CBI reports a squeeze on primary school science

The CBI reveals today the obstacles that primary schools and teachers have to overcome to inspire future generations of scientists and engineers. It is publishing new research showing that the majority of primary teachers believe science has become less of a curriculum priority, with over a third of schools now providing less than the recommended two hours of science education a week.

The report, Tomorrow's World, co-authored by Brunel University London, the CBI reveals over half of the 260 primary school teachers surveyed believe teaching science has become less of a priority over the past five years. (32.5% say it has not changed, 14.5% say it is now more of a priority)

A third of teachers lack confidence when teaching science, although the remainder was positive, with 54% confident and 13% very confident. Nealry two thirds (62%) want more professional development to build their confidence while 39% called for a science subject specialist within their primary school.

Over a third (36%) of schools teaching science at Key Stage 2 in the survey do not provide the minimum recommended two hours of science education each week. Only 20% are able to commit over three hours, while 7.5% of primary schools teach under one hour each week.

John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said: "Science education in primary schools is being squeezed out. . . with too many schools struggling to teach the recommended two hours every week.

"How can we expect to inspire future generations of scientists and engineers if we don't deliver high-quality and inspiring science lessons at primary school age? If we are not careful, too many children will have lost interest in science before they hit their teens."

He went on to say: "A lack of science, technology, engineering and maths skills are already holding back economic growth and this will only get worse if we don't energise the next generation. Pupils need innovative, fun lessons with access to the latest science kit and need to break free of the classroom more to visit cutting-edge companies and universities.

"We must also seriously tackle the persistent cultural problem of pigeon-holing boys and girls into certain subjects and career paths. Schools can have a big impact here, influencing not just pupils but also parents."

The CBI argues that the situation has been mainly driven by the abolition of testing at Key Stage Two and a system obsessed with exam results, not real world skills.

The report also finds that over 70% of primary school teachers want more support from business. Of those, three-quarters would find it helpful for businesses to offer use of their equipment and facilities. Over 60% would like support from companies in lesson delivery and arranged class visits.

The report outlines recommendations to boost science in primary schools, including the UK and devolved Governments setting targets to have the best performing schools for science in Europe - and in the top five worldwide – by 2020. This should be underpinned by a new science education strategy – covering primary, secondary and tertiary education

Primary schools should ensure professional development for science is of a high standard to deliver high-quality science lessons. All primary schools should have a subject leader in science to drive the subject in the school. Teachers should be encouraged to spend more time with businesses and universities to understand scientific theory and its practical applications.

Businesses and universities must divert more of their outreach resources to primary schools and not focus purely on secondary and proposes that the new Careers and Enterprise Company in England should include primary in its remit.

Professor Julia Buckingham, vice chancellor and president of Brunel University London, says: "The report's findings – indicating that STEM subjects have become less of a priority in primary schools in recent years – should be a wake-up call for everyone in government, business and education. None of us should be in any doubt of the critical importance of ensuring that the education system inspires interest and enthusiasm for the sciences and provides careers advice and guidance as early as possible for school students. Not only does the nation's prosperity depend on this, it is also vital to ensure that educational and careers opportunities are not prematurely closed-off for young people.