Is your school eligible for the "Keeping Science Practical" project?

As anyone familiar with the ASE will know, we have long been champions of the Gatsby Charitable Foundation’s Good Practical Science report, which provides a framework for good practical science in schools and colleges. As an organisation, we are concerned that as schools have become used to teaching science with reduced practical work during the pandemic, and early career teachers have entered the profession with little experience of teaching practicals. We also see gaps in student knowledge and skills as a result of missing practical work over part of their school career. Without action to address these factors, the result could be significant damage to young people’s scientific literacy and skills as well as to the UK’s future pipeline of scientists, engineers, medics and technicians. 

In the recent “Finding the Optimum” report from Ofsted, it is reported “There were large differences in the amount of practical work taking place in schools. For example, pupils in primary school were much more likely to take part in hands-on practical activities than pupils in secondary school. In all schools that we visited, teachers rarely used demonstrations.” As part of the package of professional development that comes with the programme, we provide support for planning purposeful lessons for all, the role of the demonstrator (for teachers and technicians) and meeting the needs of all learners.

This project provides a programme of extended support for more than 100 secondary schools across the whole of the UK, focusing particularly on practical science. Through a targeted and tailored programme of online and face-to-face CPD for science leaders, early career teachers and school science technicians, we will seek to increase the frequency, variety and effectiveness of practical science in these schools and through this support both student engagement and progression in science for all learners. 

"I enjoyed the CPD and it brought back to me how I like to look at research and trial ideas. I am now looking at my next project. From attending I have delivered CPD on Keeping Science Practical to the team and I have also written a Science policy for the department."

Introduction to the project

The Keeping Science Practical project is focussed on giving support around the delivery of effective practical science education experiences to pupils of schools in difficult circumstances. Programme participant institutions will receive extended support covering advice, CPD opportunities and educational resources all geared to enhance their provision of practical science in the classroom...

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This project aims to improve the engagement and progression of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into further study and careers in STEM. We are supported by the Wolfson Foundation (known for funding the refurbishment and improvement of school science laboratories) who share our passion/ and belief in the importance of practical science in helping learners follow a STEM career.

Practical subjects such as science have been particularly impacted by school closures and social distancing restrictions. Reports such as the ASE’s ‘June 2020 practical science survey’ and our ‘December 2020 Temperature Check survey’ have highlighted the challenges facing schools in this regard, with over 91% of responses to our Temperature Check survey expressing concern about the practicalities of doing practical science while social distancing, even before the pandemic.

This project aims to increase and improve the practical science experiences of young people in disadvantaged areas of the UK by providing extended, in-depth practical science support for schools and colleges, focused particularly on science leaders, inexperienced or early career teachers and technicians.

Why should you get involved?

The COVID-19 pandemic saw a dramatic reduction - and for some schools complete cessation - of practical classroom science lessons over the previous academic year. Although schools have been working towards returning to a sense of normality, there are still gaps in pupils’ experience and a risk that some of the regressions of the previous period could become entrenched... 

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Even before the pandemic, the importance of practical work to pupils - and indications of it's decline in the classroom - were well evidenced. For example, The Wellcome Science tracker (2019) reported that practical work is key to motivating young people in science, but there are fewer opportunities for hands-on work in later school years:

  • 55% of students in years 7-9 and 32% of students in years 10-13 say that practical work is the most motivating aspect of science lessons.
  • 63% of students in year 7 report doing hands-on practical work at least once a fortnight. However, this proportion falls steeply by school year – only 33% report a similar frequency of practical work in year 11.
  • 62% of students in years 7-11 want to do more practical work. This attitude is more common among young people who are less engaged in science.

By choosing a particular focus on trainee/early career teachers, it is hoped that we will be able to increase the value of their roles and mitigate the chances of them leaving the profession. This is an increasing danger, as showed in a report published by the Wellcome Trust in 2017 which meanwhile highlighted:

  • The chance of science teachers leaving their school within the first five years is 26% higher than for non-science subjects;
  • The likelihood of science teachers leaving the profession altogether within five years, is 5% higher than non-science teachers; and
  • The increasing risk of newly qualified science teachers with a physics/engineering degree leaving after five years is 29% higher than for non-science NQTs. The combination of young age and inexperience offers the greatest risk of attrition.

The NFER Teacher Labour market in England Annual Report 2022 suggests these issues haven’t gone away and that teacher supply challenges are returning in England (after a period of higher than usual interest in teaching during the pandemic).

The Gatsby Good Practical Science Report (2017) identified 5 reasons we do practical work and 10 benchmarks to help this happen. The ASE has produced resources to support schools in writing a departmental policy for purposeful practical science work. The Education Endowment Foundation's Improving Secondary Science report (2018) included a chapter on the importance of purposeful practical science. The recent Ofsted research report (2021) reminded teachers of the importance of practical work in helping students learn substantive knowledge.

How it works...

The project revolves around providing support - essentially an enhanced institutional ASE membership package - to selected schools that successfully meet the criteria below. These schools will be supported through a tailored programme of a combination of online and face to face CPD, plus access to ASE resources and events...

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Who can join?

The project is open to interested secondary schools across the whole of the UK. To be eligible you must be able to demonstrate that your learners are disadvantaged, for example, this could be due to local socio-economic factors (like high levels of unemployment, and poor social mobility). If you aren’t sure if you are eligible, complete the expression of interest form below and we can discuss this with you.

What our project involves?

  • You get free departmental membership of the ASE (value of £250)
  • Access to free, targeted CPD to help you and your team plan for and deliver purposeful and engaging practical work
  • Books from our ASE bookshop to support practical science
  • Access to ASE-provided digital resources and journals
  • Subsidised entry to the ASE Annual conference or a regional conference (Wales/NI/Scotland) with funding to support attendance
  • Subsidised entry to a technician conference with funding to support attendance
  • Online professional development for science leaders/inexperienced teachers early career stage teachers/technicians with funding to support attendance
  • Support and mentoring from the ASE community

What we ask from you

  • Science leader to be able to attend a remote CPD workshop in the autumn term and a follow-up workshop at the end of the programme
  • Early career stage teachers are able to attend six afternoons of CPD over the year. These will be followed up by online reflection activities
  • Technicians are able to attend four CPD workshops over the year
  • One technician can attend the technician conference nearest to them

For more information, please complete our expression of interest form and one of our project team will get in touch with you with more details...