The impact of COVID-19 on primary science education
A new report from Wellcome
Children in a classroom
The impact of COVID-19 on primary science education – a new report from Wellcome. Wellcome has been publishing data on primary science education since 2017 to help inform our work and decision making about how Explorify should develop. But the past eighteen months have been highly disrupted, so we delved into what primary science education has been like during this time, collecting information from nearly 3,000 UK teachers and school leaders and learning particularly about the impact of Explorify on teaching.
Dedication and determination
There’s no doubt about the dedication of teachers and school leaders, and their determination to do their very best under incredible pressure to support pupils at the same time as managing their own family needs, getting to grips with new technologies and seeing work-loads increase. There have been trade-offs with planning, choosing which science topics to teach in school and which can be addressed in some way in home learning, recognising that parents are (mostly) not teachers, and concern about the impact on practical exploration, investigations and child-initiated enquiry. Inevitably many schools have taught less science than they would normally and there have been many negative impacts, with disadvantaged pupils most adversely affected. But teachers sought opportunities to teach science as well as they could.
Many teachers made use of a wide range of online resources for teaching science and some used Explorify’s home learning collections or used Explorify activities directly in online teaching.
During the first lockdown in 2020, many teachers seized the opportunity to engage with online professional development. Since then, time has been more limited but Explorify’s resources and Support for Teaching have been welcomed by many. As well as support for science subject leadership, there’s support for teaching the tricker bits of science, planning, developing vocabulary and enquiry, and guidance on how to make the most of the resource.
It is important the schools make sure teachers continue to access high quality professional development and that science leaders have time to lead and manage science. Until 2020 we saw an increase in the amount of release time for science leaders who were Explorify users too – but during the past year, that time has been lost as schools struggled to focus on pupils. Moving forward, it is vital that science leaders have meaningful time to lead science and support their colleagues and that all teachers allocate enough time to teach science regularly.
Impact of Explorify on teachers and pupils
With science in the news so much, teachers who didn’t see themselves as very sciency now say they have a greater awareness of the importance of science and share that more readily with their children. Using Explorify helps to build teachers’ confidence.
As we pick up teaching science again, it’s essential that we get the context right for pupils so they can relate to it, and Explorify helps with that too.
“It's the real-life examples as well that are really good with them because you tended to create odd fake experiments in science, years ago, but now actually all of your Big Questions, your photos are real, the videos are real. So it's allowing children to discuss and ask big questions themselves.” Headteacher
Teachers use Explorify to support their teaching primarily because it motivates and engages pupils in discussion, using scientific vocabulary and helping them transfer their learning to other contexts, supporting formative assessment.
“I certainly use them initially when I am introducing a new topic to assess children's prior knowledge. So, what kind of vocabulary do they have, what kind of knowledge do they have?” Science leader
Explorify isn’t just for science lessons. Teachers report using it in early morning work, between lessons and in other subjects, encouraging children to see links between science and other learning, and it’s helping to build pupils’ confidence and transferable skills. Seven schools around the UK shared their experience of teaching science in more detail and their case studies can be found here, with ideas to support primary science whatever your school’s situation.
Science leaders see an impact not only on themselves but on teachers in their school and they describe that more and better science teaching occurs as a result of using Explorify, which is good news for everyone.