Inspectors warned that practical work was too prescriptive in up to a third of secondary schools as pupils were left “merely following instructions”.
Despite improvements in recent years, these schools were more concerned with preparing pupils to pass exams than carrying out their own scientific investigations.
The study – based on inspections of 221 state schools and colleges in England – praised a rise in the number of teenagers taking separate GCSEs in biology, chemistry and physics.
But inspectors suggested some secondaries also pushed pupils into taking less academic vocational science courses between 14 and 16 – “restricting” their chances of studying the subject at A-level. Just one in 100 of these students go on to take advanced science qualifications in the sixth-form.