Finding the optimum - a secondary science perspective

By Sarah Longshaw posted 08-03-2023 16:05


Read the blog - then join the discussion in the Teaching 11-19 Science group!

There are many ways to read and interpret the new Ofsted Science subject report – some of which will depend on your role or your perspective as well as the reason for your engagement. The title – Finding the optimum – resonates, since it expresses what we as educators do. We look for the best approaches and adapt them for our own settings and students.

The curriculum

There is a strong focus on curriculum, how knowledge is built over time and the order in which both substantive (content) and disciplinary knowledge (which underpins the understanding of working scientifically) is sequenced. What is also encouraging is the recognition that there are different and equally acceptable ways of structuring the curriculum and that when schools start teaching Key Stage 4 is not relevant (unless it results in the omission of particular Key Stage 3 topics which are not assessed at KS4). More important is that students have sufficient time to learn the content fully.

Disciplinary knowledge was generally less well-developed than substantive – something which is probably not surprising given the impact of the pandemic on practical activity. Weaknesses included too narrow a focus on the development of skills, a lack of integration of skills with content and a focus on particular activities rather than the underlying knowledge. However, this is likely to change as students resume more frequent and varied practical work and schools revisit their curriculum plans accordingly.

Considering the sequencing of the science curriculum to align with when students learn particular maths skills is also helpful to ensure that they are able to apply their knowledge and make the learning of science easier. Again there are various different approaches from re-ordering the curriculum to simply raising awareness of whether the concept will already have been taught in maths or not.


Having a strong curriculum is just the starting point; how it is delivered and assessed is also critical. Misconceptions, which can limit student progress, need to be considered, but not just in the acknowledgement of their existence, more in the manner in which they are identified and addressed. The combined effects of the pandemic, where students have had less teacher contact and staff shortages, where teachers are teaching out of specialism, have increased the variety (if not the number) of misconceptions. Misconceptions link to assessment – the mechanism by which we identify their existence.


As already mentioned, assessment is key to identifying where students are, in order to ensure that they are ready to move on. This is particularly critical at transition points to ensure that time is not wasted repeating content that is already well-known, but equally important is what happens to address the misconceptions and re-build the underlying knowledge. Teachers with strong subject knowledge are more able to provide this support and to utilise questioning to inform and demonstrate progress, in a manner that is integral to their lessons.

As we understand more about how students learn, so retrieval practice and low stakes quizzing has become part of our practice. However, like most tools, it needs to be used correctly and its value and limitations should also be recognised. It should not be the only form of assessment but combined with activity that enables students to build interconnected knowledge.

Systems & support

Variability exists between teachers within the same school – however providing mechanisms to improve teacher effectiveness is critical. Enabling teachers and technicians to share good practice is a simple yet cost-effective way to develop expertise. The role of technicians, not just in the delivery of high-quality practical work, but in the support of early career and non-specialist staff should not be under-estimated. Staff development is most valuable however, when it is planned over time and developed in relation to the science curriculum and CPD can be critical in helping teachers to develop their knowledge and their confidence.

The report allows an insight into other classrooms, a chance to reflect on your own and to identify the areas of good practice and opportunities for development. The next step is to consider what your focus for development might be and the support available – whether that be great resources to enhance your lessons or CPD to develop your practice.

We've created a secondary mapping document which highlights CPD directly linked to sections of the report - find it here - and the primary document is here.

Did you enjoy this blog? If so, scroll to the top and hit the 'Recommend' button!