This toolkit provides the 'must-haves' for every science leader; either to get you started or help reinvigorate your leadership.
New and experienced leads can raise the profile of science in their schools with this guidance. We have tips, ideas and example resources to download in every section. So, take them away and adapt for your school!
HOT TIP #1
Lead by example
If you are passionate about science, your enthusiasm will be infectious. Keep the profile of science high by teaching it well in your class, offering support to your colleagues and talking about it at every opportunity.
HOT TIP #2
Establish regular release time
Establish regular and protected subject leader release time with your head teacher from the beginning. Without this it will be difficult to truly establish yourself in the role and complete all the actions you have planned for science.
Subject audit and surveys
As science leader, you will need to build a picture of what science currently looks like in your school – the good bits and the bad bits! The best way to do this is by undertaking an audit of key areas and asking your pupils, teachers and parents.
Resources - What resources does the school have? Are they accessible, useable, up-to-date and fit for purpose? Will they support teachers to deliver the curriculum effectively?
Budget - Is there a dedicated budget for science? If so, how much is it and what can you use it for?
Teaching - Is science taught regularly in all classes? For how long each week? Are the lessons timetabled as discrete sessions?
Planning - What are the expectations from your senior leadership team (SLT) for science planning? Where are teachers getting their objectives, resources, ideas from? Is there a whole-school curriculum overview? Is there a scheme of work?
Books - What does science learning look like in the books?
Learning – What other evidence of science learning is there around the school? Do teachers set science-related home learning activities?
Display - Does every class have an up-to-date, interactive science display? Is there a whole school science display?
Assessment - Is there any science assessment (formative or summative) taking place? If so, what is the data used for?
Policy - Does your school have a science policy? Is science part of your school development/improvement plan (SDP/SIP)?
Undertaking a short questionnaire with your staff and pupils across the school is an extremely useful activity, as it will complement the findings from your subject audit. It will provide you with a clear idea of where science is working well and where it needs to improve. The survey should only consist of a few straightforward questions, both open and closed, from which you can begin to identify your key priorities. When asking pupils, work with a small, mixed group from each year and talk through the questions and their answers so you gain a clear understanding of their thoughts. A parent survey can also provide valuable information.
During your first year as a science leader you can make some big steps. However, it is important not to try and do everything at once. Prioritise your tasks by creating a set of clear and manageable objectives in a subject action plan and focusing on some core baseline activities.
Put simply, an action plan is where you set out your main objectives for the year, framed under key priority areas (themes). We recommend that you keep things simple at first and have no more than 5 key priority areas. As a starting point, it makes sense to align your priorities with core elements such as ‘leadership & management’, ‘teaching & learning’, ‘assessment & progress’, ‘inclusion’ and ‘enrichment’.
If however you have access to your school development/improvement plan (SDP/SIP), you can align your key priority areas with this; there may even be a school template for you to use that includes broad action areas. This will ensure members of SLT are on board and your leadership is in line with that of the overall school.
To create the objectives for each priority area, be guided by the valuable information you gathered in your initial subject audit and surveys. Think: What issue has been highlighted? What are the key things (objectives) that if achieved would address this issue? For each objective, you should then identify 2-3 key actions you will need to take to achieve it, including the necessary personnel, time and resources. It can also be useful to set out termly markers (i.e. what you want to see at certain stages), which you can use to break down the actions into achievable chunks and then measure your progress against them.
Talking to other science leaders is a must! Your local network is usually a collection of science leaders who come together regularly from within a local area to discuss new initiatives and curriculum content, as well as hear from experts and organisations within the primary science sector. More importantly, however it is also a great opportunity to share ideas, source support and find answers to any queries you may have within your role. A lot of best practice, reassurance and inspiration comes from meetings like these, which are usually friendly and relaxed occasions. Things you learn about can then be disseminated, as necessary, to your teaching staff to use in their classrooms.
For you: what skills/knowledge do you need to develop to be able to fulfil your role – Subject knowledge? Pedagogical knowledge? Leadership skills? Remember, some of this CPD might be available through your science leader network meetings or online. Learn more by visiting STEM Learning, Primary Science Teaching Trust, or Reach Out CPD.
For your staff: find out what CPD your teachers need/want (as part of your initial audit activities). Can you provide it internally through staff meetings or 1:1 support? Do they need support to find the training externally? Can they access it online? Could team teaching as a regular strategy help teachers build confidence with unfamiliar topics?
Create a CPD plan for you and your staff and spread it out over the year to allow time for new initiatives and training to be properly trialled and embedded. Begin by booking in a regular staff meeting slot with your head teacher as a minimum (half-termly is a good starting point).
