Science education

Why is science education important?

Science is vital for understanding – and improving – the world we live in. A good science education will excite the imagination and inspire, develop valuable skills for life and work, and enable people to make informed choices and help shape the future. Like our educational research and advocacy for education reform, our work in science education focuses on both the short and long-term needs of students. We want to improve science education for the students of today and tomorrow.

In an update to our highly influential Vision report for science and mathematics education, we outline some of our core beliefs with regards to science education. We advocate for the following key principles: 

  • All young people study a broad and balanced curriculum, including maths and science;
  • Curricula and assessment are stabilised and support excellent teaching and learning;
  • Teachers have high professional status and there is a strong supply of science and mathematics specialists;
  • Students understand the significance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through better careers awareness and guidance;
  • The success of students, teachers and education systems is judged through broadly based assessment and accountability measures;
  • Education policy and practice are better informed by evidence.

What do young people think about science?

The Royal Society is committed to understanding what young people think about science education, the relevance of science to their everyday lives, and careers in STEM. Given this, in 2024 we will be publishing the third iteration of the Science Education Tracker, following the publication of the first and second tracker by the Wellcome Trust in 2016 and 2019 respectively. We are currently in the development and sampling phase, and will update here in due course.

What approach to learning science does the Royal Society support?

One of the most important aspects of good science education is ‘practical enquiry’, also known as ‘practical work’. This approach promotes exploration and understanding of the world through observation and experiment. Participating in practical inquiry also develops appreciation of how science is ‘done’.

The Royal Society recently completed an extensive study to find out how experiences of practical inquiry at secondary school affected the way in which students:

  • Develop their knowledge and conceptual understanding of science;
  • Develop specialist and employment skills;
  • Develop their understanding of the norms and values of science;
  • Enjoy and are more motivated to study science; and 
  • Make progress, and see science as a viable career.

Our study has involved reviewing hundreds of international studies, mainly published between 2005 and 2020, and many other publications.

How can employers support STEM in schools and colleges?

Our world is increasingly complex, fast-paced and technologically driven. Science, mathematics and computing education is vital for developing skills and knowledge to succeed in this environment and address challenges the world faces. People with these skills are vital for ensuring our economy remains internationally competitive and the UK retains its position as a world leader in research and innovation.

Collaboration between teachers, industry and academia is needed to support excellence and professionalism in science and mathematics teaching. Employers’ support for STEM teaching can help equip young people to take advantage of the opportunities ahead of them and meet employers’ needs for skills and knowledge.