This paper provides a critical review of the changes to the role of practical work in the
science curriculum in England over the last forty years. The science curriculum over this
period appears to place an emphasis on an approach to practical enquiry that suggests
school students can act like ‘real’ scientists. This paper provides a critical perspective of
this view as it traces the developments of practical work and draws on the literature and
on empirical work about how practical science in the secondary school (ages 11 to 18
years) has been enacted over this time period and gives some suggestions about the
current situation and how practical work might develop in the future.