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01/10/2014

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Keep the 'science' in science A-levels

Ofqual have today announced significant changes to the way the sciences will be examined at A Level, to reduce the emphasis on practical work in these subjects. Although the science community were involved in consultations on the proposed changes earlier this year, their views have gone largely unheeded. Ofqual have published their response to this consultation, and announced that they will be making the proposed changes, regardless.

The changes include taking the practical element out of A level grades - with the result that the final grade a pupil is awarded is based on a written exam only. With schools increasingly under pressure to perform, particularly when it comes to league tables, the British Science Association and many other scientists and scientific bodies, have expressed deep concern that this perceived devaluation of practical work will cause schools to reduce the time and money invested in practical work.

Imran Khan, Chief Executive of the British Science Association , said:

"Science is a way of looking at and thinking about the world - not a body of facts. You wouldn't dream of assessing other practical subjects - like languages, music, or design - by a written test alone, and the same should be true of science. Otherwise we risk creating a generation of young people who can recite facts, but not really understand, use, and enjoy the science behind them."

Multiple pieces of evidence from numerous bodies including Ofsted and ASPIRES has shown how engagement with practical work is extremely important to get, and keep, kids interested in studying science. Our own CREST Awards are a great example of this, and we know from feedback that having the chance to explore, investigate and carry out practical activities is hugely rewarding for the young people completing the awards, and in many cases gives them a new insight in to the realities of what 'science' really is.

A particularly harmful result of this would be an increasingly widening gap between the number of students from wealthy and poor backgrounds choosing to study science in higher education. The poorest schools are likely to be the first to drop the practical elements, to cut costs and focus pupils on the written exam to optimise their chances of improving their grades. Yet, these are often the pupils who would benefit most from being exposed to practical science, throughout their school career.

The British Science Association is joining forces with other organisations to express to the Government why we believe this is a fundamentally flawed plan.

 

Prof Lord Robert Winston, Professor of Science & Society and Emeritus Professor of Fertility StudImperial College London, said:

“This is a terrible idea when all available evidence (three House of Lords Select Committee reports emphasise the fact) shows that it is practical science which persuades around 80% of science students to get interested in it, and in most cases to enter university where they will do even more experiments.”

 

Dr Sarah Main, Director of Campaign for Science and Engineering, said:

“I am shocked and dismayed at this decision. The science and engineering community voiced their concerns loudly to Ofqual and they have not been heard. I am deeply concerned that uncoupling practicals from science A-level grades will lead to practicals being deprioritised, especially in schools where resource is tight. This will not help students who we know are inspired and motivated by practicals and enjoy doing science, not just learning about science. And it will not help universities, colleges and companies who already struggle to recruit people with the practical experience they need. CaSE calls for practical experience to be at the heart of A-level science teaching and for its place to be assured by making it mandatory and rigorously assessed.”

 

 

 

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