Q3. How is science and maths expertise identified within the school, and how is it used to best effect?

Why this is important

In the most effective schools, leaders know the strengths and weaknesses of their teachers’ subject knowledge and pedagogical and leadership skills. This enables them to deploy expertise strategically for maximum impact (see Q2), and to increase it where needed in appointing new staff and through CPD (continuing professional development) – proven to be effective in improving teacher confidence and pupil outcomes (see Q4).

All teachers
All teachers must have the necessary subject expertise and related pedagogical skills and knowledge to confidently teach inspiring and relevant science8 and maths.9

Weak subject knowledge can be associated with low confidence in teaching science11; this can lead to teachers avoiding topics they lack confidence in. There is also evidence that anxiety concerning subject knowledge in female teachers may be reflected by anxiety felt by female students.12

Subject leaders
Subject leaders need a high level of subject knowledge to cover the whole curriculum and associated pedagogical knowledge and leadership to support all staff with teaching13. Many maths leaders find it difficult to “support the mathematical development of colleagues… as they themselves are not ‘mathematicians’”.14 A subject leader who is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about science and maths can inspire others.

Teaching assistants
Many schools have reported that their science and maths subject leaders need additional support – this could come from teaching assistants.15

Benchmarks

Teachers
The Department for Education school workforce census identified 25,000 primary school teachers with a science-related degree16 – that is just over one, on average, in every primary school17. However in reality, many primary schools will not have any teachers who have studied science or maths further than GCSE; teachers must have access to the necessary CPD to develop and sustain their skills and knowledge (see Q4).

Leaders
Wellcome has defined the skills required to lead science in a primary school, which are listed below and have been widely endorsed by organisations working in science education.

  • Subject knowledge: A Primary Science Subject Leader should have a deep understanding of the scientific concepts within the primary science curriculum, supported by an understanding of progression into the next phase of education. They should identify any gaps in their knowledge or weaker areas of understanding of the scientific methods, and address these through appropriate sources, including high quality CPD.
  • They should understand the different methodologies for science enquiry and when to use them, including appropriate methods of recording and presenting different types of data. They should be confident in the use of scientific vocabulary related to the curriculum and be able to explain these terms to colleagues.
  • Pedagogical content knowledge: A Primary Science Leader should have secure knowledge of, and be able to apply and model, an appropriate range of methods suitable for teaching across all phases in their school. Their knowledge should include enquiry-based teaching and learning methods, practical activities, out-of-classroom learning, independent and group work, problem solving, and digital technologies. They should have secure understanding of both formative and summative assessment practices for primary science, and evaluate outcomes to monitor the impact of science teaching and learning on pupils.
  • Subject leadership: A Primary Science Leader should value science, understand the importance and relevance of science in our lives, and recognise that teaching and learning science develops skills and ideas that can be either specific or can be applied across the curriculum. They should:
  • keep up to date with broad developments in science and science education, and consider how to share these with colleagues, and pupils when appropriate
  • be aware of, and take responsibility for developments that affect school science policy, including health and safety
  • be aware of the existence of unconscious biases and the effects they can have on children’s developing identities; take responsibility for countering gender stereotyping across the school, in science lessons and enrichment activities – particularly when it relates to gendered expectations
  • implement a whole-school vision for science, and advise and support colleagues on the pedagogy and appropriate resources to achieve it
  • ensure that they access continuing professional development (CPD) for leadership of science and that colleagues access CPD to address their requirements too
  • monitor provision of science, pupils’ progress and contribute to the strategic development of learning in school

Ideas for improvement

  • Wellcome has produced a guide to developing great science subject leadership.
  • School leaders should audit the skills, expertise and interests of all staff, including teaching assistants, to identify areas for improvement.
  • Schools can improve their teaching expertise through professional development (see Q4) or through recruitment. Schools may find it easier to recruit and retain teachers and subject leaders with science or maths expertise if they show that they prioritise these subjects, such as through working towards the Primary Science Quality Mark and offering adequate resources, environments and subject-specific professional development.
  • Reports suggest that teaching assistants require effective support to ensure they have a positive impact on pupil progress.21 The Education Endowment Foundation has produced seven tips for making the most effective use of teaching assistants.

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