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“Are we doing an experiment today….?”

BlueSky Learning: New Module on Practicals in Secondary Science

A familiar and hopeful cry across the lab as students file in for today’s science lesson. Sadly the answer is more often than not, no. 55% of students in years 7-9 reported that practical experiment work is the most motivating aspect of science lessons, yet the number of practical lessons that pupils engage with has declined. Only 33% of students in year 11 reported that they took part in hands-on practical work at least once a fortnight [1].

What are the reasons behind this decline in practical experiments? The restrictions placed on schools during the pandemic meant that there was a dramatic reduction, and for some schools complete removal, of the practical element in science lessons; a necessary step to maximise the safety of learners and teachers in the classroom during this time. The implications of this is that many teachers training during this period had little to no experience of engaging their classes in practical work, which in turn has led to a drop in confidence in delivery of practical experiments amongst many Early Career Teachers [1]. Although schools have been working towards the reinstatement of all practical lessons, gaps in pupils’ learning and experience remain.

experiment, secondary science, science lesson, Sufian Sadiq, Racial Equity

In addition to the on-going impact of Covid-19, schools face increasing challenges with time and resources, and an ever increasing need to tighten their belts. The expanding curriculum makes time a real factor. In an attempt to fill the void caused by the pandemic, many practitioners produced digital technology to demonstrate practical experiments. Digital resources have proven to be useful tools and their use is clearly time efficient, but should be used to enhance, not replace practical experiments [2]. 

The Gatsby Benchmarks for Good Practical Science refer to the importance of Expert Teachers, those with subject specialist training in the subject and age range that they teach. This benchmark will enable teachers to carry out practical science with confidence and knowledge of the fundamental principles. However, extrapolated data suggests that across the country, 70,000 teachers have subjects on their timetables that they haven’t studied past the age of 16 [3]. The current recruitment and retention challenges that schools face, in addition to the cost of living impacting on schools’ budgets means that this figure is unlikely to drop any time soon. 

Are experiments important? Students may report finding these lessons more engaging, but is that reason enough to strive to increase their exposure to practicals? In short, yes. Experimentation gives science its identity [2]. There is an ever growing demand for employees within STEM occupations. It is estimated that 3.5 million STEM jobs will need to be filled by 2025. If supply is to come closer to meeting demand we must equip learners with the skills and the motivation to pursue careers in this field [4]. Yet it is also important to consider the best use of time within the classroom, and ensure that pupils are ‘minds on’, not just ‘hands on’ in order to reap the benefits of these practical lessons. 

BlueSky is pleased to be launching a new module ‘Practicals in Secondary Science’. This module has been developed by Dr Rebecca Glass, a former science teacher and now Senior Education Manager at M3. Session one focuses on the why and how of practical science and improving provision at school, department and class level, whilst session two uses best practice case studies to help staff apply their learning to their classroom. Watch the Taster and learn how you can start to implement these strategies in your classroom today.

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Module Key Take Aways:

  • The benefits and challenges of practical work as a pedagogical tool.
  • How to improve the quality and purpose of practical work in secondary science.
  • Effective practice examples of science practical lessons, including planning, setting routines and managing behaviour.


[1] The Association of Science Education. “Is Your Secondary School Eligible for Our “Keeping Science Practical” Programme?” Www.ase.org.uk, 31 Aug. 2021, Accessed 27 July 2022.

[2] Holman J. ( 2017) ‘Good Practical Science’, London: Gatsby Foundation

[3] McInerney, Laura. “Teaching out of Specialism: Does It Matter to Pupils?” Schoolsweek.co.uk, 25 Nov. 2018, Accessed 28 July 2022.

[4] Barone, Ryan. “The State of STEM Education Told through 22 Stats.” ID Tech, 20 May 2022,  Accessed 29 July 2022.

Discover more BlueSky Learning Knowledge modules here

Tamsin Denley

Author: Ally Sousa
Content Specialist, BlueSky Learning

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