The Draft Primary Curriculum for Science – Thoughts about Working Scientifically (proposed title) or Scientific Enquiry (old name)


The draft curriculum includes much that looks familiar in the area of working scientifically. There are one or two omissions which I will deal with later but the main difference is that it puts a very strong emphasis on one aspect – namely that it ‘is not to be taught separately’ and that all of it ‘must be delivered through substantive subject content’. This is worrying on two counts.

First it seems that it will no longer be possible to have a lesson teaching children the skills of science before they apply them in an investigation. For example you couldn’t teach children how to draw a bar chart or measure using a thermometer or recognise what makes a good explanation because there would be no substantive science content. However, as all of us who have ever taught in a primary school know, it is impossible to teach these skills when the investigation is going on if you and the children wish to stay sane. There is too much else happening with groups buzzing round, collecting equipment, recording what is happening, puzzling things out together, having problems and finding solutions. I have never yet met a primary teacher who says ‘One thing I know about those science lessons – they are so peaceful that I always have plenty of time to visit every group and teach them any skills they want to learn!’  It is a bit like saying that children are going to pick up how to put in inverted commas into text without ever having a lesson dedicated to what they are, what they do and how to use them.

Second, the phrase ‘must be delivered through substantive subject content’ is likely to make teachers think that they have to do practical work for the sole purpose of showing children that a particular bit of knowledge is a true fact. This feels like a return to the stultifying days of the confirmatory experiment where children dutifully used equipment to follow a prescribed route though to a known outcome. It was the kind of practical work that was started by the line in a science exercise book – ‘Experiment to prove …’ The problem with this kind of approach is that very little thinking is required by the children – they simply follow the steps given to them and even are told what the evidence tells them. Contrast this with the kind of practical work where children ask a good question in a relevant area of study arising from their own curiosity, devise their own plan making adjustments where necessary, collect their evidence and then decide what it tells them and how much trust they should have in their results. The thinking element is vastly more in the second scenario than the first and I can’t imagine that this government wants to reduce the demand on children’s thinking. Whilst it is important that all investigative work should lead towards further understanding of science, this wording doesn’t encourage teachers to let children be independent and to follow their own ideas even if they lead to scientific dead ends. Children need a chance to say ‘ .. I know it can’t behave like that because I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work’. If all their practicals have to lead to substantive science knowledge then the chance to go wrong and learn from it – the basis of good science – is denied them.

Next the omissions. In Key Stage 1 – children have to observe, perform simple tests, identify and classify and record their findings. This would indicate that children don’t need to ask questions of their own as they handle objects or study living things or phenomena. They are also not required to say what they found out. These are serious omissions.

In Lower Key Stage 2 there are a wider range of skills on offer but still no chance for the children to ask their own questions or plan how they should find answers.

But then if you know where the practical is going to end up and how everyone is going to get there, you cannot allow for children to ask their own questions. SHAME!


About annegoldsworthy

Primary Science specialist. Going for more independent thinking and less being told what to think. And that goes for teachers as well as children. We need to change that draft curriculum for science. Follow me on twitter @afgoldsworthy
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3 Responses to The Draft Primary Curriculum for Science – Thoughts about Working Scientifically (proposed title) or Scientific Enquiry (old name)

  1. Beth Budden says:

    Excellent Anne I agree. It’s as if they have thought about ‘working scentifically’ but forgot about who is meant to be working scientifically! Surely raising an enquiry question and working out how to answer that question is at the heart of science! I also worry that the KS1 bodies of knowledge are now quite limited and contain little more than many young children might know anyway.

    • Hi Beth
      Thanks heavens we have got asking questions back in the latest re-draft and I think working scientifically is much much stronger than it was. It was what brenda (keeogh) and I concentrated on in the very very limited time we had available for helping to write the new version. But agree that KS 1 now looks a bit limited and pushed towards lots of biological stuff. Think the idea was to get young children out into the natural world – no problem with that but I think we mat have gone too far that way. Do put something in on the consultation if you want to see change at KS 1.

      • Beth Budden says:

        Ah yes I read the latest draft after I was forwarded your blog by a colleague. I’d picked up the wrong draft! Yes the Sc1 is much better but I would agree Key stage 1 and early years is heavily biology! All the physics his gone! I thought they wanted rigour!

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