Science practicals – why they are important to GCSE students

More than quarter of GCSE pupils take little or no part in science practicals, according to a Wellcome Trust report. The survey reveals many GCSE science students are not offered regular, hands-on practical lessons.

The report found that only 36% of GCSE students from disadvantaged areas did practical science at least once a month compared with 54% from better off areas.

Expert reaction on the importance of science practicals as outlined in the Wellcome report. Comment from Michael Reiss, Professor of Science Education, UCL Institute of Education:

“For decades, the UK has had one of the best records in the world in providing secondary students with high quality, hands-on science practical work. It is therefore deeply concerning that over a quarter of teenagers say they take little or no part in science experiments. It is even more troubling to find that disadvantaged students are over-represented in this group. The government has recently overhauled the way that practical work is assessed in science at both GCSE and A-level. It is to be hoped that these new arrangements enhance the place of practical work in school science. We need practical work that enthuses youngsters and enables them to develop their understanding of science.”

Expert reaction from Dr Stuart Bevins, Science Education Special Interest Group, Sheffield Hallam Institute of Education:

“We believe that inquiry that includes practical work is currently the best way for students to leverage their existing knowledge and their investigative skills, to generate and internalise new knowledge and solutions to questions they have formulated and questions that exist which they may be interested in. Inquiry and practical work offers students better ownership of their learning and supports them to navigate routes to increased understanding, greater motivation, improved attitudes to scientific endeavour and their ability to manipulate and understand new data in a very complex world.”

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