A Level Ed Walsh Further Education Secondary Science

When is an IB not an IB?

To Malta to run a CPD session for science teachers on effective teaching and learning using the Collins KS3 resources – very pleasant to work in a venue with the shutters thrown open to allow in a warm Mediterranean breeze in October.  You can see I’m going for the sympathy vote here – probably not very successfully.  Malta is a real melting pot of cultures: the cuisine is similar to Sicily, the religion Roman Catholic, the British influence through governance decades ago is still apparent but the language draws on Hebrew and Arabic influences.  Of course, some of these influences weren’t always benign but the result is a place in which a lot of different people can feel at home.  One of the activities we did was on questioning and one of the teachers told me afterwards of a Maltese saying “il-mistoqsija oħt il-għerf” – “the question is the sister of wisdom.”  That’s one for the desktop – and the next CPD session.

Breadth of cultures is also coming up in the matter of A level reform.  Michael Gove has indicated that he wants A level students to have breadth as well as depth to their studies.  What this appears to be leading to is an Advanced Baccalaureate, or ABac.  Unlike GCSEs, A levels are not for the chop, though it seems likely that modular assessment will go and there are questions over the future role of AS levels.  The plan emerging is of an ABac ‘wrapper’ surrounding a package of attainments.

There’s a desire for students to have a balance of subjects – for Arts students to do Maths or a science and vice versa.  I think the principle of balance is good both because lots of people can benefit from the kind of reasoning used in Maths and Science but also because mathematicians and scientists often need skills that are better developed in Arts subjects.  However, I hope this will be seen in conjunction with the debate on AS levels.  Students going on to study STEM courses at undergraduate level not unusually need all three of the STEM subjects they study at A level so being able to run a fourth to AS has real merit.

There should also be care taken over the selection of subjects recognised in the ABac.  Computing and Engineering desperately need support; there’s a real economic imperative behind encouraging keen post 16 students to study these.  Broadening culture is a laudable motive but it can be broadened in a range of ways.  There’s also talk of a 5,000 word assignment.  Certainly a number of schools I know run an Extended Project pathway for sixth formers and are enthusiastic about its impact, not least on university applications.  It’s not difficult to make the case for students having to be able to structure some extended writing but it really does have implications for developing the skills lower down the school.  “He knows lots of science – he just can’t write it down” is looking a bit threadbare; it may be true but it begs questions of the science curriculum.

Ed Walsh

Read Ed’s GCSE Science blog here

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