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Science at South Hams Federation of Primary Schools


What do we aim to achieve in science learning at The South Hams Federation?

At the South Hams Federation, we aim to provide children with a body of scientific knowledge as well as knowledge of how the scientific method is used to develop and test facts and theories via scientific enquiry (substantive knowledge and disciplinary knowledge).

We emphasise the importance of science in every aspect of daily life and our teaching is centred around increasing pupils’ knowledge of our world.  In science, knowledge and process are interlinked so children use existing and taught knowledge as well as evidence from their own enquiry to support and embed their learning within a context. 

Which curriculum will we use?

The National Curriculum provides the structure and knowledge for the science curriculum being taught throughout the school.  In Early Years, science is encountered in a range of learning areas. At this stage, they develop the vocabulary they need to be able to talk about science and gain experience in doing so.  The curiosity and experiences created through this prepares them well to begin KS1.

Which knowledge and skills will we teach?

Our Science teaching offers opportunities for children to:

  • develop substantive knowledge and conceptual understanding through the disciplines of biology, chemistry; physics and of earth sciences
  • learn how a range of scientific skills are used by scientist to generate further knowledge, within the three main themes of planning, doing and reviewing;
  • develop a knowledge of different types of scientific enquiry (identification and pattern seeking; observing over time; fair testing; research and exploration)
  • become equipped with the scientific knowledge required to understand the uses and implications of science, today and for the future;
  • read about science, including current cutting-edge research;
  • communicate their scientific information and present it in a systematic, scientific manner;
  • develop a respect for and an understanding of the materials and equipment they handle and of their limitations
  • develop their ability to make links with previous learning and a framework within which to embed future learning.
  • learn about the science of our own rural location, particularly our relationship with the sea and the wildlife surrounding our village.

We endeavour to adapt the science curriculum to make it accessible to all of our pupils, irrespective of ability or background.  We recognise that many of our children do not come from scientific backgrounds, and many will have low Science Capital on entry. Through this approach, we ensure that every chance is taken to “broaden what counts” in order to build on their Science Capital and embedding the belief that science knowledge and processes are relevant to them, their families and our community

How will we ensure that children understand the “Bigger Picture” of science?

We will provide children with the framework they need to see where scientific ideas are related and based on shared concepts.  We recognise how important it is that our children develop a bank of knowledge that improves and grows as they move through our school.  They need a body of knowledge related to existing scientific understanding but also a body of knowledge related to the scientific discipline.  The combination of these two will allow them not only to understand how existing knowledge was obtained but also to understand how future questions can be approached.  In turn they will become teenagers who have a framework in which to slot scientific knowledge from Key Stage 3 and later will become critical consumers, questioning information they are given and evaluating it effectively.


How is science planned?

Science is taught as a discrete subject and is based on the National Curriculum.  This means that, in most year groups, six topics are taught over the course of the year, with children spending one half-term on each topic.  The scheme of work is devised by the federation science lead using selected resources from a range of sources: Hamilton Trust; the Primary Science Teaching Trust; PLAN; the Teacher Assessment in Primary Science (TAPS) project and Explorify.

The federation science lead provides medium term plans (MTPs) containing an overview of the topic including knowledge to be taught, vocabulary, how the scientific skills are covered, expected prior knowledge and future links and common misconceptions.  

The MTPs also include outline lesson plans, including a guide to what should be taught in each lesson (the facts and the scientific skill) and ideas and resources that can be used to do so. 

How is progression ensured?

The provision of MTPs and lesson outlines ensures the progression of substantive and disciplinary knowledge and allows us to ensure the development of scientific skills as children move through the school.  It also ensures not only that all substantive knowledge is covered but also that the whole range of enquiry knowledge and skills are covered, rather than one particular skill dominating.

Knowledge is embedded through weekly low stakes questions and quizzes (“Sticky questions”) but is assessed in a short-written test at the end of the unit.  The use of “Sticky questions” at the start of each lesson ensures that learning is revisited, contextualised and embedded to help provide the framework for the new knowledge each year offers. 

The knowledge of the scientific discipline is broken down into key aims for each Key Stage as shown below.  These aims are always addressed within the context of the topic for that half term and teachers are provided with guidelines on how to recognise whether children have obtained that knowledge.  This ensures that children learn how the scientific method is used and how it varies depending on the context.


How is science taught?

