Secondary schools should provide science lessons that challenge pupils at all key stages


Pupils aged 11-14 make good progress in their knowledge and understanding of science in only about half of lessons, according to a report published today by Estyn. However, by the time pupils are aged 14-16, there is good progress in over 70% of science lessons.


The report, ‘Science at key stage 3 and key stage 4’, recommends that secondary schools provide challenging and stimulating activities in all science lessons to improve standards.

Meilyr Rowlands, Chief Inspector, says

In the best science lessons, teachers have strong subject knowledge and develop pupils’ understanding with a range of interesting activities. They explain concepts clearly, provide well-planned practical work, make good use of ICT, and have high expectations.”

One of the case studies in the report highlights Bryngwyn Comprehensive School’s delivery of a key stage 4 lesson on the chemical process for producing ammonia. Pupils carried out a variety of tasks based around a graph labelling exercise and a whole-class debate that offered a stimulating challenge involving complex reasoning.

According to the report, schools should also ensure that science department self-evaluations are robust and based on a range of evidence on subject-specific standards and teaching. The report includes 14 questions on standards, provision and leadership for schools to consider as part of their self-evaluation.

The report also found that, while schools are aware of the new curriculum developments following the publication of the ‘Successful Futures’ review, very few schools have started to consider the review’s recommendations. The report recommends that schools evaluate their science curriculum in preparation for future curriculum developments.

The report also recommends that local authorities and regional consortia should provide more subject-specific support for science teachers on improving teaching and assessment and facilitate the sharing of good practice. The Welsh Government should campaign to attract more science graduates into teaching in Wales as the number of post-graduate science teachers being trained has fallen short of national targets over several years.

Notes to Editors:

About the report

The findings and recommendations in this report draw on:

  • data from teacher assessments at the end of key stage 3 and examination outcomes at the end of key stage 4
  • visits to 20 providers, including secondary and all age schools

Schools have been selected following an analysis of data, consideration of inspection findings and feedback from HMI.  The majority of the schools visited have been judged good or excellent for standards in core inspections since 2010.  Otherwise, the sample is as diverse as possible, based on a proportionate number of English-medium and Welsh-medium schools, geographical location and socio economic factors.  The sample also includes a small number of curriculum pioneer schools. 

The visits included:

  • interviews with senior leaders, subject leaders and pupils
  • two lesson observations to evaluate standards and quality of teaching in both key stages
  • interviews with pupils to include scrutiny of their science work and to gather their views on the provision and options available at the school
  • scrutiny of school documents prior to visit, including the most recent school and science department self-evaluation reports and improvement plans

Each science subject officer from a regional consortium was interviewed individually. Data for recruitment of science teachers and from initial teacher education and training establishments was also considered.

Case studies from the following organisations are included in the report:

  • Ysgol Gyfun Cymer Rhondda, Porth
  • Bryngwyn Comprehensive School, Llanelli
  • Ysgol John Bright, Llandudno
  • Whitchurch High School, Cardiff
  • ERW regional consortium

Publication date

Wednesday, 20 September, 2017