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Primary science – How to make a positive engagement with the subject

April 2, 2021, 11:02 GMT+1
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  • Emma Plows explains how to engage pupils of all ages with science and STEM...
Primary science – How to make a positive engagement with the subject

As a collective, the schools within Focus Trust work under joint core values and the key headline of ‘learning together and making a difference’, which ultimately underpins our ongoing relationships with our wider partner academies and our approach to educating our pupils.

Our aim is to create a happy, safe, and positive learning environment that can aid the children in reaching their full potential across all subjects. And science is no exception.

So when we began the journey of further enhancing our science offering initially in 2015, our first port of call was to use a collaborative approach and to take on board the learnings across the various academies to adopt best practice, and to enrich our offering to the children.

After embarking on the Reflect-ED programme in 2018, along with Thornton Primary School and Birstall Primary Academy which also form part of the Focus Trust, we recognised the potential impact of combining learning about metacognition with engaging science and STEM projects.


In taking this approach, which promotes a child’s ability to monitor and manage their own learning – we wanted to teach the actual ability to think about thinking, and to equip our pupils with the skills which will allow them to recognise their strengths and weaknesses and to help them develop a ‘Growth Mindset’.

This then equips them with the belief that with effort, perseverance, and resilience, all children can achieve at higher levels. Learners who have a growth mindset believe they can grow their intelligence with hard work.

However, when developing this culture of growth we did not want to simply tell our pupils to ‘work harder’, and so the vocabulary we used was carefully considered to ensure we created an environment where mistakes were okay.

We also wanted to equip them with the right tools to reflect on what was working and what wasn’t, and to take action to change their approach if needed.

As part of this we developed a colour coded reflection programme which outlined whether pupils were new to a subject, and whether they needed help. We also factored in other measures such as whether a student was capable of working through the subject independently, or indeed had the understanding, confidence and capability to coach another pupil.

Reflecting in a different colour pen encouraged the children to focus on their metacognitive skills across the subject and look at what does or doesn’t work for them.
This helped us to adopt a personalised working style with each pupil based on their own individual needs, and it allowed us to identify pragmatic ways to develop their learning.

It also gave us the scope we needed to take onboard the feedback from the children themselves and to adapt the programme and approach as appropriate.

Needless to say, it soon became apparent that by taking on their comments and insight we were much better placed to create a truly engaging and effective approach.
By moving away from a ‘fixed mindset’ the children were more positive, and they wanted to try new things. The more we moved away from desk-based learning the more they engaged.

Through cognitive learning techniques – including encouraging the children to reflect on their experience, find solutions to problems, and encouraging discussions – they identified what they enjoyed the most and what activities we could do to develop their scientific enquiry skills.


This prompted us to implement the use of science floor books at both Shibden Head and Birstall Primary Academy which, in turn, has given the pupils the opportunity to present their investigations and findings in a joint book which showcases their work. We then present this to the rest of the class helping the children learn from one another in a shared approach.

This incorporates the metacognitive strands by allowing children to build resilience, independence and incorporate an element of challenge at their own level; encouraging them not be afraid of the term failure and ensuring progress in subjects like science shine through.

It moves away from traditional exercise book learning and helps not only increase the vocabulary of the children, but it also serves to keep them engaged for longer.
We further built on this by implementing our working together ethos across the schools and wider community through events such as science fairs, trips to science facilities such as the National Space Centre, and trust wide education days.

A real emphasis was put on getting the children out of the classroom and doing outside investigations, while still incorporating the three main areas of science. This proved particularly popular with pupils, parents and staff.

We also encouraged a number of professionals to visit our schools to broaden our children’s learning, and with a view to helping them understand the wide varieties of careers that are available to them which involve science.

By building a programme that was varied we have helped develop science capital across all year groups, and by responding to our pupils’ feedback, we have also been able to introduce science learning across the wider activities that they do.

This has resulted in a number of parent-led projects to increase home learning, and we have launched a Science Club at Shibden Head and Birstall Academy.
Of course, the role of the staff in all of this has a huge role to play in how successful it has been to date, and so it’s incredibly important to ensure that they have the knowledge and resources that they need to best support the pupils.

That’s reflected in all that we do at Focus Trust, as our fundamental core purpose is to continually strive to be a learning organisation, where the learning of all children and adults is valued and promoted.


The continued professional development of our staff is therefore very important to us, and so training sessions around our approach to science as a subject is provided, along with advice on how it can be adopted and developed in each individual setting.

Overall, we’re delighted to say we’ve received really positive feedback from all, and we are very proud to have since been recognised with the Primary Science Quality Mark GILT award for our success in raising the profile of science across the school.

The GILT is awarded to those schools who have clearly established science leadership, successful teacher autonomy and innovation, development into science teaching and learning, and has shown a positive impact across all year groups.

We passionately believe equality of opportunity starts with education; irrespective of where you were born or where you live. We know that a high-quality education will make a fundamental difference to the lives of all of the children, as well as their career prospects and social mobility.

We aim to provide inclusive and inspirational environments where our children thrive and build the social and ‘cultural capital’ they need to make aspirational choices about their future and we will continue to strive towards continued improvements and refinements to their learning.

What you need to know

  • Remember, it’s important to think of science as science, and not as a focus for maths or English.
  • Take feedback from the children on what’s working and what’s not, and don’t be afraid to change your approach if needed.
  • Where possible take learning outside of the classroom and into real life environments to help bring the topics to life.
  • Invite professionals to visit to talk to the children about the wide varieties of careers which involve science.
  • Help the children to build resilience and independence by incorporating an element of challenge at their own level, while encouraging them not to be afraid to get things wrong.
  • Invest in the professional development of staff around the science and stem topics and make sure they have the necessary resources available to best support the pupils.
  • Encourage parents to get involved by introducing home-learning projects where the whole family can get involved.
  • Launch a dedicated science club.

  • Emma Plows is science lead of Shibden Head Primary Academy in Bradford, which operates as part of Focus Trust.