Skip to content

Getting passionate about primary science

4 Sep, 2014

One of the key priorities for the Wellcome Trust Education and Learning team is reinvigorating primary school science. We know that early encounters with science and discovery help to shape children’s understanding of the world and develop important skills. A recent Wellcome Trust study showed that some schools were missing out on access to specialist science expertise. Irchester Community Primary School, which was involved in the study, has taken an innovative approach providing a dedicated science space in the school and their very own scientist-in-residence, following the Lab-13 model. Wellcome Trust Primary Science Lead, Louise Stubberfield spoke to staff at Irchester, to find out how about their approach to science…

Scientist in residence

Jennifer Hogan, scientist-in-residence at Irchester Community Primary School

“It is so important that primary science is not a collection of facts to be learned, nor a set of limited predetermined fair-tests that are followed recipe-like to a known result. Real science is not like that!” says Tracy Tyrrell, science lead at Irchester Primary.

“I am passionate about science and it’s my job to make everyone else – the senior leadership team, teachers, children, parents and beyond – as enthused and excited about science as I am.

“Luckily, I have the help of our fabulous scientist-in-residence, Jennifer Hogan, and between us we manage to keep up-to-date with key developments in science and science pedagogy via Association for Science Education events, Twitter, STEMnet, etc. We trawl the internet and continuing professional development (CPD) sessions for innovative and inspiring activities and run staff training, whole-school events, community events and more in order to show everyone that science is remarkable, attention-grabbing, thought-provoking, motivating and fun.”

Primary science one“We are all familiar with little ones asking “Why?”, “What’s that for?” and “What happens if…?” says scientist-in-residence Jennifer Hogan. “Our approach actively encourages and promotes this questioning and innate interest, to drive further investigation and encourage them to think like real scientists.”

“We passionately believe that science is curiosity driven, and children in our lab lead their own learning” she says. Jennifer has been the scientist-in-residence at Irchester for the past three years – after facing her future students on an interview panel.

“One of the unique elements of the Lab_13 model is that it is managed by a committee of eight 9-11 year olds”, she explains. “These children have responsibility for the day-to-day running of the lab and have control over all the decisions associated with that space.

“This allows them to build up their confidence and develop a wide range of skills and one of their first jobs as a committee was writing the job description, and conducting the interviews for the Scientist-in-residence post. Scary!”

The aim is to incorporate as much practical experimentation as possible, allowing the children to really “do” science and use real scientific equipment, giving them ownership of their investigations and allowing them to find out answers to questions for themselves.

Petri girl“Our children lead from what they know and what they want to know, and the science lessons are tailored to their needs, abilities and interests” says Tracy. “They are able ask questions, plan their own investigations and ponder over results – drawing sensible conclusions or raising further questions.

“Spurred on by the success of the lab, curiosity is actively encouraged and celebrated in every class, and children’s questions form the basis of science planning across the school.

“We are not teaching children science, but teaching them how to be scientists” she explains. “It is an approach to learning that questions rather than accepts. It promotes critical and logical thinking with an open mind.

“How else will we create adults capable of furthering our understanding of our world and improving our lives?”

Jennifer says that being a scientist-in-residence is a hugely exciting and rewarding role. “All our investigations begin with a child’s question.

“My role is to guide them towards posing scientific questions and advise on the planning and conducting of investigations in the lab. This leads to wide range of subjects being covered on a day-to-day basis.”

microscope kidBut what do the children make of it? One boy who had been part of the Lab_13 Management Committee sums it up nicely: “The best thing about Lab_13 is now I know that, in science, sometimes “I don’t know” IS the right answer”.

Irchester primary school clearly makes the best use of its science expertise. But since there are few teachers who have specialised science knowledge, not all schools are so lucky.

In a recent Wellcome Trust survey, headteachers told us that the single action that would make a difference is ensuring that teachers can access high quality science CPD, but that action was, sadly, rarely prioritised. It’s vital then that the UK champions primary science as we recommend in our report.


You can access the full Wellcome Trust report, The Deployment of Science and Maths Leaders in Primary Schools on our website, where you can also read a summary of our recommendations based upon the findings.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 8 Sep, 2014 2:37 pm

    The fantastic science at Irchester has just been recognised with a Primary Science Quality Mark GOLD award. Many congratulations to everyone at Irchester who has contributed to the school’s success.

  2. 2 Oct, 2014 8:58 am

    Excellent post! I teach fourth grade at an international school in South Korea. I teach math, science, English, art, PE, reading, and social studies. I love teaching science the most, but it is quite challenging without proper materials on-hand.

  3. melanie copus permalink
    6 May, 2015 9:51 am

    Hi there, could the link for the ‘summary of recommendations’ be updated as it is np longer live? Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: