Thoughts on the Chemistry Bit (part 4) Y5 &6

Oh no! What is wrong with me? Am I coming down with extreme positivity disease?  I believe I have found a whole section with very little in the way of negative comments.

The notes and guidance are sensible and offer some support for teachers. The statements are clearly written and they are pitched at the right level. And this is what they look like:

Pupils should be taught to

  • compare and group together everyday materials based on evidence from comparative tests and fair tests, including hardness, solubility, conductivity and insulation (electricity and heat), behaviour with magnets
  • explain that some substances will dissolve in liquid to form a solution, and how to recover a substance from a solution
  • use knowledge of solids, liquids and gases to decide how mixtures might be separated, including filtering, sieving and evaporating
  • give reasons, where appropriate, for the uses of everyday materials based on evidence from comparative tests and fair tests, including metals, wood and plastic
  • demonstrate that dissolving, mixing and change of state are reversible changes


Lots of nice practical work you can do there and plenty of opportunity for the children to offer their own thoughts and ideas and to try things out. Also encouraging links to everyday uses of materials. I have two minor niggles. I would love to get rid of the expression ‘pupils should be taught to explain…’ As I have said before, pupils must do that explaining bit for themselves. It is how they construct their learning. The explanation has to be in their own words and make sense to them. We cannot do it for them.  The phrase ‘taught to explain’ conjures up pictures of children parroting back an explanation given to them by the teacher regardless of whether it makes sense to them or not.


The other minor niggle is about recognising mixing as reversible change. This is fine when you have mixed together things that are easy to separate such as sawdust and nails, or even ones that are harder to separate such as salt and sand but where you can still get back the original material in a form that makes it clear to the children that it is the same stuff. However when it comes to something like making a cake things get a bit trickier. In this case you will mix together your egg, flour, sugar and fat and beat it up into that yummy finger-licking mixture but at this stage it will still be the same stuff. It only becomes new stuff i.e. actual cake – when you put it in the oven and the heat energy from the oven enables the irreversible change into new materials to take place. Whilst it is uncooked you could still, at the level of particles, get back your original egg, flour, sugar and fat. However to a child – well to most of us really – it doesn’t look like the same stuff at all. Some of us of a certain age will remember the advert for a cooking fat (Trex I think) where the film was played backwards and the elements of the cake leapt back out of the mixing bowl including the egg which went back into its shell. If only we could do that we could show the children that it was the same stuff. But we can’t.  If you were to ask children, if cake mixing was reversible – if we could get our original materials back – the answer would be ‘no, of course not!’ I think a word to this effect in the notes and guidance would have been helpful.


And so to Y6 but there is very little Chemistry  here. In fact the only statement is that ‘Pupils should be taught to explain that some changes result in the formation of new materials, and that this kind of change is difficult to reverse’.


It seems a little odd to separate it out from reversible changes – most upper KS 2 teachers are used to doing the two together so that children appreciate the differences in the changes. As it is, they will have had a year to forget what they had learnt about changes of state before they go on to irreversible changes.  I’m also not sure about the examples cited in the notes burning and cooking are fine but oxidisation (in the form of rusting) and the reaction of limestone with acid to release carbon dioxide may be a step too far. Particularly when you consider that the messages on gases are very muddled.


If you look at the mention of gasses through the document you get the following. In Y 3 they are taught to ‘describe the ways in which nutrients, water and oxygen are transported within plants’. In Y4 the notes and guidance in the Biology section suggest that children know that ‘food (with oxygen) gives the body energy’. But later on in the Y4 Notes and Guidance in the Chemistry section it says quite clearly ‘At this stage students are not required to identify or name different gases, only to be able to classify some substances as gaseous. The mixture of gases of which air is constituted should not be explicitly introduced’.

In Y5 we look at the human gaseous exchange system which would be hard to do without mentioning the gases involved but reference to them is nowhere to be found in the notes and guidance or the Programme of Study.


The table below summarises how the work on gasses develops through the document:



Reference to gasses


Oxygen mentioned (PoS)


Oxygen mentioned in parentheses (Notes and Guidance)


Specific Gases in air NOT to be introduced (Notes and Guidance)


Human gaseous exchange studied but no reference to specific gasses (PoS)


Carbon dioxide and oxidisation referred to (Notes and Guidance)



Bit of a mess really and Y3 is the only year where a named gas is referred to in the Programme of Study. Backward progression anyone?


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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