Primary Science Quality Mark: Registering for the Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM) is an excellent way of focussing your energies as a science leader. PSQM is a year-long intensive CPD programme which helps schools to achieve a quality mark. It is suitable for schools where science has been a low profile for a while and who want to improve their provision further. Subject leaders will develop effective, confident science leadership which has whole school impact on science teaching and learning and raises the profile of science. (For more information visit PSQM http://www.psqm.org.uk or read our blog post https://explorify.wellcome.ac.uk/blog/psqm-raising-the-profile-of-science-across-the-whole-school).
Whether your school is in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, good curriculum coverage is a non-negotiable. In England, you must make sure teachers know the statutory curriculum topics, objectives and key vocabulary they are required to teach over the year, as well as when they should be teaching them. It is useful to create a topic overview map to avoid clashes, provide clarity and indicate progression through the school. Teachers must also incorporate the 5 types of scientific enquiry into their science provision. An enquiry types map can be used to plan ahead for where topics provide opportunities to use the different enquiry types. (For top tips on how Explorify activities can be used to support the types of enquiry, read this helpful article: https://explorify.wellcome.ac.uk/blog/working-in-a-scientific-way)
Topic overview map - National Curriculum, England (docx)
In Scotland, the curriculum for excellence organises the sciences into five topic areas. You must ensure that your school’s curriculum covers the progression in knowledge and skills across the year groups. The ‘Experiences and Outcomes’ document, (which can be found on the Education Scotland website), provides concise statements about children's learning and progression and should be used to help teachers plan their lessons, as well as assess progress.
In Northern Ireland, the statutory requirements for science and technology are incorporated within ‘The World Around Us’ Area of Learning (which can be found on the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment website). A key element when designing your science curriculum is to ensure you incorporate the three ‘Cross-Curricular Skills’ and five ‘Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities’ within your sequences of learning.
NI Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities posters (pdf)
In Wales, there are six complementary ‘Statements of what matters’ for science, in the curriculum for Wales on Hwb. For each statement, there are descriptions of learning, which provide guidance on how learners’ knowledge and skills should progress. You must support teachers to ensure they are providing opportunities to support this progression.
As a subject leader in any nation, you must be clear on how the ‘big ideas’ of science are mapped across your curriculum to ensure progression; i.e. how your curriculum is designed to help make sure that children’s learning builds appropriately each year as they move through school. In addition to this, it is important to design a curriculum for the children in your school. It is worth reflecting on what is special about science in your school and how you can incorporate this into the curriculum; e.g. links to your local community, real-world problem solving, outdoor learning or cross-curricular links.
In terms of how each teacher plans to teach their curriculum topics to their class, depending on the feedback from your initial subject audit, you might need to provide guidance and support. This could take the form of a standardised planning format for them to use, links to quality-assured online resources (e.g. PLAN’s knowledge and working scientifically matrices https://www.planassessment.com/teacher or Explorify’s planning examples: https://explorify.wellcome.ac.uk/blog/planning-for-science-teaching) or even 1:1 meetings with teachers to help plan a sequence of lessons.
Timetabling: Ensure that science is given dedicated space on each teacher’s timetable; this should be at least 2 hours each week. But remember, science can be taught at any time of the day - encourage teachers to look out for those meaningful cross-curricular links and other opportunities to teach science. For example, why not try an Explorify activity as your early morning work or straight after lunch?
Variety: In addition to the variety included in the curriculum, supporting your staff to resource their lessons, include outdoor learning and cross-curricular links in their teaching and use home learning opportunities to enhance science will guarantee a good variety of experiences for all pupils. It is also important to incorporate a range of techniques for children to record their learning. ‘Evidencing inspiration’ provides a few examples for how this can be done for Explorify activities.
Displays: Each class should have an up-to-date science display in their classrooms. At its simplest, this could include key vocabulary, images and questions to engage and interest pupils in the topic. The more interactive the display however, the more likely it is to help support their learning and enjoyment of science.
Before being able to assess their children, teachers must understand what a ‘secure’ learner looks like for each set of topic objectives. They may need support with this, and PLAN’s example assessment resources (https://www.planassessment.com) are a simple and effective way for teachers to gain this initial understanding; it would be beneficial to introduce this to your teachers as early as possible so that they have time to understand it and embed it in their practice. Our blog posts are a useful starting point. Read How can Explorify help with assessment and PLAN - good practice in assessment.
Teachers then need a way of recording their ongoing (formative) assessment for each pupil, which can be done in a variety of ways. One approach is to include the topic objectives on a cover sheet in each child’s book, so the teacher can make formative judgements as they mark their pupil’s work.
