Practical science assessment move ‘sends wrong message’

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The exams regulator is sending out the “wrong message” about the value of practical science skills by dropping controlled assessments at GCSE, school leaders have said.

The exams regulator is sending out the “wrong message” about the value of practical science skills by dropping controlled assessments at GCSE, school leaders have said.

Ofqual last week confirmed its plans to change the way that practical science skills are assessed at GCSE level. 

The new approach will use written exam questions in place of controlled assessment. 

Each exam board will be required to specify a minimum number of practical activities that students must complete – set no lower than eight in individual science and 16 for combined science.

Each school will then have to confirm that they have enabled students to do “the full range of practical work” and the students themselves will have to keep a record.

The changes have been brought in after a consultation and Ofqual is now to consult further on new rules and guidance for GCSEs in biology, chemistry, physics and combined science. 

The aim is to have new specifications available to schools from this autumn, for first teaching in September 2016 and first examination in the summer of 2018.

Chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: “There is unanimous agreement among scientists that practical work is central to good science qualifications. We have consulted widely and have identified a new approach to the assessment of practical science that will liberate teachers to offer a wider variety of classroom experimentation and promote effective student progression to further study or employment.”

However, the Association of School and College Leaders has attacked the changes. Deputy general secretary Malcolm Trobe said: “Practical work is essential to the learning of science and should therefore be examined and reported as part of science qualifications. 

“It is not good enough to rely on it being assessed solely by written exam questions in place of genuine practical assessments, as Ofqual has decided.

“While questions in written papers can assess some skills they will not provide valid evidence of the writer’s full range of practical work skills.

“Ofqual’s own evidence also shows that assessment helps determine teaching and learning activities and this decision gives the wrong message about the value of developing practical science skills and abilities in our young people.”

Photo: MA Education

   


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