One page summary for MPs or interested others

The Draft Primary Science Curriculum – Some Concerns

The proposed orders for the primary science curriculum in England are now available from DfE. Key stakeholders are being invited to comment over the next few months and the document will go to full consultation with the teaching profession at the end of this year for implementation in schools in September 2014.

It is pleasing to see that primary science has increased status but the document raises some serious concerns.

The document has been put together for initial consultation without proper control and editing. There is an error on page 15 in the Chemistry section on Everyday Materials which looks at magnetic attraction and floating and sinking. Here, in the notes and guidance, teachers are advised to do tests ‘for gaining knowledge and evidence about the effects of exercise on the human body’ by measuring ‘the rate of breathing and the number of heart beats per second’.  Progression in learning is also haphazard. If you look at the mention of gases through the whole document you find considerable anomalies as shown in the table below.

Year Reference to gasses
3 Oxygen specified (Programme of Study – Biology)
4 Oxygen mentioned in parentheses (Notes and Guidance – Biology)
4 Specific Gases in air NOT to be introduced (Notes and Guidance – Chemistry)
5 Human gaseous exchange studied but no reference to specific gasses (Programme of Study – Biology)
6 Carbon dioxide and oxidisation referred to (Notes and Guidance – Chemistry)


There are a number of scientific errors in the document. In Year1 (p6) pupils ‘describe the movement of the Sun across the sky’. The notes and guidance refer to the rotating Earth and that pupils of this age do not need to learn about this but it seems strange for a National Curriculum to contain a scientific misconception.  In Year 4 (p23) the notes and guidance suggest that pupils ‘can set up and perform comparative and fair tests on the temperature at which water boils and freezes.’ Leaving aside the practical difficulty involved in finding the boiling point and freezing point of water in primary schools, the test carried out will not be a fair test. In a fair test, we change something to see the effect on something else whilst keeping other variables the same. In this instance, we have just one thing sitting in front of us and we observe and measure how it changes over time. It is not a fair test.

There are also significant concerns about the implications for children’s learning. Nowhere are teachers encouraged to start from children’s questions or ideas and all investigative work ‘must be delivered through substantive subject content’. This will give impetus to the confirmatory experiment where children dutifully use equipment to follow a prescribed route though to a known outcome. The chance for children to think for themselves and to learn from their mistakes is lost. There are also many concerns about the level of demand suggested in the document. Sometimes it is far too demanding for the age group concerned and sometimes far too simple. Year 2 pupils (p 7 Notes and Guidance) can be introduced to cells but Year 4 pupils (p22 Notes and Guidance) simply have to compare and record similarities and differences amongst themselves such as eye colour, hair colour and hand spans. Added to this there is a great deal of emphasis on learning scientific words and naming things but without any emphasis on the necessary background experiences to add meaning and understanding. The science education community is extremely concerned about this document and the future direction of Primary Science.

Anne Goldsworthy

A fuller analysis of concerns about the document can be found at


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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1 Response to One page summary for MPs or interested others

  1. Kate Blacklock says:

    Well said Anne. The aims for a “world class curriculum” (according to Gove’s empty rhetoric before the release of this ill-conceived draft) are not possible with these proposals. It leaves me wondering which politician wrote it as I can’t believe anyone involved in real education would even release this. It MUST be thrown back with force!

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