Various organisations also provide useful resources and guidance on assessment in science (e.g. PSTT’s TAPS pyramid tool provides a structure to support you to evaluate and develop your assessment processes: https://pstt.org.uk/resources/curriculum-materials/assessment). Whatever form the assessment takes however, it must be a continuous and flexible process that ultimately supports and enhances the learning of the pupils.
As your first year progresses, there are a few other important ‘rolling’ activities that will support you and your school to improve science teaching and learning.
At least once a term, you should look at the work being done in class science books (or whatever recorded evidence is available) to ensure teachers are covering the objectives, providing a variety of learning experiences and there is evidence of progression. A standardised format for recording your observations can be a useful tool, and it is important to communicate your findings to teachers. Feedback can then be used to celebrate the things that are going well and provide targeted support where it is needed.
Getting the opportunity to see science being taught is extremely valuable for monitoring the subject. There are a variety of ways of doing this, however it is vital that it is positioned as a collaborative and formative, rather than judgemental, experience and that all teachers are on board. It is often useful to have a specific focus for your monitoring to make it both manageable and meaningful.
Depending on timetabling and the amount of release time you have, you might organise a set of formal lesson observations (perhaps even involving members of SLT), where a date and time is set for you to observe a science lesson in each year group, and written feedback is provided to the teacher.
Alternatively, a less formal approach is to drop into a science lesson (with advanced warning) and watch/get involved with what is happening, talk to the children about what they are learning and then provide verbal feedback to the teacher at the end of the day.
Both of these monitoring approaches will give you an excellent insight into how science is going across the school. They will also give you the opportunity to work with teachers on sharing best practice and addressing any areas for development as part of an ongoing constructive dialogue.
If possible, you can gain great insight into the progress of science by talking to the pupils at different points in the year. This does not need to be as formal or lengthy as the initial survey you carried out at the beginning of the year, and could just be an informal chat with a few pupils from each year group when the opportunity arises.
As resources are used in lessons, they will inevitably get lost and broken. It is your responsibility to maintain the stock of resources, so you will need to order new resources and manage the budget as necessary. It could be useful to set up a simple system for your staff to record their resourcing needs, for example with a document saved in a central location or a form displayed in the staffroom. It is also important to continue sharing new digital resources that you become aware of, some of which might become part of the internal CPD you offer.
Science should not be confined to the classroom, and there are a variety of ways to enhance the curriculum and raise the profile of science:
Run a science club: A science club is a great way to provide pupils with fun, informal and hands-on science activities outside of their normal science provision. This could be run after school or during lunch time and it is a good opportunity to allow children to have an input in their science learning by making suggestions for activities and investigations they would like to try. Other related alternatives are eco club, gardening club, innovators club, science ambassadors…basically, anything STEM-related.
Hold a science week: The British Science Association runs a national science week in the Spring term and provides excellent free resources based on their chosen theme for you to use in school (To find out more visit https://www.britishscienceweek.org/). Organising a set of science-related activities for the whole school is a great way to excite pupil’s interest in science; these could include a science assembly, practical workshops, a scientific challenge/competition, or preparing a science demonstration. It is also an opportunity to make links across the curriculum and generally think more creatively with your science learning. Invite parents to get involved where possible to raise the profile of science even further.
Organise educational visits: Encourage teachers to take their class on as many science-related visits as possible across the year. This is an excellent way to broaden children’s understanding of what science is and take advantage of the wonderful resources that are out there. Support teachers by sharing suggestions of places they can visit in your area or organisations that can deliver workshops at your school; these can, of course, be either directly related to the science topic they are teaching or have a more general science focus.
Invite science visitors into school: As well as taking pupils to experience the science going on around them, just as valuable is bringing the science into school. Debunk the view of a crazy-haired, lab coat-wearing scientist by inviting in a range of people from STEM-related backgrounds to introduce the children to what they do. STEM Ambassadors, for example, are people from a wide variety of STEM-related jobs and disciplines who offer their time, enthusiasm and expertise free of charge (stem.org.uk/stem-ambassadors). Children will love to interrogate these experts and it will really open their eyes to the varied roles covered by the term ‘scientist’.
Hold parent workshops: Inviting parents to take part in a short science workshop will not only raise the profile of science but will also enable parents to better support their children with their science learning. Providing a brief overview of the curriculum and teaching of science at your school will help them to understand what their child is learning; demonstrating some simple experiments with everyday items will help spark their interest in doing science at home with their child; and introducing them to resources they can access (such as BBC Terrific Scientific) will enable them to continue their child’s science learning outside of the school day.
