Improving science skills and engagement through local partnerships

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Ysgol Pencae has built partnerships within the local community in order to offer science experiences that develop learners’ skills and engagement in the subject.


Number of learners: 210
Age range: 4-11
Date of inspection: January 2017

Information about the school

Ysgol Pencae is situated in the suburb of Llandaff in the city of Cardiff, and the catchment area serves pupils from the western area of the capital city.

The school’s numbers are consistent, with 210 pupils at the school from the Reception class up to Year 6.  A number of Welsh-medium and non Welsh-medium nurseries transfer children to the school for the Reception class as the school has no nursery provision. 

Over the last three years, approximately 2.5% of pupils have been eligible for free school meals, which is significantly lower than the average for Wales.  Sixteen per cent (16%) of pupils come from Welsh-speaking homes, and the remainder of the pupils come from homes in which either one or neither parent speaks Welsh. 

Approximately 11.5% of pupils are on the additional learning needs register, and approximately 2% are from ethnic minority backgrounds. 

Context and background to sector-leading practice

Ysgol Pencae has developed exciting partnerships with the local community to ensure that science is ‘funky’ and up-to-date for its pupils.  Practical science workshops are conducted weekly across the school.  A specialist visitor or borrowed scientific equipment will often have triggered these workshops.  By engaging with exciting partnerships in the community, learning experiences in science at Ysgol Pencae are rich, relevant and living.

It is an urban school that takes advantage of the opportunities that are available, in addition to playing a more proactive part in forging relationships within the community, including the school’s parents.

There are many rich opportunities in Cardiff to develop effective partnerships with educational, commercial and community organisations.  The school wanted to develop effective and sustainable partnerships to engage interest and enrich the science curriculum, in addition to engaging interest in careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) for girls in addition to boys.

Description and nature of the strategy or activity

When planning, teachers seek opportunities tirelessly to bring the subject to life for pupils.  It is believed that working with STEM specialists, who are passionate about their field, is an effective way of stimulating pupils’ interest and understanding.  At the beginning of each theme, the child’s voice is given a prominent place in planning, as staff think about suitable partnerships, in addition to pupils’ initial questions. 

The objectives of engagement are to: 
• take advantage of services that are available locally to enrich the curriculum
• ignite pupils’ enthusiasm while bringing science to life
• raise the subject’s profile within the school.

The school seeks different opportunities to develop new partnerships continuously.  Staff are always willing to forge a prosperous relationship with a very wide range of organisations.  Here is a glimpse of some of the activities that are in place as a result of this work at Ysgol Pencae:

External partnerships:
• Extra-curricular science clubs are held for all of the school’s pupils by a commercial company.
• PQSM Award www.PSQM.org.uk.  This is a scheme that develops and celebrates teaching and learning in primary science.  The school is aiming to receive the silver award as the co-ordinator monitors the subject within the school under the supervision of a specialist mentor. 
• The school has developed a valuable relationship with STEM ambassadors through cenhadon@gweld-gwyddoniaeth.co.uk.  The co-ordinator will occasionally attend Gweld Gwyddoniaeth training courses in order to gain new ideas for scientific investigations.  Year 6 pupils have also won Crest Discovery awards under the supervision of these ambassadors after showing, through a series of practical workshops, that they have developed their co-operation skills, in addition to their scientific knowledge.  The school has borrowed scientific equipment, such as solar cars, from them during the workshop on alternative energy. 
• The school took advantage of opportunities to invite shows by scientific companies and experts, such as the Dragon Show and Techniquest shows, to the school to inspire pupils.
• The school also arranges educational visits to broaden their scientific knowledge, such as to a local electricity power station.

Parents
• A group of enthusiastic parents, who are mathematicians and scientists, hold an after-school Science Club.  These clubs support the theme work that is done in the classroom by leading rich learning tasks, such as observing real animal organs.
• While studying rocks in Year 3, a parent at the school, who is a geologist, was invited to the class to talk about his work studying volcanoes.
• A parent who is a midwife came to speak with pupils in the Foundation Phase about the importance of hand hygiene.  They learnt how to wash their hands correctly, and had an opportunity to observe the cleanliness of their hands under an ultraviolet light.

Higher Education partnerships
• As part of its partnership with the Department of Biosciences at Cardiff University, a successful Science Fair was organised in the school hall for the school’s families.  Pupils from Ysgol Uwchradd Plasmawr were invited to hold display stalls.  Students from the university also prepared exhibitions to inspire the large number of children and parents who attended the fair.
• The school takes advantage of the expertise of its STEM Ambassador from the university’s Department of Biosciences, who also helps to broaden the scientific knowledge of pupils in Year 6.  They do so, for example, by conducting question and answer sessions at the beginning of the ‘Under the Skin’ theme, and explaining blood circulation before the workshop of the effect of exercise on the heart rate.  The Ambassador also shares specialist equipment, such as pulse monitors and voltage meters, with the school in order to conduct exciting workshops while practising the pupils’ measuring skills.
• Students from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine came to visit the school to conduct ‘Asthmatic Rescue’ workshops with older pupils.  Following this, pupils planned an investigation with narrow and wide drinking straws in order to test the information that was presented to them by the experts.
• Ysgol Pencae is part of the TAPS Cymru project, which is the Teacher Assessment in Primary Science.  This is a project that was established by Bath Spa University in 2013.  The project’s objectives are to develop a whole-school reliable assessment model for science.  This self-evaluation resource, which is a pyramid that is already available online, provides good ideas on assessing the subject.  Under the supervision of science tutors from Cardiff Metropolitan University, the school is gathering examples of assessment activities in order to produce a TAPS Cymru pyramid.

Primary school partnerships
The co-ordinator works closely with co-ordinators from local primary schools in order to share good practice and discuss current ideas.  Staff are trialling a resource that has been prepared by a local school in order to develop pupils’ self-assessment skills in their scientific skills.

What effect has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

The school believes that fostering partnerships within the community has contributed to:
• high standards in pupils’ scientific skills
• high levels of pupil engagement in scientific learning by bringing the subject to life and making it relevant to them
• strong rates of increase in the percentage of pupils who achieve level 5 at the end of key stage 2
• a notable increase in pupils’ interactive skills when working in a team to develop scientific investigations
• organising a successful Science Fair in the school hall to celebrate the success of various partnerships, by bringing them all together at the fair

How have you shared your good practice?

The school has shared good practice with other schools in the cluster and the consortium by conducting workshops and presentations for teachers on different aspect of teaching and learning in science.  In addition, it is developing further partnerships with the universities in Cardiff and Bath Spa University.  The school will also continue to take advantage of opportunities that are offered by organisations, such as Gweld Gwyddoniaeth, in order to enrich pupils’ experiences in this area. 

Links: http://ysgolpencae.cymru