Finding the optimum - a primary science perspective

By Tanya Shields posted 13-03-2023 10:12


Read the blog - then share your thoughts in the Primary STEM group.

Being a primary subject lead can sometimes feel lonely or overwhelming – particularly if you are new to the role - and the opportunity to discover what’s going on in other schools is particularly welcome. So, the recently published Ofsted report ‘Finding the optimum: the science subject report’ which highlights and exemplifies areas of good practice provides a window into primary science teaching, and is a useful starting point against which to consider your own school.

The curriculum

Science is a core subject so needs to be taught regularly and not in blocks. Pupils need the time to revisit and build their knowledge. To do this, ideas or concepts need to build over time, including the vocabulary needed to learn them. Inspectors found that sometimes the knowledge of the natural world that reception pupils learned did not prepare them well enough for Year 1, because the precise knowledge was not identified clearly enough. STEM Learning would like to stress that while it is important to consider how this might be improved, it should not be at the expense of experiential science which is so vital for young children’s early education.

Science is not just learning content (substantive knowledge) it also involves developing practical skills (disciplinary knowledge) to help pupils work scientifically. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the impact of the pandemic, this aspect of the curriculum is less well developed. Maybe this is what you are working on currently? If so, are you including all areas of working scientifically or is the focus imbalanced, with some areas favoured at the expense of others?


Having defined what children should learn, our job as teachers is to find the best ways of presenting this and of making connections to real-life examples to help children connect the learning to their own experience. Teacher explanation and the anticipation of where children struggle and need support is important, as is allowing enough time for them to practice and embed what they are learning. Being able to identify and connect to prior learning is particularly important in addressing gaps and dealing with misconceptions that may have developed due to the pandemic. If we leave this unaddressed, we are not building knowledge on firm foundations.

Systems & support

Science leaders have a critical role to play – not just in developing the curriculum, but also in supporting the subject knowledge development of other teachers and in supporting assessment. Do you have both the time and the support that you need to lead your subject? Perhaps you are already part of a subject leader network where you can share expertise with others.

Naturally, we endorse the recommendation for teachers to have access to high quality and regular professional development. Our role is to support all schools (and staff) on their journey – recognising their individual school contexts and helping them to meet the specific needs of their pupils and staff. 

We have listed some CPD that we believe will help you and your school to ‘find the optimum’ and will continue to support teacher development and improve pupil outcomes...

Primary mapping document

And the secondary version is here.

Read our initial response to the report here and check out the full primary perspective from @Sarah Longshaw here.

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21-03-2023 13:45

The primary mapping document is great. I will share with my Enthuse Partnership.

14-03-2023 07:49

Thank you for this useful reflection Tanya.

I am particularly pleased to see that you have highlighted the importance of retaining an exploratory approach in EYFS.  So often a false dichotomy is drawn between children learning what we want them to and giving children time and autonomy to explore and play in their own way.

Best wishes


14-03-2023 06:18

Thank you Tania, a very useful summary for primary science leads. I’m going to forward your thoughts to our Enthuse Partnership and the mapping document is going to be really useful for us when looking at CPD for the year. 
Thank you again.