In years 1-6, children have weekly science lessons delivered by their class teacher.  In Early Years, science is encountered in a range of learning areas: Communication and language; Physical development and Understanding the World (all from the three- and four-year-old section) and Communication and language (for reception age children).   In EYFS, there is a focus on talking about and doing science in order to develop a bank of vocabulary that allows the children to share and question their science knowledge, preparing them for KS1.  Expected prior knowledge in year 1 refers back to the EYFS framework targets.

Each half-term, one topic is taught.   In KS1 and KS2, each new topic begins with a lesson designed to spark interest; to remind the children of what they have learnt already related to that topic and to assess their prior knowledge about the topic.  An initial task is given with questions specifically related to prior knowledge required for that topic.  Where children find it hard to record their understanding, the class teacher works with individuals to assess their understanding. Teachers use their AfL from the initial task to adapt the upcoming teaching and to adapt Sticky Questions in order to address misconceptions.

The lessons within each topic are designed to deliver the key substantive knowledge from the NC whilst providing the opportunity to gain an understanding of how the disciplinary skills support that knowledge.   

The purpose of each lesson is given as a combination of “focus” and a “skill” to ensure that children understand the importance of the relationship between knowledge and the process used to gain it, question it and further it.   The focus is substantive and related to the key knowledge for that lesson.  The skill refers to the disciplinary knowledge that the lesson relates to.  This ensures that subject knowledge is delivered through contextually relevant activities.   

Only one disciplinary skill is focussed on in any lesson to prevent the cognitive overload and confusion that can result from open-ended investigations.  The work that the children produce in their books should reflect the focus and skill of that lesson, rather than being complete experimental write-ups.


How is the learning assessed?

We use four main approaches to our assessment:

1. “Sticky Questions” are used to embed knowledge and develop links between it. They offer  assessment as learning and assessment for learning.  Five questions are used to begin each lesson and could come from the current or from any prior topic.  They are adapted to reflected any misconceptions arising in the initial task.

2. The initial task is planned by the federation lead and allows teachers to assess prior knowledge of each topic.

3. Precise questioning in class to test conceptual knowledge and skills to identify those children with gaps in learning, so that all children keep up - provides assessment as learning and assessment for learning;

4. Half-termly assessment for learning has two strands:

1. A specific scientific skill is assessed each half-term within the context of an applied lesson.  A different skill is assessed each half-term so that each of the six areas are assessed once each over the year.

2. An End of Unit written task is provided by the federation lead and is designed to assess the substantive knowledge taught that half term.  The way in which children record their understanding varies to allow for differences in learning style and some children may respond verbally to a scribe.

Teacher’s record attainment on an End of unit sheet that is shared with the school subject lead and is passed on to the classes next teacher.  This shows whether children are working below, at or above the ARE.  Teacher’s also record extra notes that may be specific to a given pupil or a common misconception.  Future teachers will use this information, as well as the initial tasks they carry out themselves, to decide how best to support students in the next related topic.

How is the teaching monitored?

The subject leader monitors the weekly planning to ensure that it matches the MTP; that the knowledge content is covered and that the children are being given the opportunities to develop disciplinary knowledge as well as substantive knowledge. 

How is the overall impact measured?

The teachers half-termly assessment data is recorded on Target Tracker to help the subject leader identify children who are exceeding age related expectations; those who are still working towards them and those whose progress has changed.

The subject leader carries out lesson observations to identify areas where teachers need more support.  This also allows the subject leader to identify children working at greater depth and those needing more support. If needed these are followed up by joint work between subject leader and the teacher to plan the next topic.

The subject leader is supported by the Head of School.  Joint observations allow the subject leader to learn how to monitor and feedback effectively.

As well as providing up to date information and ideas about learning in science and managing the school science resources, the subject leader also models teaching with each teacher’s own class, particularly where new initiatives are introduced. 

Pupil voice is used to further develop the Science curriculum, through questioning of pupils’ scientific knowledge as well as their views and attitudes to science to support the children’s enjoyment of science and to motivate learners.   We believe that children at The South Hams Federation receive a high-quality science education, that provides them with the foundations for understanding the world and a framework for the science they need to know in Key Stage 3.


Appendix 1. What does a lesson look like and what do books look like?

Lessons begin with a reminder of where the topic fits within the “Bigger picture” followed by a quiz (“Sticky Questions”) to review and embed knowledge from previous learning, within that year and from previous years.   This is an oral session that should take 5 minutes of the lesson. Each week, within any class, one theme is chosen for sticky questions so that children are reminded of how the topics link together and build upon each other.   The exception is the first question as that always relates to learning from the previous week.

