So, what did Scrutiny find out about Science in schools in Swansea?

Councillors from the Schools Scrutiny Performance Panel met on 7 June to look at ‘How Swansea pupils are being engaged and inspired in Science at school?’  They chose to look at this because science should not only give then skill and opportunities to improve their futures but should be exciting for young people.

Councillors spoke to the Leaders of Learning from Education through Regional Working (ERW), the Head of Education Achievement and Partnership at Swansea Council and two Headteachers from Comprehensive Schools that are performing particularly well in Science subjects Bishopston and Pontarddualais Schools.  some of the issues discussed included:

  • performance data in Swansea and comparisons across our region and wider afield
  • how pupils are encouraged and inspired to take up science
  • how we ensure pupils have high aspirations in science
  • How we are learning, sharing and celebrating good practice
  • What excellent schools are doing to engage and retain interest of pupils in science
  • How we advise young people on next steps after school
  • How we link with 6th forms and colleges to ensure progression in science

Some of the panel findings include:

  • Current performance across Swansea schools at KS4 shows that three quarters of learners gained a grade C or above at GCSE Level 2 Science. This performance places Swansea on a par with the national average and eleventh out 22 local authorities in Wales.  We heard that the rank position is an improvement on the previous year but overall performance has declined during the last two years.  This is in line with a national decline in performance.
  • Value added information indicates a varied picture of performance across schools in Swansea. They heard that performance may be varied because of the inclusion of the BTEC outcomes data and that from next year this will not be included in the figure, so should be a truer reflection.  It was also explained that the new science examination will come in this year.
  • There does not seem to be gender gap in the take up of science subjects in schools with both boys and girls doing equally well. The issue arises when pupil’s move on to 16+ where it is much less likely that girls will choose science options.  It was felt that schools could complete a sampling of exit interviews each year to understand why certain subjects are chosen when continuing in education post 16, which will help establish why pupils are choosing (or not choosing) certain career paths.
  • That the main challenge that schools face in relation to science, as with other subjects, is the gap in performance between free and non-free school meal pupils. In 2016-2017 the difference was 23.6%. The panel will look at how schools are using their pupil deprivation grant to address this later in the year.
  • Comprehensive schools working with their cluster primaries around early development of science is very positive. This way of working was exampled at Pontarddulais Comprehensive School with their cluster primaries. Councillors felt that it is important to invest in pupil’s primary years so when they come through to Secondary they are much better prepared and would like to see more cluster working around Science.
  • A good example of combining science and the transition from Primary to Secondary School was outlined by Bishopston Comprehensive. They have a project on flight that starts in the pupil’s final year of Primary schools and continues into Secondary. The freeing up of laboratory time in the feeder Comprehensive School so it can be used by cluster primaries was also highlighted as an excellent use of limited facilities and should be considered by other comprehensive schools.
  • The use of role models from local industry was felt by the panel to be a positive way forward in inspiring young people to take up and continue in technology and science beyond school. The panel supported the idea of a Careers Fayre, an inspiration event and a short 10 minute video for schools to use to inspire their pupils when they are beginning to think about their career paths.
  • Support for schools and individual teachers is vital. The skills and knowledge of the teacher was seen as central to learning, ideally with classes being led by a subject specialist but if this is not possible then teachers are upskilled to specifically teach science. We were pleased to hear that ERW offers this development option and also that University of Wales Trinity St David offers a conversion course for teachers to become science subject specialist.  It was felt that the use of new technologies and digital activities were useful but it this does not replace the need for innovative and excellent teaching. High quality teaching and learning is absolutely the way forward in science.
  • The overall focus of a school on science, the longer term planning and use of data were also seen as key elements in how well pupils engage and perform. The panel felt that the schools leadership and commitment to science and technology will ultimately reflect in pupil’s enthusiasm and overall inspiration in those subjects

A letter will shortly be written to the Cabinet Member for Education Improvement, Learning and Skills highlighting the Panels full findings and she will be asked to give her views on these.

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