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CUSP Science

Science is the Systematic Comprehensive Investigation and Exploration of Nature Causes and Effects


At St. Peter's C of E Primary School, all of our teaching and learning builds on our core values.  We recognise the importance of Science in every aspect of daily life; we encourage children to be inquisitive throughout their time at our school and beyond.  The Science curriculum fosters a natural curiosity of the child, encourages respect for living organisms and the physical environment and provides opportunities for critical evaluation of evidence.  We believe that science encompasses the acquisition of knowledge, concept, skills and positive attitudes.


At St. Peter's , Science is taught in modules that enable pupils to study in-depth key scientific understanding, skills, and vocabulary. Each module aims to activate and build upon prior learning, including EYFS, to ensure better cognition and retention. Each module is carefully sequenced to enable pupils to purposefully layer learning from previous sessions to facilitate the acquisition and retention of key scientific knowledge. Each module is revisited either later in the year or in the following year as part of a spaced retrieval practice method to ensure pupils retain key knowledge and information. 


We use CUSP Science as to guide our teaching and learning of science in all year groups. 

CUSP Science pays close attention to guidance provided by the National Curriculum sequence and content. It is infused with evidence-led practice and enriched with retrieval studies to ensure long-term retention of foundational knowledge. The foundations of CUSP science are cemented in the EYFS through learning within the Natural World, and People, Culture and Communities. 




a. Substantive knowledge - this is the subject knowledge and explicit vocabulary used to learn about the content. Common misconceptions are explicitly revealed as non-examples and positioned against known and accurate content.


In CUSP Science, an extensive and connected knowledge base is constructed so that pupils can use these foundations and integrate it with what they already know. Misconceptions are challenged carefully and in the context of the substantive and disciplinary knowledge. In CUSP Science, it is recommended that misconceptions are not introduced too early, as pupils need to construct a mental model in which to position that new knowledge.


b. Disciplinary knowledge – this is knowing how to collect, use, interpret, understand and evaluate the evidence from scientific processes. This is taught. It is not assumed that pupils will acquire these skills by luck or hope. Pupils construct understanding by applying substantive knowledge to questioning and planning, observing, performing a range of tests, accurately measuring, comparing through identifying and classifying, using observations and gathering data to help answer questions, explaining and reporting, predicting, concluding, improving, and seeking patterns.


CUSP call it ‘Working Scientifically.’ CUSP Science provides Working Scientifically coverage maps to check the balance of provision in KS1, Lower and Upper KS2. They are also present in the Whole Class Assessment toolkits.


Scientific analysis is developed through IPROF criteria. We call it ‘Thinking Scientifically.’

• identifying and classifying

• pattern seeking

• research

• observing over time

• fair and comparative testing


c. Substantive concepts include concrete examples, such as ‘plant’ or more abstract ideas, such as ‘biodiversity’. Concepts are taught through explicit vocabulary instruction as well as through the direct content and context of the study.




A guiding principle of CUSP Science is that each study draws upon prior learning. For example, in the EYFS, pupils may learn about The Natural World through daily activities and exploring their locality and immediate environment. This is revisited and positioned so that new and potentially abstract content in Year 1, such as Animals, including humans, is related to what children already know. This makes it easier to cognitively process. This helps to accelerate new learning as children integrate prior understanding.


CUSP Science is organised into three distinct subject domains: biology, physics and chemistry. Where inter-disciplinary concepts are encountered, such as the particle model, these are taught explicitly and connected across science domains.


CUSP Science has sequenced the national curriculum into meaningful and connected ‘chunks’ of content to reduce the load on the working memory as well as creating coherent and strong long-term memories. The sequence of substantive and disciplinary knowledge enables pupils to become ‘more expert’ with each study and grow an ever broadening and coherent mental model of the subject. This guards against superficial, disconnected and fragmented scientific knowledge and weak disciplinary knowledge. High frequency, multiple meaning words (Tier 2) are taught explicitly and help make sense of subject specific words (Tier 3).


Each learning module in CUSP Science has a vocabulary module with teacher guidance, tasks and resources to enhance and deepen understanding. CUSP Science is planned so that the retention of knowledge is much more than just ‘in the moment knowledge’. The cumulative nature of the curriculum is made memorable by the implementation of Bjork’s desirable difficulties, including retrieval and spaced retrieval practice, word building and deliberate practice tasks.


This powerful interrelationship between structure and research-led practice is designed to increase substantive knowledge and accelerate learning within and between study modules. That means the foundational knowledge of the curriculum is positioned to ease the load on the working memory: new content is connected to prior learning. The effect of this cumulative model supports opportunities for children to associate and connect significant scientific concepts, over time, and with increasing expertise and knowledge.


CUSP Science deliberately pays attention and values the importance of subject content as well as the context it is taught in. Common scientific misconceptions are identified in all CUSP Science learning modules. These misconceptions are made explicit to pupils. Children draw upon substantive and disciplinary knowledge to reason and practise acquiring the conception, whilst repelling the misconceptions. Examples and non-examples are powerful ways of saying what something is and what something isn’t.


CUSP Science values the study of scientists from the past as well as promoting diverse present-day role models in the field. These studies help us to learn how they used, at that time, their substantive and disciplinary knowledge to develop a conception. This illuminates how misconceptions can permeate substantive knowledge and appear to be a known truth. An example of this is the study of Maria Merion in Year 5, who was born in Germany in 1667. She observed and drew insects going through biochemical metamorphosis. She challenged the misconception that all insects were evil, born from mud and were the work of the devil. Further examples of contextual misconceptions and refinement of conceptions can be seen in the study of Galen’s views about blood circulation in AD 157 and William Harvey’s findings in 1602.




Pupils study the Seasons and develop an early conceptual understanding of how day becomes night. An understanding of change, over time connects to the study of Plants, including trees. This focus enables children to associate trees as belonging to the plant kingdom and notice the changes deciduous trees go through connected to the seasons.


Contrasting that study, pupils learn about Animals, including humans. Non-examples of plants are used to contrast the features of an animal.


Pupils are introduced to identifying and classifying materials. Scientific terms, such as transparent, translucent and opaque are taught explicitly through vocabulary instruction and pupils make further sense by applying it to what they know and then to working and thinking scientifically tasks. This substantive knowledge is enriched by pupils use of disciplinary knowledge through scientific enquiry.


To sophisticate their understanding, Year 1 pupils revisit the study Animals, including humans as a retrieval module and deepen their knowledge through revisiting and thinking hard through increasingly challenging tasks.


As pupils progress through KS1, new knowledge is integrated with pre-existing understanding. For example, in Year 2, the study of Living things and their habitats and Uses of everyday materials, engages pupils to integrate and draw upon their knowledge of Animals, including humans as well as Plants, and the study of Materials.  New substantive knowledge is constructed and made sense of through Working and Thinking scientifically tasks.




In CUSP Science, substantive knowledge is always present and acts as a precursor for pupils’ understanding. This will enable them to successfully apply disciplinary knowledge. In KS2 we introduced disciplinary scientific terms, including:

  • variable
  • independent variable
  • dependent variable
  • controlled variable


These give structure to working and thinking scientifically tasks in relation to the substantive knowledge taught in that specific study.


“what scientists observe, or choose to control in an experiment, depends on what they know. For example, classifying flowering plants scientifically requires knowledge of floral parts to place specimens in appropriate groups. However, classifying insects requires knowledge of body parts.  

Ofsted Research Series: Science, 2021


In KS2 CUSP Science, we have defined these terms:


  • variable - the things that can change in a science experiment
  • independent variable - the variable that is changed by the scientist
  • dependent variables - are the things that the scientist watches closely

for to see how they respond to the change made to the independent variable

  • controlled variables - the things that a scientist wants to remain the same and not change so they can see how the independent variable reacts




The unit on Rocks is studied and connected with prior knowledge from ‘Everyday materials’ in KS1. A study of Animals, including humans is built upon from KS1 and contrasts the physical features with the functions they perform, including the skeleton and muscles. Rocks is revisited again to sophisticate and deepen pupils’ knowledge, advancing their understanding.


Forces and magnets are introduced and connect with KS1 materials, including twisting, bending and squashing. Contact and non-contact forces are taught and understanding applied through Working and Thinking Scientifically. The abstract concept of Light is made concrete through knowing about light sources and shadows. Plants are studied to develop a more sophisticated understanding of their parts and functions, including pollination.


