Awarding body makes plea for more science experiments during A levels


A major examination board has urged the exams watchdog to embrace proposals that would see more science experiments taking place in the A level classroom.

An Ofqual consultation over proposed examination reforms across 14 A level subjects closes tomorrow (Friday, January 17).

Its current proposals will see coursework assessments no longer counting towards A level grades in biology, chemistry and physics. Practical skills will still be assessed, but the results will be reported separately. 

The new A levels will be taught in schools from September 2015 and Ofqual proposes that an understanding of experimental methods will be assessed in exams. The consultation states: “We propose that the development of conceptual and theoretical understanding of experimental methods should be assessed in the written exams.”

However, a statement from OCR this week has urged the regulator to rethink its plans, arguing for more, not fewer, experiments in the classroom across all three science A levels.

OCR has piloted an approach that involves students carrying out a range of work to develop “essential practical skills”, and at the same time assessing their understanding of the practical element by an externally assessed written paper.

It says this alternative approach would see more experiments in the classroom, which would be “endorsed” by the teacher to confirm that the pupil had undertaken the work specified. It says that this will help to “embed learning” and give pupils “robust practical as well as theoretical scientific knowledge”. 

Tim Oates, director of assessment, research and development at Cambridge Assessment, which owns OCR, said: “Although it is widely recognised that the current system of coursework assessment does not work, we should not promote approaches which may also abolish science experiments in the classroom.

“There is unequivocal evidence from many years of research that shows that children and young people acquire understanding of vital aspects of biology, chemistry and physics far more effectively when programmes include learning grounded in experiments in the classroom.”

OCR chief executive Mark Dawe added: “We want students to do lots of practicals and, most importantly, to learn from their successes and mistakes. And we want to give them the freedom to develop their skills in practical work and to demonstrate their understanding of the fundamentals of practical investigative work in science. 

“This is the difference between knowing how and why to do something in a certain way, rather than just following instructions.”



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