ERO’s 2010 report, Science in Years 5 to 8: Capable and Competent Teaching, identified models of good practice in 13 selected schools and also found that most schools faced some challenges in developing high quality science programmes. The report stated its intention to undertake a large scale national evaluation of science education to provide a more detailed picture of the overall quality of primary school science across the country.

This 2012 report, Sciencein the New Zealand Curriculum: Years 5 to 8, provides an overview of science education in Years 5 to 8 in 100 schools reviewed [ 1] during Terms 1 and 2, 2011. ERO evaluated the quality of science teaching and learning, its place within the curriculum and its relationship to literacy and numeracy teaching.

Effective practice in science teaching and learning in Years 5 to 8 was evident in less than a third of the 100 schools. The wide variability of practices between highly effective and ineffective practices was found across all school types.

The quality of leadership was a significant contributor to the quality of science teaching and learning. In schools with effective science teaching and learning, principals actively promoted this learning area. Lead teachers had a strong interest in, and a passion for, science and worked proactively, in partnership with the principal, to foster staff knowledge and confidence with this learning area.

Teachers in these schools planned programmes that ensured students learnt concepts from all strands of the science curriculum. Students regularly focused on the Nature of Science strand, with particular emphasis on the process of investigation and the language of science. Carefully designed science programmes provided opportunities for students to investigate, understand, explain and apply their learning in meaningful and relevant contexts.

Effective teachers acted as facilitators as students influenced the direction of their own learning. Students in these classrooms were independent thinkers and could talk about their learning confidently, using scientific language. Lessons were engaging and students were positive about science.

In effective primary school science programmes, teachers successfully integrated science teaching with literacy and mathematics teaching that provided students with the specialist language and mathematics skills that supported their science learning. These teachers were able to successfully use an inquiry learning approach that maintained the integrity of the science.

Few principals and teachers demonstrated an understanding of how they could integrate the National Standards in reading, writing and mathematics into their science programmes. In the less effective schools principals saw science learning as a low priority. They struggled to maintain a balance between effective literacy and numeracy teaching, and providing sufficient time for teaching other curriculum areas, but particularly science. An integrated approach resulted in the science learning being lost. These principals often had little knowledge as to what extent science was included in classroom programmes in their schools.

Students did not benefit from a useful framework for science teaching and learning that included the science curriculum knowledge strands, and the overarching Nature of Science strand. Knowledge-based programmes were evident rather than interactive thinking, talking and experimenting approaches.

Science programmes in the less effective schools lacked coherence and continuity. The science component was often not made explicit to students. Teachers provided flawed investigative approaches or stand-alone lessons that were not clearly linked to the science curriculum. Student involvement in experimental work was variable.

Teachers had little useful data on student achievement in science and boards had little information about the quality of teaching and learning in science. Self review of science programmes was a low priority in over 80 percent of schools.

A lack of knowledge and understanding of the science curriculum requirements, and of what constitutes effective science teaching, was evident in many schools. Many teachers do not appear to be confident or well prepared for teaching science. They have generally had limited ongoing professional learning development opportunities in science. This has contributed to the low priority many teachers place on it.