A Level GCSE Key Stage 3 Secondary Science

All in the melting pot – changes to the science curriculum

I don’t think I’ve ever known such a period of change as far as curriculum structures in science go. We’re waiting to find out the outcomes of consultations and decisions on science at key stages 1, 2 and 3, at GCSE and at A level. That must be some kind of royal flush (or busted flush if it goes wrong).

Currently up for consultation is the proposed content of GCSE science courses. This runs until August 20th and can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/gcse-subject-content-and-assessment-objectives

It’s well worth a look. You may well have views on the subject content; I’ll leave that to you. I would, however, like to pose three other questions. I’m not going to be so bold as to suggest what you might think but I’d like to raise some issues.

Firstly, it is proposed that the direct assessment of practical skills will carry a weighting of 10% (controlled assessment currently carries 25%). You’ll be aware that the sciences will be the only EBacc subjects to have any centre assessed components at all; the question is not so much 25% or 10%, but 10% or 0%. There is a view that says that unseen external assessments are the only reliable form of assessment, that such assessments can assess a range of enquiry skills (though not all) and that, in any case, direct skills assessments are poor discriminators. Most students get most of the marks.

Although a number of objectives currently assessed by controlled assessments would be transferred to external exams it would still need organising, and all for not a lot of marks. The counter-arguments are that it recognises practical skills, embeds their role in the curriculum and gives many candidates a chance to show what they can do. Science is a practical subject. Oohh, did that reveal a personal view? I do hope not.

Secondly, there is the amount of specified detail. The current GCSEs are built up from a Programme of Study that defines ‘core’ science, indicative content that supplements this further and then Awarding Organisations top this up for Additional and (especially) triple.

This currently means that the content varies from one awarding organisation to another. The advantage is that there’s a real choice. If you’re a physicist and you’re good at teaching cosmology you might well choose Twenty-first Century Science, for example. The consultation documents propose specifying the whole lot. Under this model there’ll be much less difference between courses. Now, you might think this is a good thing (especially if you teach A levels in a school or college that draws in students from a range of different GCSE courses).

On the other hand it makes having a choice of courses something of a non-choice, at least as far as the course content goes.

Finally there’s the question of dual versus triple award. The ‘science + additional’ model will go, and be replaced by an end examined dual award course. The current triple uses a system of ‘extra topics’ (such as organic chemistry) but the proposals would mean that both dual and triple students would study the same topics. It’s just that the dual award course would ‘miss bits out’.

They’ve started from triple and whittled it down. You might want to have a look and see if they’ve got it right. It looks to me as if the dual is more than two thirds of the triple and I’m not convinced that in every case the ‘dual award version’ of a topic is coherent.

I know it’s yet another thing to do but I it would be great if you could make a response. After all, if we get something we don’t like and then object to it, we don’t want someone saying “Well, we did ask you…”

Ed Walsh

Ed Walsh is Science adviser for Cornwall Learning. In the past, he has worked extensively with teachers, schools, local authorities and national agencies in relation to science education. Read more at: http://collinsnewgcsescience.co.uk/whatschanging

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