Pupils 'switched off' to science
Science is being squeezed out of primary schools, with many now teaching the subject for less than two hours a week, business leaders have warned.
In some cases, youngsters are getting under an hour of science education, according to a report by the CBI.
It suggests that the majority of teachers think that science has become less of a priority in recent years, fuelling concerns that children are not receiving the lessons that will spark their interest in the vital subject.
Too many youngsters are "switched off" to science by the time they leave primary school, the group said.
The report, which included a survey of around 260 teachers, looked at the state of science education in primaries.
It found that around half of those surveyed (53%) say teaching science has become less of a priority in the last five years, while a third (33%) said they lack confidence in teaching the subject.
Just one in five primaries (20%) commit over three hours of the school timetable to science each week, while over a third (36%) do not provide the minimum two hours.
Around 7.5% teach it for less than an hour a week.
The CBI suggested that changes to science education have been mainly caused by the decision taken in 2009 to scrap national curriculum tests - known as SATs - in the subject at the end of primary school.
It argued that science teaching in primary schools must be highly valued, with pupils taught the "real world" skills that scientists, engineers and technicians need.
"Research suggests that by the time young people reach secondary school, many have already 'switched off' to science subjects - reducing engagement, limiting outcomes and decreasing the number who pursue the study of science to a higher level," the report says.
A recent CBI survey found that 39% of businesses had faced difficulties in recruiting staff with skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and more than half were expecting problems in the next three years
"Provision of apprenticeships and encouragement to choose sciences at 16 will only take us so far in addressing this, as young people's educational choices are forming well before then," the study says.
"Unless science is exciting, interesting and challenging in primary school, the pipeline will clog long before secondary level. If we do not fix the issues early on, anything else further down the line just becomes a sticking plaster.
"We need to tackle the cause, not treat the symptoms."
CBI director-general John Cridland said: "Science education in primary schools is being squeezed out, with over half of teachers believing it has become less of a priority with too many schools struggling to teach the recommended two hours every week.
"How can we expect to inspire future generations of scientists and engineers if we don't deliver high-quality and inspiring science lessons at primary school age? If we are not careful, too many children will have lost interest in science before they hit their teens.
"A lack of science, technology, engineering and maths skills are already holding back economic growth and this will only get worse if we don't energise the next generation. Pupils need innovative, fun lessons with access to the latest science kit and need to break free of the classroom more to visit cutting-edge companies and universities."
:: The survey questioned 260 UK primary school teachers.
A Department of Education spokesman said: " This is nonsense. Science is a compulsory subject in schools from age five to 16. It is a crucial part of our plan to prepare young people for life in modern Britain, and we have made big strides in recent years.
"A record number of pupils are now taking science at GCSE and we are seeing more young people taking the crucial Stem subjects at A-level.
"We have introduced a new primary science curriculum that rivals the best in the world and launched our Stem campaign to encourage more young people to study it. We have also provided £7.2 million between 2014 and 2016 to help teachers deliver the new national curriculum and develop their science expertise."