Experiments make science more engaging, Ofsted says
Science lessons in England should be made more interesting with more experiments, education inspectors say.
Science standards are good or better in 75% of the schools visited by Ofsted, but there are recurring weaknesses.
Teaching can be weak where teachers lack knowledge and understanding. Many were too concerned with meeting narrow test requirements, Ofsted adds.
The government says it believes that all pupils should be able to experience the excitement of science in action.
The Ofsted report is based on visits to 90 primary and 105 secondary schools in England between 2004 and 2007.
It says the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the exams watchdog should broaden the test requirements in primary school and give greater focus to ensuring pupils understand how science works.
Ministers should also provide more funding to help teachers develop their knowledge and understanding of science.
Secondary schools should ensure that science is engaging and relevant to life in a technological age, the inspectors add.
Primary schools in particular should ensure teaching included enough focus on scientific enquiry and that the focus on tests did not detract from the breadth of the science curriculum.
Chief inspector Christine Gilbert said: "Science is a fascinating and exciting subject, yet for many pupils, it lacks appeal because of the way that it is taught.
"The most stimulating and engaging teaching and the best learning occur when science is brought to life and pupils are given the chance to conduct, record and evaluate their own investigations."
But according to Ofsted there is an over-reliance on worksheets and on telling pupils what to do rather than encouraging them to make their own decisions, inspectors say.
And sometimes pupils misunderstood key principles because their teachers did not understand them well enough to give a clear explanation.
Science teaching is at its best when pupils are encouraged to come up with their own ideas to record and plan their investigations, Ofsted says.
Schools where pupils' achievements are higher focused on developing their investigative skills, the report adds.
One pupil in a particularly successful school said she enjoyed science because she could do what she wanted - pupils were allowed to decide what and how to investigate.
Another boy said: "When we do practicals, it helps me understand better."
But in most lessons, teachers had high expectations and focused clearly on scientific enquiry.
Schools Minister Jim Knight said: "As the Ofsted report today shows there are some brilliant examples of schools bringing science to life. We want all schools to be working at this level.
"We have invested heavily in school buildings and there are now 6,600 new or improved science labs."
He added that £21.9bn was being invested in school buildings over the next three years, much of which could be targeted at improving science labs and facilities.
Ofsted inspects schools only in England, but the issue has already been taken up by the Scottish Parliament.
In April, ministers ordered an overhaul of the way science is taught in Scotland's schools to make it more relevant to the present day.
And education inspectors in Wales have also singled out science teaching as being in need of improvement.
A report last month said standards were lower in science than in almost all other subjects in secondary schools.