Secondary Secondary Science

Core Science reels under a double whammy

The GCSE results from the summer of 2013 revealed a double whammy for ‘core’ science, hit by both falling entry and a sharp reduction in A*-C. The figures released by the Joint Council for Qualifications show that over 100,000 fewer students were entered this summer compared with 2012 and that the A*-C percentage fell by 6.6% to 53.1%.

Additional Science followed a similar trend to a lesser extent, with the A*-C percentage dropping by 2.3% to 64.1%; the entry fell but by a much smaller 6,500. The reduction in students achieving at least a grade C coincides with the first reporting of results based on the new specifications, introduced in 2011. These differ from the previous courses in the pattern of assessment; there is a marked emphasis upon the role of written responses, including both shorter and longer answers.

Separate sciences continue to show an increase in uptake, Biology by 8,000, Chemistry by 6,000 and Physics by 3,000. All showed a drop in the A*-C percentage, Biology by 2.8% to 89.8%, Chemistry by 3% to 90% and Physics by 2.4% to 90.8%.

The attribution of A* grades altered by different amounts: Biology and Physics showed no change and Chemistry an increase of 0.1%. However in Science it fell by 0.6% to 1.4% and in Additional Science by 1.1% to 2.6%.

Next year’s results will show the impact of a further set of changes, with the ending of modular assessment. All candidates taking courses which certificate in 2014 will have taken all external components and the end of the course. However the effect will be tempered by students who completed ‘core’ science in 2013 having sat module tests.

I think there are probably three messages to take from these results. The first is that it has been made harder to get a high grade. The trend towards ‘grade inflation’ prior to last year has been reversed and, to be fair, this was indicated as an intention. The second is that the changes to assessments require changes to teaching. Some schools have addressed this well but it will pay to be smart in terms of analysing data. Getting a sense of the relative success of students in different kinds of questions will be critical. One school I was in recently indicated that 6 mark ‘level of response’ questions were being well addressed and it was shorter written answers that some students were struggling with. The third is that with more changes in the pipeline, the monitoring of progress will become even more critical. Each time that changes are implemented, results wobble. There’s more turbulence ahead.

Ed Walsh

Leave a Comment