The Commons Science and Technology Select Committee has published its final report on practical experiments and science field trips

Students doing practical work in chemistry

Source: Digital Vision

Practical work - in decline due to health and safety concerns

In September the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee published its final report on practical experiments in school science lessons and science field trips. It concludes that many students are receiving poor practical science experiences during their secondary school education. The inquiry was initiated because of reports in the press that science practical work in schools is in decline due to health and safety concerns.

The report makes a series of recommendations to ensure schools deliver excellent practical lessons and learning outside the classroom.


A key recommendation is to ensure that teachers are well-trained, confident and up to date in their subject knowledge. The Committee received evidence that teachers are not maintaining their scientific knowledge and skills. It calls on Ofsted to report on 'how effectively schools provide opportunities for their science teachers to stay up to date with their science specialism, specifically in the attendance of externally provided subject training.' 

The report says health and safety concerns may be used as a convenient excuse for avoiding practicals and work outside the classroom, but found no credible evidence to support this. The committee recommended that a central repository should provide access to CLEAPSS health and safety guidance for experiments. 

Lorna Thomson, Education Resources Programme Manager for the RSC said, 'The Practical Chemistry website provides a bank of experiments which include health and safety information, linked to CLEAPSS resources'. 

Support and facilities 

The report also notes that 'teachers need good laboratory space if they are to conduct high quality practical classes.' The Committee proposes that, during an Ofsted inspection, schools should be required to demonstrate that they have 'ready access to a basic suite of facilities such as fume cupboards to facilitate rigorous examination of science skills.' 

The report recommends that the pay and career structure of science technicians is addressed. This is essential to attract skilled and dedicated people to work as technicians. In addition, it also suggests that, during a specialist science visit, Ofsted should examine 'the relationship between teachers and technical staff in the planning and delivery of practical lessons'. 


The Committee received a range of evidence about the importance of fieldwork in science education and its value in linking the academic side of science to the classroom theory. To halt the decline in fieldwork, the report recommends that Ofqual 'direct examination boards to require a fieldwork component to science courses in which students must collect data as part of fieldwork outside the classroom and prove a level of competence in its analysis'. 

The full conclusions and recommendations can be read at EIC website.

Practical Chemistry

A comprehensive website full of experiments and demonstrations to use in your teaching.

 Conclusions and recommendations 

The complete conclusions and recommendations section of the report on practical experiments in school science lesons and science field trips