Science lessons should include a balance of practical and theoretical work to allow children to acquire the knowledge they need in the order they need for it to make sense.  Early in the lesson, the teacher will introduce the background and the substantive knowledge that is the focus of that week.  This includes any new vocabulary needed to understand the knowledge.   Later in most lessons, children will carry out a practical activity to embed, question or test that knowledge.  By practical activity, we do not mean open-ended investigations but by active learning that promotes the development of questioning skills, the knowledge of practical enquiry, of data collection and of the evaluation of results or in the presentation and sharing of knowledge with others.   In some lessons, children may focus on the skills needed to use particular equipment such as thermometers, scales, rulers and other measuring tools.

Enquiry based instruction is encouraged.  To achieve this, children are firstly taught the substantive knowledge they need to provide a context and to allow them to access the learning.  In any enquiry-based lesson, one particular aspect of disciplinary knowledge will be introduced and children will learn why this part of the scientific method is important.  They may then be given the opportunity to develop that skill or the teacher may provide a class demonstration.  For example, in year 6, children learn why and how scientists plan experiments to answer questions in the context of how the shape of an object determines the shape of the shadow it makes.  After considering their knowledge of shadows, they create a plan to carry out the investigation considering variables and the patterns they would be looking for to support or refute the theory.  The teacher carries out the investigation as a demonstration and the results are considered as a class.   The plenary discussion includes a consideration or how you would present the results, identification of anomalous results and a review of graphing skills, linked to their work in maths.  This approach allows children to focus on the specific knowledge about planning whilst still providing the opportunity to discuss and embed the substantive knowledge.

Where the lesson aim is the transfer of substantive knowledge alone, the focus is adapted so that children are given the challenge of presenting their new knowledge in a range of ways including written explanations, labelled diagrams, assessed dialogue with the teacher, PowerPoint slides, annotated photographs or recorded presentations.

Appendix 2. What do books look like?

Children books should reflect the range of knowledge the children have developed each half term.  Some weeks, children will present scientific knowledge through drawings, diagram or written work.  Children are not expected to write down all of the scientific knowledge they gain.  Instead, this assessed through weekly quizzes and an end of unit test.  Where knowledge of particular enquiry skills are being developed, the books should reflect evidence of that but teachers should avoid making children write extended reports each week – instead they should only focus on one particular skills. For example in one week, children may record the results from an enquiry whilst in another; the books may show that week’s conclusions and evaluations instead.    In EYFS and Year 1, science is recorded in a class journal and in all other years, children have individual books.

Where topics are not best approached though enquiry-based learning, opportunities should be provided for the children to present the conceptual knowledge to others through a range of approaches including spoken, written, modelled and drawn. 

Appendix 3. How is teaching supported?

In addition to the provision of the medium-term plans and outline lesson plans, the subject leader provides active support as needed, as well as providing teachers with CPD and documents outlining the desired key substantive and disciplinary knowledge for all year groups, to ensure progression as the children move through the school.  These documents include:

  1. A bank of sticky questions, organised by topic and year group
  2. Documents outlining how the substantive and disciplinary knowledge should progress through the school.
  3. MTPs for each half term including lesson outlines, including key misconceptions and guidance on how to support SEN children.

The subject leader is a fellow of and the South West Area Mentor for the Primary Science Teaching Trust (PSTT).  She holds a doctorate in scientific research and worked as a professional scientist before becoming a teacher.  She is currently on the panel for the Royal Society of Chemistry Education Awards and was one of the five judges for the 2022 Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize.  She gives annual training lectures to PGSCE students at the University of Exeter.

Appendix 4. Opportunities for science outside of science lessons

Children are empowered to develop their exploration of science in their own way through the use of playground kits that include scientific equipment and ideas.  These kits are monitored by the School Science Councillors: 2 from each class who were trained with the equipment and take a pride in sharing their knowledge.  These playtime activities not only promote curiosity but also lead to improved skill when using scientific equipment.

Additional opportunities are provided such as science themed assemblies, visiting speakers, participation in national competitions and schemes; family learning evenings and afternoons.  Through these activities that promote Science Capital we aim to promote the belief, in our school families and our community, that science is a relevant part of all of our lives.

In key stage 2, whole class guided reading sessions are used to support science topics.  In years 5 and 6, they are also used to expose children to up to date scientific research through the use of articles created by the subject lead and her colleagues at the PSTT.

We also work with external agencies, such as the PSTT, the Institute of Chemistry and researchers and University College London and Kings College London.  We work collaboratively with other schools, supporting them to drive science forward across the federation.