Science knowledge of primary teachers woefully inadequate, warns Lord Winston

Professor Robert Winston (Lauren Hurley/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Basic science knowledge of many primary school teachers is “woefully inadequate”, a leading professor has warned.

IVF pioneer and TV presenter Lord Winston raised his concerns at Westminster after witnessing a teacher tell a pupil they were wrong for correctly stating nitrogen was the commonest gas in the atmosphere.

The Labour peer argued the Government was not doing enough to ensure proper science teaching at the primary level, which can lead children to take up careers in the field.

Lord Winston told the House of Lords that in carrying out his outreach work for Imperial College, he had visited up to 30 primary schools over the last six months to speak to the children about science.

He said: “It is astonishing when you ask them which is the commonest gas in the atmosphere.

“They might come up with oxygen; they mostly come up with carbon dioxide and sometimes come up with hydrogen.

“Nitrogen is never recognised. Recently, when a child opted for nitrogen as the commonest gas, the science teacher told him in my presence that he was wrong.

“The problem is that the basic scientific knowledge of so many excellent primary school teachers is woefully inadequate.

“While the Government apparently recognises the value of primary school teachers, they do not do enough to ensure proper training in science, which leads children to so many of these careers. What can the Government do about that?”

Education Minister Lord Agnew of Oulton said: “I accept that primary school teachers have to be generalists across a wide range of subjects.

“He came across a disappointing example where the teacher was not necessarily explaining science properly.

“But we are doing more work on improving the curriculum in primary schools, and science is a key part of that.”