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National Curriculum

Planning and assessment in science


Planning across the key stage

The revision of the key stage 3 programme of study provides an opportunity to review and refresh your sequences of work. When reviewing planning across the key stage, developing new sequences of work or revising existing ones, you should consider the following.

Developing the key concepts and key processes

The key concepts that underpin the study of science and how science works should be taught through the key processes - the essential skills and processes that pupils need to learn to make progress. The range and content statements provide suitable contexts for the study of science at key stage 3.

Within this framework, teachers can adopt a more holistic approach to curriculum planning that focuses on the key concepts and processes. Appropriate aspects of scientific knowledge, including those from the range and content statements can then be built in.

Although teachers need to adopt a holistic approach to curriculum planning, this does not preclude focusing on one or more key concepts and key processes at any one time.

Progression and continuity

Planning science provision requires an appreciation of the individual needs of pupils and of the school's specific circumstances. Departments should pay particular attention to progression and continuity for the pupils they teach, basing entitlement on understanding, not coverage, and on the key concepts and key processes, not simply content. This involves considering how teaching and learning across the key stage will build upon the key concepts and key processes. 

Outward looking contexts for learning science

The study of science should not be restricted to activities taking place solely within the laboratory or classroom. Schools need to provide curriculum opportunities for pupils to experience science outside the school environment, including in the workplace where possible. These could be achieved by making links with appropriate employers in the local area and promoting access to science museums and learning centres.

Using real-life examples as a basis for finding out about science, and studying science in local, national and global contexts provides opportunities to make science relevant, engaging and purposeful.

Enrichment activities such as science clubs and guest speakers provide excellent opportunities to engage pupils in science and to discuss and debate topical scientific issues.

Pupils also need to consider the career opportunities, both within science and other areas, that scientific qualifications provide. They will discover that employers have a high regard for the skills, knowledge and understanding gained through the study of science.

The curriculum, science and STEM

Links between the key concepts and key processes in science and those of other subjects provide scope for cross-curricular working. Science teachers should consider all available opportunities for working alongside the full range of subject areas to provide flexible approaches to the delivery of science.

Education has an important role in ensuring there is an adequate supply of people with high-level skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects).  Collaborative working between science, design and technology and mathematics departments at key stage 3 is one step in addressing the STEM agenda.

Further support

Schools should draw on the expertise and support offered by the Secondary National Strategy, the Association for Science Education (ASE). Science Learning Centres and organisations such as the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network (STEMNET), as well as scientific societies and science institutes, to assist in planning and delivering their science provision.


Continuity across the key stages

To make good progress pupils need continuity and opportunities for development across the key stages. To achieve this, curriculum planning at key stage 3 needs to:

  • build on and extend pupils' achievements and experiences at key stage 2

  • provide pupils with a clear sense of how teaching and learning is helping them develop their knowledge, skills and understanding, and of what they are aiming to achieve by the end of the key stage

  • prepare pupils for the demands of the subject at key stage 4.

Key stage 2

During key stage 2 pupils learn about a wide range of living things, materials and phenomena. They begin to make links between ideas and to explain things using simple models and theories. They apply their knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas to familiar phenomena, everyday things and their personal health. They begin to think about the positive and negative effects of scientific and technological developments on the environment and in other contexts. They carry out systematic investigations, working on their own and with others. They use a range of reference sources in their work. They talk about their work and its significance and communicate ideas using a wide range of scientific language, conventional diagrams, charts and graphs.

By the end of key stage 2, most pupils are able to carry out systematic investigations. They are able to ask questions that can be investigated scientifically, consider what evidence needs to be collected, and what equipment and materials need to be used. They are able to offer predictions and make a fair test. They are able to make observations and measurements using ICT where appropriate and identify the need to repeat where necessary. They are able to communicate data in a wide range of diagrammatic, tabular and graphical forms, identifying relationships in data and drawing conclusions. They are able to use their scientific knowledge and understanding to explain data and are able to evaluate work and describe its significance and limitations.

Key stage 3

During key stage 3 pupils build on their scientific knowledge and understanding and make connections between different areas of science. They use scientific ideas and models to explain phenomena and events and to understand a range of familiar applications of science. They think about the positive and negative effects of scientific and technological developments on the environment and in other contexts. They take account of others' views and understand why opinions may differ. They do more quantitative work, carrying out investigations on their own and with others. They evaluate their work, in particular the strength of the evidence they and others have collected. They select and use a wide range of reference sources. They communicate clearly what they do and its significance. They learn how scientists work together on present-day scientific developments and about the importance of experimental evidence in supporting scientific ideas.

