Practical work is widely seen as a central and essential feature of science teaching at all levels. Research, and practical experience, suggest that students often learn less from practical work than we might wish. This talk begins by proposing a model for analysing and assessing the effectiveness of practical activities in science education. Although designed for use at secondary school level, it is in principle applicable to all educational levels. The talk goes on to summarise the main findings of research on the effectiveness of practical work in school science. Finally it outlines a possible means of improving its effectiveness, which currently provides the foundation for the ‘Getting Practical’ initiative led by the Association for Science Education with funding from the UK Department of Education.