Chiltern Teaching School Hub



Top Tips to an effectively crafted science curriculum 


1. Make all science learning relevant to stimulate children to want to discover more about the world.


2. Keep the substantive knowledge  simple: plan to teach only one concept at a time


3. Keep the disciplinary knowledge simple: plan to teach only one practical skill in an investigation.


4. Ensure the conceptual (declarative) knowledge is secure before introducing the disciplinary knowledge or vice versa


Find out More? 


Curriculum: Theory, culture and subject specialisms (Ruth Ashbee, 2021)


National Curriculum of England: Science Programmes of Study (2015)


Research Review Series: Science (2021)


Finding the Optimum: the science subject report (2023)


 Prefer to watch?  

Here’s links to Anna’s videos, embedding and exemplifying the research above: 


Knowledge in Science:  

 Science: Planning for Practicals with Anna Mead 


Chemistry in Science:

Teacher Talk: Science - Leading the Curriculum Changes

Welcome to our educational blog. Here we explore all things pertinent to education, discuss current topics and provide tips, from research and educational experts, to aid practice.

In February, 2023, OFSTED produced their subject specific reports considering academic research within each discipline from numerous studies and leading experts. Their science paper, ‘Finding the optimum: the science subject report’ highlighted the importance of science for all, within education. Where they stated that: ‘[Science]fundamentally shaped every aspect of our world. Science drives innovation, creating new knowledge to help us solve current and future problems. All young people are entitled to a high-quality science education, to the curiosity it engenders and the understanding and the opportunity it brings.’ 

Anna Mead, Subject Knowledge Expert for Primary Science across Chiltern Learning Trust has created a series of Science across the Curriculum videos to consider how to effectively lead on the curriculum research and insights. Here she covers two initial areas for consideration. 

Section 1: Knowledge in Science

 The research review series in Science, published by in 2021, classified scientific knowledge as substantive and disciplinary knowledge. 

What is substantive knowledge?

Substantive knowledge is defined as the concepts, laws, theories and models according to three subject disciplines: biology, chemistry and physics. This is specified as scientific knowledge and conceptual understanding in the national curriculum. 

What is disciplinary knowledge?

Disciplinary knowledge is the knowledge of the practices of science. This is specified in the ‘working scientifically’ sections of the national curriculum and can be defined in at least four areas:

  • Knowledge of Scientific Method- not only fair testing but also modelling, synthesis, classification, pattern seeking and experimentation.
  • Knowledge of apparatus and techniques, including measurements- carrying out specific procedures safely
  • Knowledge of data analysis- processing and presenting data, exploring relationships and communicating results
  • Knowledge of how science uses evidence to develop explanations- drawing tentative but valid conclusions that lead to development of laws over time

How does substantive knowledge link to disciplinary knowledge?

Understanding the difference between the two reflects how knowledge is used within science, ensuring pupils not only know the science, they also know the evidence for it. It is essential that substantive and disciplinary knowledge are taught together. Both are underpinned by the knowledge of concepts (declarative) (know that…. because…) and procedures (non-declarative) (know how to…. be able to…). It is important to plan a curriculum where there is interplay between them.

For example, the knowledge of particle theory and liquids is essential in learning how a thermometer works and how to use it to measure the temperature of a liquid. It is often assumed that pupils will pick up skills by doing, but carrying out a practical investigation skillfully and effectively is dependent on the pupil having learned the substantive knowledge.

How are these covered within the National Curriculum? 

The aim of the science curriculum is to understand the material world. Embedding disciplinary knowledge WITHIN substantive knowledge will ensure the teaching is robust. Therefore, think about how your curriculum is organised, why you have organised it in this way, and how your curriculum allows pupils to develop their knowledge of concepts and working scientifically?

Section 2: Planning for Practicals

How do you ensure you get the very best from each practical, whilst also implementing rules and boundaries for safe procedure and practice ?

Why do investigations at all? 

In the words of Ruth Ashbee, (2021) ‘hypothesis, experimental design, practical experimentation, data analysis and their interpretation are key to understanding our continuing knowledge of science and all the claims made by scientists’. It is important to use investigations to explicitly teach disciplinary knowledge within science so that our pupils have the best understanding of science and its key principles. 

What does disciplinary knowledge look like in a science investigation?

Doing experiments in science allows students to explicitly learn different skills and the key subject content in science (statutory and non-statutory) encourages these investigations in their use of language: explore, predict, classify, investigate, model, identify, design, conclude etc. We hope that by doing experiments, children will be able to describe the world around them and be stimulated to discover more about the world - creating scientists of the future! 

How to plan and implement an investigation: 

When you plan an investigation, which part of disciplinary knowledge are you going to teach? Decide what is the skill that the children are going to learn to practice. Plan your resources well in advance, following all safety procedures, and practise the experiment yourself. Have very, very high expectations of behaviour and check your timing frequently so that the children have ample time to complete their experiment. If you train the children well, they become organised scientists who understand how to carry out an investigation safely and effectively. Consider and manage your resources before the lesson including how you want the children to rotate around a room during an experiment. If you have planned this effectively, the children will know exactly where to go, how to complete the experiment and move around the room with or without their resources. They will also  be able to clear up properly after the investigation, so that you don’t have to spend your break doing so. And lastly, but very much not least, never turn your back on a class doing an experiment!

What impact do we hope for?

  • To develop children who can describe and explain the world
  • To stimulate children to want to discover more about the world
  • To develop scientists of the future through practical investigation and scientific enquiry.
CSTH ‘Together towards excellence, ambition and inspiration’