New science programme accelerates students’ learning by two months

A primary school teaching and assessment approach for science put students involved with the programme two months ahead of their peers, according to a new analysis by UCL researchers.

Published Friday by the Education Endowment Foundation, the study measured the effectiveness of the Teacher Assessment in Primary Science (TAPS) programme developed by Bath Spa University. TAPS forms part of a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) package that aims to improve student achievement in science through supporting teaching approaches and assessments.

Through their analysis, called the Focus for Teacher Assessment in Primary Science study (Focus4TAPS), the researchers found that students enrolled in classes that followed the programme finished the academic year with the equivalent of two additional months of progress in science. The same benefits were seen across students with different backgrounds and characteristics, including those eligible for free school meals.

Teachers who had been enrolled in the Focus4TAPS programme also reported higher levels of confidence in teaching and assessing science than those at unenrolled schools. The majority of respondents reported the programme changed and improved how they taught and assessed science and that they planned to continue to incorporate the programme into their teaching.

Evaluation team lead Dr Tamjid Mujtaba (IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education & Society) said: "This research has highlighted some exciting findings - particularly considering the government’s priorities in closing gaps for the lowest attaining and vulnerable children. These findings demonstrate that something can be done to help tackle the disadvantage gap. The results also indicate that there are academic benefits for students with a range of abilities, while teachers also reported that they changed their practice and how they applied formative assessment.

"If the government seriously wants to tackle the STEM skills gap, which costs the economy billions each year, it needs to help facilitate the relationship between schools and universities to develop the support and skills needed for primary schools."

To establish their findings, the researchers carried out a randomised controlled trial over the 2020/2021 academic year, involving 2,882 Year 5 students across 121 schools in England. Schools were either randomly assigned to receive the online TAPS programme or randomly assigned to a comparison group. At the end of the academic year the team compared standardised test scores between the two groups and found that students who were part the TAPS programme scored higher, the equivalent of two additional months of progress in science. TAPS was developed at Bath Spa University with funding from Primary Science Teaching Trust.