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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Monitoring Practical Science in Schools and Colleges

A research project of the School of Education.


The Monitoring Practical Science in Schools and Colleges study collected data relating to practical work in science provision in schools and colleges over three years in England and Scotland from 2015 - 2017. This study adopts the SCORE (2013) definition of practical work, namely:

“A learning activity in which students observe, investigate and develop an understanding of the world around them, through direct, hands-on, experience of phenomena or manipulating real objects and materials.” (p 3)

We report on the quantity and breadth of practical work undertaken and how this changed during the study. The discussion identifies possible reasons for observed outcomes. We examine how these data illustrate how school-based practical work in science prepares students for laboratory based courses at university.  

Over three years, respondents comprised 4,176 science teachers, heads of science, science technicians, first year science undergraduate students and university staff responsible for first year science laboratory-based courses. Analysis of the heads of science and science teachers responding to the survey showed that they are more highly qualified than the overall teaching workforce, so results should be read with this in mind.

Data were collected in year 1 of the study in 2015, during reforms to the Scottish National 5 and Higher qualifications and prior to implementation of reformed GCSE and A level science specifications in England. Data were collected in year 3 of the study (in 2017) post implementation of reforms in Scotland. In England this was at the point when A level students were completing the reformed qualifications for the first time then progressing to undergraduate study, and GCSE students had completed one year of their reformed programmes.

We would like to express our sincere thanks to the project stakeholder group whose input to the study was invaluable. Members of the group included: Marianne Cutler (ASE); Steve Jones (CLEAPSS); Neil Wade (OCR); Stuart Cadwallader, Janet Holloway and Sarah Old (Ofqual); Damian Riddle (Pearson); Daniele Gibney and Nicole Morgan (Royal Society of Chemistry). Please note that not all members of the stakeholder group are listed and names are only included where permission has been granted by the individual.


The full report (including a short executive summary and brief research digest) can be downloaded here:

Monitoring Practical Science in Schools and Colleges report

Appendices are available at the links below

Appendix 1 - Research Methods

Appendix 2 – Sample definition

Appendix 3 – Additional data

Appendix 4 – School staff survey questions (years 1 to 3)

Appendix 5 – School staff focus group and telephone interview questions (years 1 to 3)

Appendix 6 – Higher Education staff survey (years 1 to 3)

Appendix 7 – Higher Education student survey (years 1 to 3)

Appendix 8 – Higher Education telephone interview questions (years 1 to 3)


The 2015 - 2018 study Monitoring Practical Science in Schools and Colleges was funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation with a contribution from Wellcome.

The award value was £218,167.

Further Information

For further information, please contact Dr Helen Cramman.


From the School of Education