On 3rd March I blogged about “Why GCSE Science Assessment Is Broken – and the struggle to fix it!”
What followed was the setting up of a group teachers on the front line who will have to work within the new suggested framework of “assessing practical work”. So, my first move – contact Glenys Stacey, COE of Ofqual, directly. What followed was a very engaging exchange of communication and Glenys could not have been more welcoming. Next step was to muster up a group of front line teachers. Many thanks to Matt Galvin, Helen Rogerson, Richard Goucher, Amanda Clegg, Mary Berry and Chris Coclough for giving up part of their Easter break to attend.
Present from Ofqual were Janet Holloway (Head of Reform, and a former science teacher) and others working on GCSE science reform. Janet began the meeting by pointing out that, since Parliament had been dissolved prior to the general election, we were in a period of ‘purdah’ and therefore nothing deemed to be politically sensitive could be discussed.
Janet began by stressing that Ofqual’s aims are:
“ensure that in science qualifications students get the best practical experience” with a view to encourage manageable practical experience through a programme of study in the time available
Provide “valid and reliable assessments” that have “confidence in the difference between student performance”
My aims of the day:
- Seek clarity in the proposals to assess practical work
- Investigate the proposal of a ‘portfolio of evidence’
- Find answers to the idea of record keeping to evidence practical work
- Encourage a climate that promotes a broad practical experience for pupils
Q1 – “How do we persuade a head teacher that this isn’t a capitation funding culling opportunity?” Will some Heads just thing we can do the bare minimum of 8 practicals per science GCSE?
Q2 – “How will this work with long term supply teachers ensuring that pupils are continuing to have practical experiences?”
A discussion followed that led to the conclusion that practical work is carried out to enable pupils to develop a skill set. How will 8 practicals promote this in some schools? Practical work may only be a small part of the skills required to succeed at GCSE science, but it is the essential vehicle to acquiring many other essential skills.
One person points out that there is an issue between the practicalities of a practical based approach vs a content based scheme of work. This raises the “Maintaining Curiosity” report and how a small portfolio of practicals is a complete contradiction to its conclusions! Practical work encourages pupils to take risks and promotes ownership in their learning journey. A limited amount of practical work will only hold them back.
Surely this is the ideal opportunity to develop something sensible with minimum impact on workload, that addressed the needs up pupils and teachers.
What if Ofqual stipulated marks from the best 8 practical activities from a larger number over the duration of a course? Surely this would promote the importance and amount of practical work carried out in schools.
How will this be quality assured? Exam boards have a responsibility to assess! Monitoring the amount and quality of practical work is NOT in their remit. Is it the responsibility of Ofsted to ensure schools provide a practical based curriculum? Surely this is a teaching and learning issue, and not assessment.
What would records look like?
AQA’s guide to their new GCSEs is available here.
“Practical work: As we write this brochure we are waiting for the outcome of the Ofqual consultation, which will give final information about practical work. This is what we currently know. • Students will do eight practicals for each of Biology, Chemistry and Physics, and 16 for Combined Science. The required practicals will be clearly outlined in our specifications. • Each specification will include a list of apparatus that students must be able to use and techniques they must be able to demonstrate. • Teachers will need to take reasonable steps to ensure that each student has completed the practical activities and made a record of their work and what they have learnt. ”
No mention of how the 8 practicals will be evidenced and recorded! Ofqual suggested that the evidence could be “written, videos, or recorded”. Does this mean that practical work will be distanced from their day to day work. Personally I like to see rates of reaction practical work integrated with the work in their books. Will their be extra costs incurred for the need for practical books? Will the work be transferable between baords if a pupils switches schools?
For a school like mine with 200 in a year group, that is 1600 practicals to evidence solely from a single GCSE, hence a minimum of 3200 without including those who do triple science.
How will the process be quality assured?
We have the following possibilities:
- Exam boards inspecting samples of evidence – send to a moderator, or school visits? I look forward to seeing how Ofqual suggest “recorded” evidence is sampled.
- Internal verification like the process currently used for BTEC
- Statements from Heads of Department, Quality Nominees or even Head teachers
- Inspections by Ofsted
What will having a portfolio of evidence actually achieve?
I’m still very skeptical about the whole idea. I’m not convinced the proposals will promote investigative science in schools. The numbers are too large – A Level is manageable due to the smaller numbers of pupils involved. The collection of evidence is a minefield, and I suspect Ofqual are waiting for the exam boards to come up with their ideas first before making any brave decisions. I predict a delay in approved specifications yet again.
I left Ofqual very reassured that they do want to listen to and work with teachers. The meeting was a very frank and open discussion, where we had the freedom to speak openly about our concerns and solutions. However I returned home with more questions than answers…!!