Home > News and views > Schools and Colleges

Addressing teacher subject knowledge

Published: Oct 18, 2022 3 min read


Primary PDL at the NSLC

National STEM Learning Centre


Primary teaching comes with challenges. None more so than the simple fact that primary teachers are not specialists in all that they teach.

It is estimated that just 5% of primary teachers have a science degree and concerningly, many primary teachers have been shown to have the same scientific misconceptions as the children they teach. The Research Review Series: Science describes how the majority of teachers involved in a study thought that ‘gravity increased as objects increased their height above the ground’ and ‘a third believed all metals were magnetic’.

If these teacher beliefs allow children to make sense of the world around them, misconceptions may form. These alternative conceptions can be extremely resistant to change and can become problematic when new scientific concepts are introduced.

Inevitably, many primary teachers do not feel confident in their science teaching. The Research Review notes a recent study which had shown teacher confidence as a repeatable predictor of children’s improvement, highlighting the need for teacher access to high-quality subject-specific CPD.

Not only do teachers need support to address gaps in their own knowledge, they also need the strategies to effectively teach this in the classroom. New scientific concepts must be taught on the building blocks of prior knowledge and misconceptions must be identified and addressed.

Confidence must be built so that purposeful inquiry and investigations can be planned for. Just ‘doing a practical’ with little thought to the prior knowledge needed to understand what is going on has been shown to hinder progress. Children remember the task rather than the learning. Building teacher confidence to sequence lessons and learning appropriately so that activities embed concepts through a purposeful context.

Primary science “provides the foundations for understanding the world through the specific disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics” (Science programmes of study: key stages 1 and 2 National curriculum in England) so it is important that teachers are confident in delivering all three disciplines.

Our residential CPD, held at the National STEM Learning Centre in York, links to the Teachers Standards and the Early Career Framework, provides you with opportunities to learn tools and strategies that work in a subject-specific context, shares research on effective science teaching practice, and encourages you to try out ideas in the classroom. They also have subsidies available to help you attend, you just need to select the subject you wish to study below.

Book 'Help! How do I teach physics in a primary school?'

Book 'Help! How do I teach chemistry in a primary school?'