Less than a third of schools have effective science programmes for Year 5 to 8 students, according to the Education Review Office.

An ERO report, Science in The New Zealand Curriculum: Years 5 to 8, found that only 27 percent of 100 schools reviewed last year have effective or generally effective science programmes for Years 5 to 8 students.

ERO chief review officer Dr Graham Stoop said children are not being given the "best opportunity to build on their excitement about discovering the world around them".

"We need to improve the way we teach science to our young children to help them succeed in an economy increasingly based on knowledge and innovation."

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Dr Stoop said the report was one of a succession since 2004 which have looked into the teaching and learning of science in primary schools.

"We have identified common areas of concern in all of these evaluations. This latest report concludes that science programmes have not improved since 2004."

The report found a lack of confidence and capability in teaching in science, and the limited opportunities for high quality professional development in science. More support was needed for both teachers and principals in this area.

"The recent emphasis on literacy and numeracy should not be at the expense of other curriculum areas such as science. Teachers need support to understand how literacy and numeracy teaching can complement science and give children the tools necessary for science learning," Dr Stoop said.

The report recommended the Teachers' Council investigate how well initial teacher education equips primary school teachers to confidently and effectively teach science, and that the Ministry of Education investigate opportunities for support and ongoing professional learning development for teachers, including considering the place of National Standards for achievement in reading, writing and mathematics across all learning areas, including science.

For schools, ERO recommends that they review the priority given to science teaching and learning in their curriculum, and the quality of science teaching and learning.