By the end of key stage 3, most pupils are able to carry out more advanced systematic investigations. They are able to use their scientific knowledge and understanding to turn ideas and models into appropriate investigative approaches and decide whether evidence from primary or secondary sources should be used. They are able to carry out preliminary work to help inform predictions and consider the key variables that need to be taken into account. They are able to consider how evidence may be collected in contexts in which the variables cannot be readily controlled. They are able to decide on the extent and range of data to be collected in order to reduce error and obtain reliable evidence. When presenting and considering evidence, they are able to use more quantitative approaches such as drawing graphs with lines of best fit. They are able to consider anomalies and offer explanations for them, and are able to consider whether evidence is sufficient to support conclusions made. In their evaluative work, they are able to suggest improvements that could be made.

Key stage 4

During key stage 4 pupils learn about the way science and scientists work within society. They consider the relationships between data, evidence, theories and explanations, and develop their practical, problem-solving and enquiry skills, working individually and in groups. They evaluate enquiry methods and conclusions both qualitatively and quantitatively, and communicate their ideas with clarity and precision.

All pupils develop their ability to relate their understanding of science to their own and others' decisions about lifestyles, and to scientific and technological developments in society.

Most pupils also develop their understanding and skills in ways that provide the basis for further studies in science and related areas.

New opportunities

The revised programme of study offers you many opportunities to refresh and renew your curriculum, making it broader and more relevant in ways that will inspire and engage learners. Some of the key themes that underpin the revisions include:

Increased flexibility

In the past, science has been viewed as a subject driven by content. The revised key stage 3 programme of study now provides a more appropriate balance between content and the scientific process or how science works. This is in line with the new key stage 4 programme of study and will provide greater flexibility for teachers and learners. Knowledge of conceptual and factual information is still important, but the range and content statements are less prescriptive and therefore provide more flexibility in their interpretation. They are as much a context for developing knowledge, skills and understanding of how science works, as they are knowledge to be acquired in their own right.

As pupils develop their understanding of the key concepts and key processes they will become more competent scientists, able to apply their knowledge, skills and understanding to new and unfamiliar contexts.

The revised science programme of study encourages and supports relevant, engaging and purposeful teaching and learning. Pupils should be given opportunities to use real-life examples set in local, national and global contexts as a basis for finding out about science. Teachers should use contemporary or topical science in the media to help explore issues that are of interest or concern to pupils.

Developing cultural understanding

The revised programme of study introduces the key concept of cultural understanding within science, recognising that modern science has its roots in many different societies and cultures, and draws on a variety of valid approaches to scientific practice. Pupils will learn that science is not solely the domain of the white western world.

Greater opportunities for collaboration

There is an increased emphasis on the key concept of collaboration within science, highlighting how scientific investigation is predominantly undertaken by groups of scientists working in collaboration with each other, sharing developments and common understanding across disciplines and boundaries. Pupils will learn that their group work in science reflects how scientists work in reality.

Exploring sustainable development

There is also an increased emphasis on the importance of sustainability in scientific and technological developments, in order to make pupils aware of the responsibility that we all have to secure the future of the planet for future generations.

Extending the area of study

Geology, astronomy and space science, and environmental science have a renewed focus within the revised programme of study, with increased recognition as discrete subjects that sit separately from the biological and physical sciences.

The revised programme of study also includes human and animal behaviour, recognising psychology and ethology as scientific disciplines. This new area provides an engaging context for the development of the key concepts and key processes and also links to increasing pupil awareness of different ways that people learn.

There is also increased recognition of the importance of ICT within science, and teachers and pupils will have further opportunities to be creative and innovative in its use.

Exploring career opportunities

Evidence suggests that the shortage of students studying science post-16 and entering careers in science is due, in part, to a lack of awareness of the career opportunities, both in science and other areas, that science qualifications provide. The revised programme of study emphasises the importance of exploring these opportunities at key stage 3. Through this, pupils will discover that employers have a high regard for the skills, knowledge and understanding gained through the study of science.

Planning for inclusion

Planning an inclusive key stage 3 means thinking about shaping the curriculum to match the needs and interests of the full range of learners.

These include:

  • the gifted and talented

  • those with special educational needs and disabilities

  • pupils who have English as a second language

  • the different needs of boys and girls.

Pupils in the school will also bring a range of cultural perspectives and experiences, which can be reflected in the curriculum and used to further pupils' understanding of the importance of the issues of diversity.

