Hands up for hands-on practical science

Hilary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning, says our education system needs to increase hands-on, experimental work in science subjects to inspire young people and meet their skills needs. 

Today we launch the results from the first Science Education Tracker, a survey of 14 to 18 year olds’ attitudes towards and experiences of science education and careers. We want to share this new evidence to help improve future education policy and practice.

Most young people are positive about learning science and say that practical work encourages them to learn. Science is an inherently practical subject – young people need to do hands-on, practical experiments, not just learn scientific facts. More frequent practical work is associated with students’ perceptions of good teaching and higher overall school performance.

But our data reveals a worrying variation in the frequency of hands-on work, with 29% of year 10 and 11 students saying they do it less than once a month. Half reported doing practical work at least fortnightly and we recommend this as an absolute minimum.

We know that subject preferences are established early [PDF 1.3MB]. The survey also demonstrates that these preferences are heavily associated with their gender, ethnicity, and family and socioeconomic backgrounds. We believe that these imbalances won’t be addressed without improving science in primary schools.

The Science Education Tracker highlights the central role that teachers play in the lives of young people – teachers determine the nature of what is taught, provide career advice, give access to extracurricular opportunities and encourage learning.

What we’re doing to improve science education 

As part of our mission to improve health, Wellcome invests over £5 million a year on science education research, resources and activities – it’s one of our priorities.

We look forward to working with the entire education community – students, teachers, governors, policymakers and researchers – to help make our vision for high-quality, inspiring science education in the UK a reality.

The tracker survey was done in state schools in England.