Changing attitudes? : a longitudinal study of pupils' attitudes to science between the primary and secondary phases of education
The findings are reported of a 4-year (1995-1998) longitudinal study, conducted in three
primary schools (Years 5 and 6) and a single comprehensive school (Years 7 and 8) in
Oxfordshire, of pupils' (n=71) attitudes towards various aspects of school-based science.
The objectives were to investigate whether the pupils', especially the girls', attitudes to
school science had changed (particularly in the early secondary years) from those reported
in the pre-National Curriculum research literature. Data on various aspects of school
science, including attitudes to the individual biological and physical science topics in
Years 5 to 7, were collected from the pupils via annual questionnaires and, for 36 pupils,
from annual, semi-structured tape-recorded interviews. Year 6 pupils also provided some
The cohort pupils' attitudes varied little from those reported in the pre-national Curriculum
literature - science was regarded as a 'favourite' subject by very few pupils. The girls'
lack of enthusiasm for the physical sciences, and the boys' disinterest in the biological
sciences, were demonstrated. Some tentative links were suggested between the type of
"out-of-school" activities, hobbies and interests recorded by the pupils and the pupils'
attitudes to school science.
Data were also collected on the parental experiences of, and attitudes towards, science as
well as the parents' involvement in science-orientated and 'tinkering' activities. There was
a positive correlation between the Year 7 pupils' attitudes to the physical sciences and the
fathers' attitudes to their secondary science education. Fathers still appeared to be the
main 'tinkerers' - they were more likely to be involved with their sons (rather than their
daughters) in joint science-orientated activities. Using multiple regression procedures on
the "in-school" and "out-of-school" data, the types of "out-of-school" activities enjoyed by
the primary pupils, together with the maternal involvement in such activities, were
shown to be predictors of the pupils' attitudes to science. The importance of the pupils'
perceived performance in science, together with gender (especially with the respect to the
physical sciences) were identified as two of the main predictors of pupils' attitudes at the
end of the study.
Finally, suggestions are made on how pupils' attitudes to school science might be .
improved by changes in the nature and delivery of the science curriculum.