Q3. How are working scientifically and working mathematically embedded in the school’s science and maths curricula? How often do science lessons include hands-on activities?

Why this is important

“Working scientifically” is a statutory part of the National Curriculum for key stages 1 and 2 and must be taught throughout the science programme of study.67 An enquiry-based approach to learning science helps pupils develop scientific understanding “by collecting and using evidence to test ways of explaining the phenomena they are studying.”2

According to Ofsted, science achievement was the highest in schools where pupils could get involved in the entire scientific process of an investigation.68

“Working mathematically” can be summarised by the aims of the National Curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2, where students should70:

  • become fluent in the fundamentals of mathematics
  • be able to reason mathematically by following a line of enquiry, conjecturing relationships and generalisations, and developing an argument, justification or proof
  • be able to solve problems by applying their mathematics to a variety of routine and non-routine problems.

A hands-on approach to mathematics is endorsed by Ofsted as good practice, noting that successful schools “ensure consistent approaches and use of visual images and models that secure progression in pupils’ skills and knowledge lesson by lesson and year by year”.71


There is no statutory requirement for the amount of time which should be dedicated to the teaching of hands-on science or maths. As stated in Q2 it is important that an adequate amount of teaching time is set aside for these subjects. Ofsted’s ‘Maintaining Curiosity’ report states that a significant minority of primary schools visited showed a lack of time set aside for the regular teaching of science through enquiry-based learning.73

Ideas for improvement

To find out more about hands-on science in their school, you may like to ask the following questions of the senior leadership team:

  • Do teachers have sufficient equipment and access to outdoor environments? (See the resources section for more information). If not, how can this be built into future budgets and strategic plans?
  • Are teachers able to access enough professional development to improve their science and maths pedagogical content knowledge (see the teaching section for more information)?
  • How much time is allocated to hands-on science in the school timetable and is this sufficient?

Teachers’ low confidence and incomplete subject knowledge can affect the type and quality of hands-on experiences pupils get:

  • attempting only the most simple activities and using only apparatus that is unlikely to go wrong
  • relying on pupils to follow instructions, reducing the need for teacher intervention.74

Subject leaders and teachers may like to look at the following:

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