An inclusive curriculum is one where:

  • different groups of pupils are all able to see the relevance of the curriculum to their own experiences and aspirations

  • all pupils, regardless of ability, have sufficient opportunities to succeed in their learning at the highest standard.

You may find that a useful starting point to planning for inclusion could be to consider your own school's Disability Action Plan, Race Equality Plan and other equality policies alongside a comprehensive overview of the data available on pupils from various groups. This can then be used to draw up a useful framework for curriculum review. You will also be able to identify appropriate points to involve learners themselves in some of these developments.

Support for assessment

Assessment is an essential part of normal teaching and learning in all subjects. It can take many forms and be used for a range of purposes. To be effective assessment must be ‘fit for purpose’; being clear what you want the assessment to achieve will determine the nature of the assessment and what the outcome will be.

When planning assessment opportunities consider the following.

Purpose – What is the assessment for and how will it be used?

Does it form part of ongoing assessment for learning to provide individual feedback or targets so that the pupil knows what to do next? Is it to provide an overall judgement about how the pupil is progressing against national curriculum levels? Related to this is the need to consider how the purpose of assessment affects the frequency of assessment. For example, there should be sufficient time between level-related judgements to allow a pupil to show progress, whereas to be effective the assessment of ongoing work should be embedded in day-to-day teaching and learning.

Evidence – What are the best ways to gather the evidence needed to support the purpose of the assessment?

Assessment shouldn’t be limited to written outcomes and any meaningful judgement of progress or attainment should be based on a range of evidence. This could include assessing the learning as it’s happening through observation, discussion or focused questioning; involving pupils in the process through peer or self-assessment; or sampling a range of work over a period of time. If there are areas where you don’t have sufficient evidence you could either adjust your planning or use a more focused short task or test to fill the gap. The gathering of evidence also needs to be manageable. With care, the same evidence may be used for a variety of purposes.

Outcome – What form will the assessment outcome take and how will it be used?

Depending on the purpose of the assessment the outcome could be a level judgement of progress over time or a specific and measurable improvement target for the pupil. Effective use of the assessment outcome results in actions such as providing an instant response or planning for the longer term. The best means of communicating assessment outcomes should also be considered. For example, it might be through written feedback or discussion. The outcome may also provide you with valuable information for your future planning, by identifying areas that need to be revisited by a class or individuals to secure understanding or by revealing gaps in curriculum coverage where there is no evidence of achievement in a particular area to assess.

Further guidance on gathering evidence, integrating assessment, periodic assessment and the role of tasks and tests can be found under the assessment section.

Further guidance on day-to-day assessment and peer and self-assessment can be found under the assessment section.

APP in science

Assessing pupils' progress in science

QCDA and the National Strategies have produced materials, called Assessing pupils' progress (APP), to support day-to-day and periodic assessment in science.

APP is a structured approach to assessing science so teachers can:

  • track pupils’ progress throughout key stage 3

  • use diagnostic information about pupils’ strengths and weaknesses.

Based on the level descriptions that underpin national curriculum assessment, the approach aims to improve the quality and reliability of teacher assessment.

APP: the basic approach

The APP approach is straightforward. At regular intervals, which are planned to fit in with school assessment policy, teachers review pupils’ work using APP guidelines to build a profile of their attainment. The information gained from the process allows teachers to:

  • analyse the relative strengths and weaknesses of each pupil (at levels 3-8)

  • assign each pupil an overall national curriculum level for science

  • use this information to set curricular targets to strengthen pupils’ learning and inform their own future teaching by making links to the relevant objectives from the Framework for teaching science: Years 7, 8 and 9.

The advantages of adopting APP

APP is powerful because it:

  • embraces both formative and summative assessment

  • supports teachers in aligning their judgements systematically with national standards

  • increases the consistency and reliability of teacher assessment

  • is systematic and also adaptable to local contexts.

Other advantages for a science department of adopting APP are that it:

  • contributes to the professional development of all teachers, particularly of less experienced colleagues

  • provides high-quality evidence to inform reporting on pupil progress

  • contributes to improved learning and more responsive teaching.

The APP materials

The suite of APP materials includes:

  • a handbook for science subject leaders and teachers explaining how to use the resources and how to implement this approach to assessment in school

  • assessment guidelines for use with pupils' ongoing work in science

  • standards files containing collections of ongoing work from pupils, assessed and annotated to exemplify the APP approach and national standards

Quick links

How science links to

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