Award scheme launched to recognise excellence in secondary science education

The National Science Learning Network, the arm of the STEM Learning initiative responsible for delivering continuing professional development (cpd) to science teachers and technicians across the UK, has launched Science Mark (SM) – an award scheme to recognise and celebrate excellence in secondary science education. The award is pitched at three levels – silver, gold and platinum – and holds for three years.

Science mark

The scheme was developed in 2014 by a group of science teachers and educationalists brought together by the National Science Learning Centre in York; all have a background in curriculum development projects, some were involved with the design and running of the primary science quality mark (PSQM) launched in 2010. Project leader, Ed Walsh explains, ‘Much of our time was spent developing a framework that secondary schools would be able to use to evaluate and, over time, strategically plan and improve their science provision.’ Eight schools – a mix of 11 to 16 and 11 to 18 schools – piloted the scheme during the 2014/15 academic year, five of which have recently been awarded silver or gold standards.


The SM framework was designed using, but not exclusively, the Ofsted subject specific inspection criteria and focuses on three broad but crucial areas that any good department, says Ed, would be expected to embrace – the curriculum, learning and teaching, and leadership and management. Each of these areas is broken down further into strands, giving a total of 16 criteria, which schools use to assess their science provision. The criteria apply across the three awards though the outcomes are understandably different. ‘There is explicit reference to enhancement and enrichment in the criteria’, adds Ed, ‘A school would struggle to obtain the Science Mark if it was doing nothing beyond the core curriculum.’

Despite the influence of the English Ofsted criteria on the framework, Ed comments the Science Mark is available and relevant to all schools across the UK, and sees no reason why schools worldwide couldn’t use the process to recognise and celebrate quality science for the 11–18 cohort. ‘The criteria are about how schools make science lessons lively and effective and how teachers engage and challenge their students. It would be difficult to find a school that wouldn’t benefit by reflecting on this process,’ he says.


A school interested in the Science Mark needs first to decide which level it wants to aim for – silver, gold or platinum. Help is available in the form of Gateway Statements, explains Ed, which provide a short summary of what is expected at each of these levels in terms of criteria.

Once this decision has been made, schools then need to look at the 16 criteria and expected outcomes for the selected level and draw up a response that details their own ‘evaluative statements’, ie how the school’s practice matches up to the criteria, and importantly the impact it is having on pupil outcomes, together with supporting evidence. The latter might include examples of students’ work and lesson planning etc in the case of curriculum criteria, for example.  

‘We are not looking for mountains of evidence’, says Ed. ‘The premium is on focusing on really good examples. Any evidence must prove that the impact is making a difference on pupil outcomes.’

To make the process more manageable, schools are invited to submit sample statements against one of the criteria from each of curriculum, learning and teaching, and leadership and management in advance of their final submission and receive feedback before proceeding.


The cost for taking part is £750 for 11–16 schools and £950 for 11–18 schools, the higher fee reflecting the additional support needed for the school’s science A-level provision. As the scheme rolls out across the UK, the SM team aims to develop networks to share good practice and eventually establish a database of good practice for participating schools to tap into.

Such a mark of excellence should, Ed concludes, not only raise the profile of a school but help the school attract and retain the best staff, as well as attract students with an interest in science. The criteria are relevant to all subjects so the whole school should gain from the science department’s experience, he says.