Exploring the Characteristics of Education Systems Which are Successful in Science

Bethan Burge, Claire Sargent, Newman Burdett, Preeti Kathrecha

11 February 2016

Research report | Research briefing

This research, for the Department of Education in Northern Ireland (DENI), explores the characteristics of education systems that are successful in science through secondary analysis of data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2011, and from the TIMSS encyclopaedia.

Northern Ireland participated in TIMSS for the first time in 2011. Although the performance of the country’s nine- and ten-year-olds in maths was strong, with pupils from Northern Ireland significantly outperforming 44 of the 50 participating countries, their performance in science was not as strong, with 17 countries doing significantly better. In March 2015, DENI commissioned NFER to conduct secondary analysis of the TIMSS 2011 data and encyclopaedia to explore the characteristics of seven education systems (Czech Republic, England, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden and the Slovak Republic) which outperformed Northern Ireland in the TIMSS 2011 science assessment.

Key Findings

  • There is no single model for successful science education. However, in Northern Ireland, science seems to have less prominence in the classroom than in a number of education systems that were more successful in science.
  • Primary pupils in Northern Ireland are at least three times less likely to be taught science as a separate subject, compared to the comparator education systems that were more successful in science in TIMSS 2011.
  • Primary teachers in Northern Ireland are much less likely to assign science homework or administer written tests or quizzes in science and place much less emphasis on monitoring pupil progress in science than their counterparts in the comparator countries.
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