesson time with pupils 11-16. What would max science understanding?

  14. BarryNSmith79

    chemDrK MaryMyatt my question: how can we ensure max learning for max no. pupils? Group work is not end in itself. Impact of activity key

  15. chemDrK

    BarryNSmith79 MaryMyatt Now that’s a fair Q. It’s not always. But that’s also the point. Pracs can/should be used for variety of purposes

  16. BarryNSmith79

    chemDrK MaryMyatt individual experiments? Interesting. Possible logistically? Good learning return on time invested?

  17. chemDrK

    BarryNSmith79 MaryMyatt I agree they shouldn’t just be used as a “filler”, and you need to know *why* pupils are doing something

  18. chemDrK

    BarryNSmith79 MaryMyatt engagement/ hooks can’t be written off and have their place, but shouldn’t be only reason to do pracs

  19. chemDrK

    BarryNSmith79 MaryMyatt Yes. But I’m also not sure my 32 Y11s would’ve taken in more from watching one teacher (me) to an expert demo!

  20. BarryNSmith79

    MaryMyatt chemDrK and if teachers currently unable to run effectively organized experiments? Do experiments anyway? Effective use of time?

  21. chemDrK

    BarryNSmith79 MaryMyatt Sometimes. Not at other times. Not a cop-out. Just the reality. eg. can do microscale expts, or split class up etc

  22. chemDrK

    BarryNSmith79 MaryMyatt Again, couldn’t you say this about any activity? I’ve seen textbooks used badly, but I wouldn’t do away with them!

  23. BarryNSmith79

    chemDrK MaryMyatt questioning time employed & learning impact. Obviously in well run class with excellent behaviour & slick routines..

  24. chemDrK

    BarryNSmith79 MaryMyatt Anyway.Sorry to run off now 🙂 Find this interesting,but got to get kids dressed!Will be interested to read later

  25. BarryNSmith79

    chemDrK MaryMyatt I don’t see employed as filler. More ‘but I’ve got to do them’ from teacher. When teacher should question:kids learning?

  26. BarryNSmith79

    chemDrK MaryMyatt agreed. However some teachers at stage where can handle reading/writing/discussion but not next stage pair/group

  27. BarryNSmith79

    chemDrK MaryMyatt worry teachers launch into pair/group activities deifying the activity above the learning. Often ‘but I’ve got to!’

  28. Organic_Jane

    SchoolsImprove Gove thinks he is Umbridge from Harry Potter! DfE is living in fantasy land. Sadly it is the children who will loose out.

  29. keithrjones

    SchoolsImprove Ironically, the main photo in the original article (no goggles) suggests some science teachers lack competence to do prac?!

  30. thebeandoctor

    BarryNSmith79 SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt Then A level/degree arrives – and the kid has no idea how to work a lab! Some prac essential, imo

  31. BarryNSmith79

    thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt would it be more effective to start focused experiments with v motivated well behaved 6th form?

  32. thebeandoctor

    BarryNSmith79 SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt Better to tackle the behaviour so it’s good enough for ALL to join in some prac work. Sadly…

  33. BarryNSmith79

    thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt but given that often behaviour not tackled effectively asking whether experiments offer good roi

  34. thebeandoctor

    BarryNSmith79 SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt If sci is taught v practically, you foster the “place of work, behave so safe” mentality so…

  35. BarryNSmith79

    thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt this is what concerns me. Behaviour not tackled but teachers attempt activities that descend chaos

  36. thebeandoctor

    BarryNSmith79 SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt …it actually helps improve the behaviour! Well…it CAN anyway – not saying it’s automatic!

  37. BarryNSmith79

    thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt my angle: need sort out basics of behaviour management & routines to max learning

  38. BarryNSmith79

    thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt need to question accepted wisdom re: what’s necessary/most effective

  39. BarryNSmith79

    thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt nothing’s automatic. Success is never by chance. By considered consistent choices

  40. thebeandoctor

    BarryNSmith79 SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt Agreed. As a former “real” scientist though I want to help my students be able to DO it too!

  41. JackDLewis

    SchoolsImprove Practicals are of little help when answering exam questions. Just learning the theory is enough. Plus Practicals are ££££.

  42. leftferret

    BarryNSmith79 thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt Making the lessons practical and relevant goes a long way to help behaviour

  43. BarryNSmith79

    thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt wonder if similarly Mfl speak/listen should be focus post gcse. 7-11 Read/write/memory focus

  44. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt not convinced. ‘Relevant’ v hard to define. ‘Practical’ similarly

  45. ChrisChivers2

    thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove BarryNSmith79 MaryMyatt Year one chn can do “fair testing” science experiments. We need enquiry skills.

  46. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt really depends on established behaviour norms. If kids simply don’t listen need basics

  47. Ingotian

    BarryNSmith79 thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt When I was a HOD Sc, practicals promoted good learning AND therefore gd behaviour,

  48. BarryNSmith79

    Ingotian thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt interests me. I’ve seen lots science lessons. Rarely seen highly focused experiments

  49. BarryNSmith79

    Ingotian thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt ground rules for ensuring experiments don’t descend into chaos must be explicit

  50. leftferret

    BarryNSmith79 thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt Try it –children learn thro doing – not by being told-lecturing is not teaching –

  51. leftferret

    BarryNSmith79 thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt Children behave when they are interested – children are not “norms”

  52. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt absolutely learn thru doing. See teachers job as telling them how to do it well.

  53. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt our subject expertise means we can pre-empt common errors, they learn quickly

  54. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt some children behave better if interested. Teacher’s role to transmit knowledge

  55. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt teacher role to show kids: perseverance leads to success. Reap what sow

  56. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt there are always accepted ‘norms’ of behaviour. Some encourage learning. Some don’t

  57. leftferret

    BarryNSmith79 t Ahh the teacher as conduit theory — nah don`t believe that. Suppose you fill them with knowlege – how kind

  58. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret absolutely fill them with knowledge. They then practise lots. My knowledge becomes theirs. Kind? Never thought of it as kind

  59. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt not a perspective I agree with. Eventually perhaps. When very accomplished

  60. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt big fan of kids listening, practising, asking where unsure, teacher honing teaching

  61. leftferret

    BarryNSmith79 No -a teacher leads to knowledge and allowsexploration- they will live in a diff world to us – can`t turn them into mini-mes

  62. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret mini me? No. But neither am I proposing that they reinvent French language. If I can show them how to succeed why wouldn’t I?

  63. leftferret

    BarryNSmith79 Crap — they are not machines and hopefully neither are their teachers – tis not ed is instruction

  64. leftferret

    BarryNSmith79 Because they need to discover too – if teaching french should you not immerse them in language in order that they think

  65. leftferret

    BarryNSmith79 thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt They explore — discover – discuss – debate and design their own way of learning

  66. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret immerse is an interesting word. 2hrs per week not immersion. But can encourage rapid progress thru expert teaching

  67. JackDLewis

    terryfish SchoolsImprove Of course. It is easier to moderate exams and easier to grade exams, hence I’m not surprised its exam based.

  68. leftferret

    BarryNSmith79 teachers join in – encourage and praise help and occassionally direct if they are lost.They set up and set aims and targets

  69. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret they think as they practise. Impossible not to. But first they build on teacher’s input. What point of subject expert otherwise?

  70. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret thebeandoctor SchoolsImprove MaryMyatt I speak language to high level, I’ve taught thousands of kids, my input useful?

  71. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret temporary expertise? I’m not suggesting they’re experts. I’m suggesting they learn from expert teacher.

  72. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret 2 hours per week in class of 30 different. Lots of exposure key to lang learning. Not scenario at school

  73. leftferret

    BarryNSmith79 try doing that in group work -you are widening education to include negotiation and debate. Useful gifts in the real world

  74. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret partner? Certainly can only take a horse to water. When kid feels accomplished, enjoys subject, prospect of success

  75. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret of course dint want to lie to kid & dumb down. Rather pitch high & teach effectively to accelerate progress, build morale

  76. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret isn’t adult works bully more on being personally responsible, persevering in face if challenge?

  77. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret at what point will they reinvent the language? What is there to debate re: grammar? It’s right or wrong

  78. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret I can teach them to identify recurring patterns to deconstruct & revinstruct. Give opps to practise lots so becomes automatic

  79. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret do adults routinely work in groups to solve problems cooperatively with no one person responsible?

  80. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret so generally pretty much every word they have comes from teacher. There’ll may be some background knowledge. Not lots

  81. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret I’ve never come across that. I’ve encountered meetings where people report what they have fine/intend to do/or accusations made

  82. leftferret

    BarryNSmith79 Sad — education is so narrowing – as an employer I would prefer it to be wider – and far more flexible and not spoon fed

  83. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret an ability to work with others is enhanced when we know how to listen, have good manners, reflect before calling out. Like that

  84. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret obviously kids will bring more background knowlege depending in their experience & the subject. Sad? Fact of life

  85. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret spoon fed? Not term I use. Listen, practise, make knowlege your own, build on it daily. Feel accomplished. Learn to focus

  86. BarryNSmith79

    leftferret determination essential. Their questions on how to improve I welcome. Opinions? Not really sure where fits in

Let us know what you think...