Take it further
Having established the foundations in your first year, it is vital that you continue to oversee, monitor and develop these core ‘baseline’ and ‘rolling’ activities. Begin each year with your subject audit and pupil/teacher voice surveys to re-establish your overview of science and set updated objectives in your action plan. Your confidence as a subject leader will have increased, as will your subject knowledge and you can really reflect on your progress, embed those things that have been working well and adapt those things that have not gone as planned.
If you remain in position as science leader for the next few years, then you have an excellent opportunity to really develop and innovate science teaching and learning at your school. Grab this chance to put your own personal stamp on the subject; the more personally invested you are, the more you will enjoy your leadership role. Here are a few suggestions for ways that you can develop and strengthen science in your school:
Refine and develop the core elements of your school’s science provision with small-scale tweaks, rather than completely scrapping what you’ve done and starting again (however tempting it may be). Review the curriculum provision, planning expectations, teaching and assessment strategies and see what small (but meaningful) changes you can make to improve things. The main benefits of making tweaks are that they are much easier to implement (and drop), you can easily track their impact and you will maintain a feeling of consistency in your leadership amongst your staff.
Choose one major ‘innovation’ to introduce in science at your school. Alongside the smaller tweaks, teachers will embrace a more substantial development, especially if you are enthusiastic and there is a clear rationale behind it. Ideas to consider could include developing a scheme for children to become science ambassadors, prioritising outdoor learning, developing a school garden for growing plants and food, creating a programme of volunteering to increase parent engagement in science, or developing teachers’ questioning skills through coaching. This could also form part of your internal CPD programme for science.
Select a subject area/colleague where you think there is scope for exciting collaboration and begin discussions with your fellow subject leader about ways your subjects could overlap and provide genuine opportunities for learning. A link with Art/DT might lead to a creative, design-based science project week; a link to history might lead to a focus on learning about famous scientists and their discoveries; a link to geography might incorporate learning focused on global scientific research (e.g. climate change or global health challenges).
Build an online presence for celebrating science at your school. Create a dedicated science space on the school website to share news and events; start a science blog for children and parents to engage with; start a school science twitter page to share the learning being done at school. You can also follow support organisations and resources for tips and engagement opportunities. Why not start by following ours @ExplorifySchool. You could also create a page or group for your school Facebook, or simply use your own profile (if you have one) to join a Primary science group on Facebook to network with other science teachers - like Explorify's Staffroom Group.
Lead regular science moderation sessions with your staff. This will provide an opportunity to compare work across year groups and develop a clear understanding of progress and what ‘secure’ looks like in each year group. Open discussions amongst staff also allow for whole-school achievements and next steps in science to be identified, leading to greater cohesion.
If you have been a science leader for several years, have the day-to-day management of your subject sorted and have very much made it your own, there are still things you can do. Here are a few suggestions:
Link up with local schools: Working in partnership with another school is a great way to easily share ideas and resources and even organise for pupils from each school to interact through shared science activities. These links can be with other primary schools, but secondary schools are often open to this and they can provide a wider range of resources (science laboratories for one!) and different expertise (which can even help develop your own subject knowledge). Experiencing science at a secondary school is also very inspiring for primary pupils.
Form a local science moderation hub: Meeting a couple of times a year to share work and assessment data with other science leaders near to you is an excellent way to ensure assessment of science in your school is in line with that of other schools. You can also use these opportunities to share best practice.
Reach out to local community organisations: Find out what is happening in the community around you; e.g. youth clubs, after-school provision, community centres. They may be involved in providing informal science learning. There may be a range of resources that families can access in their local area outside of school to further their engagement and enjoyment of science.
PSQM Gilt and Outreach Award: If you have already achieved the PSQM Award and have embedded good practice in science leadership, teaching and learning, you might consider applying for ‘Gilt’ and ‘Outreach’ to further develop science in your school and beyond. Find out more on the PSQM website.
Whether your school already has a specific science policy or not, overseeing the writing or development of a policy is a good way to ensure the work you have put in remains prioritised at your school and you leave a strong legacy when you are no longer leading on science.
If you have the space, creating an interactive zone dedicated to all things science will really cement the position of science within your school. This zone could be an interactive resource base for teachers and children to use on an informal basis. It could be a learning zone where teachers bring groups of children to undertake hands-on science activities. It could have an overall theme that is changed every half term; or it could even be a focus for the 5 enquiry types.
Take a look at our definition of primary science leadership and some more ideas on developing great science leadership, which are both available to download as pdfs on the Wellcome website.