A study of Living things and their habitats pays close attention to classification and is directly taught using prior knowledge to ensure conceptual frameworks are secure. Explicit vocabulary instruction supports pupils to deconstruct words for their component meaning, for example invertebrate. Animals, plants and environments are connected in this study with a summary focusing on positive and negative change.


Electricity is introduced. Substantive knowledge is taught so that pupils acquire understanding about electrical sources, safety and components of a single loop circuit. Practical tasks give pupils the opportunity to think using disciplinary knowledge in the context of variables. Pupils make sense of what they know by testing, proving and disproving hypotheses.


Animals, including humans focuses on the sequence of digestion, from the mouth to excretion. Misconceptions, such as digestion begins in the stomach, are pre-empted, limited and represented as non-examples.


States of matter and Sound are taught using knowledge of the particle theory. Acquiring substantive knowledge about ‘states’ of matter supports pupils to understand how solids, liquids and gases behave. This knowledge is connected further to geographical studies of the Water cycle and life processes. Practical scientific tasks and tests help pupils build a coherent understanding of the particle theory by applying what they know through structured scientific enquiry. Misconceptions, such as ‘liquid particles are slightly more separated than gas and less compacted than solids are addressed.




In the study of Properties and changes of materials, it is important that pupils reuse and draw upon their understanding of states of matter. This prior content eases the load on the working memory to process and make sense of new knowledge, including solutions, mixtures, reversible and irreversible changes.


Change is also studied within Animals, including humans, focusing on growth and development of humans and animals.


Earth in Space develops the conceptual understanding of our place in the universe. This study unwraps misconceptions, including the Moon changing shape, the Sun moving across the sky and how seasons occur.


A study of Forces sophisticates the substantive knowledge acquired in KS1 and LKS2. New content, including air resistance and water resistance is studied. Force multipliers, such as levers are studied to understand how we can be efficient with effort. For example, a spanner with a long handle multiplies the force and makes it easier to turn a bolt than spanner with a shorter handle. Simple machines, such as pulleys are also studied as force multipliers – they move the load through a greater distance with the same energy being used. Enhancing this study of Forces, pupils learn about Galileo Galilei 1564 - 1642 (considered the father of modern science).


Living things and their habitats focuses on differences in life cycles of living things and how they reproduce. This study also contrasts previous scientific thinking. Pupils contrast how people in the past thought and constructed understanding, in the absence of scientific evidence, to explain things they didn’t understand. Maria Merion is the significant scientist studied, she observed closely and carefully drew insects undergoing biochemical metamorphosis. David Attenborough describes Maria Marion as one of the most important contributors to the field of entomology.


A further study of Living things and their habitats enables pupils in UKS2 to revisit and add to their understanding of classification through the taxonomy created by Carl Linnaeus. More complex animals are studied, including invertebrates such as Myriapods and Echinodermata (starfish and Sea urchins) as well as Arthropods such as Crustacea, Arachnids, and Insects.


Light is revisited and taught with advanced substantive knowledge. This is physics study with a focus on the properties of light, not the biology of the eye.


The study of Animals, including humans enables pupils to add new knowledge to their mental models of biological systems. Circulation, the components of blood and the mechanism of the heart is connected to healthy living through diet and exercise. Many of these science studies are enriched and conceptual frameworks extended through the deliberate curriculum choice to study charts and graphs in Maths, food in Design Technology or reuse and retrieve substantive knowledge in other contexts, such as in writing.

Further retrieval learning modules are deployed, so that pupil knowledge can be advanced and sophisticated to increase their depth of understanding.


Electricity is enhanced with an advanced study of electrical circuits. New substantive knowledge is acquired in the context the particle theory, which was previously studied. Working and Thinking scientifically tasks help to deepen and make sense of new learning, such as the concept of electricity and the way we explain it using terms such as charge, potential difference and flow.


Evolution and inheritance introduces two significant scientists - Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace as pioneers of scientific thinking in the field of evolution. This study draws on how misconceptions may have been arrived at to explain the past and how theories explain significant change, over time. Substantive concepts, including adaption and variation are taught explicitly through vocabulary and clarity is achieved through worked examples. This supports pupils to use this substantive knowledge in a disciplinary way.


CUSP fulfils and goes well beyond the expectations of the National Curriculum. CUSP science was the right choice for St. Peter's C of E Primary School, as we believe there is no ceiling to what pupils can learn if the architecture and practice is founded in evidence-led principles.