A real choice or trying to distinguish between Tweedledum and Tweedledee?
The pieces are now falling into place for the new GCSE courses. The draft specifications have been submitted to Ofqual and made available for us to scrutinise.
There’s quite a lot that we now know. Specifications will stipulate practical activities and 15% of the marks on question papers will go on these. Mathematical skills will have a higher profile and questions on these will account for 10% of the marks in Biology, 20% in Chemistry and 30% in Physics. The Assessment Objectives will have weightings of 2:2:1 between knowledge & understanding, application and interpretation & evaluation. Although AO1 has been slightly increased, in fact the question papers will have fewer marks on this due to the removal of the Controlled Assessments (which contributed very little towards AO1).
The content will be very similar between the courses – it has to be, as the DfE subject criteria are so detailed. So what’s the choice? Well I reckon it’ll be on assessment, supporting materials and customer support.
As well as submitting specifications, AOs also have to prepare SAMs (sample assessment materials). These may vary between boards; for example, some courses may have fewer but longer exams (it has to be no less than 3.5 hours per GCSE) and the format may be different. Don’t expect some to be easier but the style may suit some students better. Many of the questions will be fairly familiar but look out for the way that mathematical and practical skills are assessed. Multiple choice questions haven’t been ruled out but may be used in different ways. QWC (quality of written communication) will no longer be assessed in science exams but there will still be a requirement to set questions that require ‘extended responses’ (technical definition: a response “of sufficient length to allow that Learner to demonstrate the ability to construct and develop a sustained line of reasoning which is coherent, relevant, substantiated and logically structured.”) Papers now have to include synoptic questions and this may be done in different ways too.
Each AO is also preparing supporting materials. Over the next few months, watch as their websites and meetings provide a plethora of materials. Schemes of learning, practical activity guides and details of ‘what’s changed and what’s not’ as well as a range of other materials are likely to be added over the next few months and some sites are being added to on a weekly basis. Each of the AOs are also providing ‘transition units’ which offer activities to be run with students prior to commencing on a GCSE course – developing skills and key concepts without starting to cover content.
Customer support is hardest to judge, but ask around. With the demise of Controlled Assessments science teams may have less direct contact with the boards but it’s not bad to have an idea as to how they’ll respond if something goes wrong.
Specifications were submitted on July 16th and materials released straight after; this enables schools who want to start teaching in September to have a clear idea of how to start. Accreditation should be less convoluted than it was in 2011 (there’s less to and fro allowed now). What could possibly go wrong?