Science, more than some subjects, promotes curiosity – this can be used as a great tool for engaging all pupils, whether it be through some form of mystery that needs solving, or through a particular investigation or experiment.

With science learning being so varied, it can be a very useful way of engaging pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in particular. Lessons or activities can be carried out in small groups, as a whole class, or as individuals. They can also be carried out in a wide range of environments from inside labs to outdoors.

If pupils can be motivated in their science activities, then it can lead to positive attitudes in other areas of the curriculum, especially maths, English and computing.


The Observatory School


Ofsted published a good practice example showing how The Observatory School uses science and engineering to transform pupils' attitudes to learning.

The Observatory School’s approach to science and engineering has made a significant difference in transforming attitudes towards the learning of boys and girls who are unable to cope with, or learn within, mainstream schools.

The school tries to offer a bespoke and responsive curriculum for its pupils that is adapted to their learning needs and interests. They also use enrichment activities as an important extension to learning. The case study explains:

“The engineering course is being implemented with boldness and imagination through a concept of ‘extreme classrooms’. For example, in the ‘world’s wettest classroom’, students learn about science, mathematics and engineering on board a racing yacht moored in Liverpool Marina. Overcoming the logistical and safety issues and the necessary risk assessments in taking students off-site was a considerable challenge for staff, but the gains in motivation and enthusiasm for learning for students, both boys and girls, have been huge.”

“Staff have advanced plans to develop the ‘world’s fastest classroom’ and the ‘world’s highest classroom’. The highest classroom will be based on a cliff and will involve mountaineering technology, while the fastest classroom will attempt to break the water speed record for a jet-propelled model boat. Students are already experimenting with a model turbojet constructed from a kit.”

Read the full case study here.

For The Observatory School, the increased academic achievements are recognised and celebrated, but the gains in pupils’ self-confidence, self-esteem and resilience are of an even greater importance.

“Engaging in projects outside of school is benefiting students beyond learning in science and engineering. Students are developing a knowledge and understanding of commerce, business and enterprise, of entering bids and speaking in public. These skills and knowledge are improving students’ self-esteem and confidence considerably.”


Creative methods


For older pupils, activities can be carried out using TV shows as a hook, such as crime dramas that incorporate forensics. For younger children, the focus can be on hands-on activities.

The key element is making sessions fun, stimulating and developmental. This enables the pupils to not only enjoy the activity but also understand that it is part of a set of lessons.

An essential element of engaging pupils in science is to show them how it’s used in their daily lives; science is behind the creation of their phones, tablets, and video games. Enabling pupils to explore and understand scientific concepts, allows them to see the everyday science all around them.

Technology and adapted sessions are clearly key to inspiring all pupils, but particularly those with SEND. By carefully resourcing and developing links with the wider science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) community, the school can access better resources and wider expertise. This can also be done by inviting STEM ambassadors to lessons or assemblies.

The following websites may provide a useful starting point for developing STEM links: