This paper describes and discusses the role of practical work in science education in Ireland. The 2002 report of a government Task Force on the Physical Sciences, set up to consider the problems facing the teaching of the physical sciences in second-level schools in Ireland, has resulted in rapid reform of the science curriculum at both junior and senior secondary school level. Whilst practical work has a long and varied history in science education in Ireland, it was only in 2003 that practical work became compulsory with the introduction of a new Junior Certificate science syllabus for students in the 12 – 15 year old age group. The paper describes the two types of practical work introduced in the syllabus and discusses the results of a survey carried out by the Irish Science Teachers’ Association to ascertain the response of teachers to this practical work. Compulsory practical work has also been introduced into physics, chemistry and biology at senior secondary school level (ages 16 – 18). The paper reports on a research study to evaluate the effectiveness of a proposed new assessment model for practical work involving the use of a visiting examiner to interview students and examine their ability to carry out tasks in the school science laboratory. The main finding was that the new model provided a more valid and fairer assessment of students’ ability in the area of practical work.