Eye in the Sci

2nd Edition of my fortnightly list of top science links to spice up your science lessons is now available here.

Please feel free to contact me using the link above if you have any suggestions!


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University Clearing Call Charges Scandal

Came across this news story his morning about how much some universities charge for calls to their clearing hotlines.


Here is the list of admirable institutions students can call for free:

– Aberystwyth University

– University of Bradford

– University of Cumbria

– Edge Hill University

– London Metropolitan University

– London South Bank University

– Newcastle University

– Queen Mary, University of London

– University of Strathclyde

– University of Surrey

– Swansea University

– Teesside University

– University of The West of Scotland

– University of Westminster

So I’m going to begin with my two local universities, Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam, but need your help to spread he word.  Let’s get together to tweet, name and shame!!!

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Newly Launched – ‘Eye in the Sky’

My fortnightly digest of what’s good out there for science teachers.  Taking some of the effort away from finding current issues and ideas to use in the classroom.  Please follow me on Twitter to get updates for new editions of ‘Eye in the Sky’ when published.  Lets bring current issues in to the classroom!!

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Dear Nicky Morgan

I’d like to introduce you to Sam.  Sam will be a RQT this September with a teaching commitment of 22 hours out of 25 per week.  Sam is passionate about teaching and had entered the teaching profession for the right reasons.  Sam is passionate about the subject he teaches and is determined that all the pupils he teaches reach their potential.

Sam arrives at school at around 7.30 every day, and this year travelled for 45 minutes to get to work at this early hour.  In September he will be teaching around 8 classes of an average size of 25 pupils.  Now let me do the sums for you….

  • 200 pupils
  • 3 hours PPA time – some removed by “rarely cover”
  • 4 classes doing controlled assessment
  • 2 lessons “period 6” after school
  • 1 meeting per week
  • An entitlement to a lunch break

Now let’s add to the figures your latest brainwave….

  • No emails or marking after 5pm

This means that Sam has to mark all his books and tests, mark possibly 100 pieces of controlled assessment, as well as entering data periodically, plan lessons, produce intervention strategies, contact parents, respond to emails, carry out break duty, attend morning briefing twice a week and everything else required to do the job!

Now some more sums…

  • He is contracted to work 1265 hours of directed time
  • 22 lessons for 40 weeks is 880 hours
  • 80 briefings is 20 hours
  • Weekly meetings adds 40
  • Parents evenings adds 12.5

We are already up to 925.5 – and in the remainder of that time he has to do all of the above.  Even the marking alone would leave each pupil with their share of the 340 that is left – or 1.7 hours over a whole year per pupil.  This is before we even consider all of the administrative tasks.

What am I really trying to say here?  Well it’s simple.  Suggesting that Sam can address his work-life balance by not receiving emails or marking books after 5pm is a total kick in the teeth.  Your suggestion will not make Sam feel any better, it will in fact just make him less likely to remain in the profession.  

Many teachers saw a slight glimmer of hope following the departure of your predocessor, however your naive, narrow minded comments (cowardly spoken during our summer break) merely add salt to his previously opened wound.

You may ask what grounds I have to make these comments so openly.  Well let’s get a few things out in the open and compare our experiences and expertise:

I have been teaching for 18 years, 11 of which have been in schools considered to be in challenging circumstances.  My previous school went from special measures to winning one of the Pupil Premium awards this year. All of these have been by choice.  I am a nationally recognised, and award winning, expert in my subject area and dedicate lots of my time to national initiatives.  I have spoken at the House of Commons about the importance of the Governemnt’s commitment to continued funding in my subject area.  This year I gathered together a group of teachers to meet with Ofqual to discuss the GCSE science practical fiasco.  Like yourself, I have been a school governor, but as a Chair of Governors of an outstanding school.

Now please read that previous paragraph again and compare it with the reason the Guardian gave for you to be  education secretary… I shall let you read it for yourself.

Teacher recruitment is still at breaking point.  Retention figures are a national embarrassment .  Short term financial carrots are not working, and their is evidence from other countries to back this up.  ITT placed still remain unfilled.

And your answer is…. No emails or marking after 5pm!


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100 Ideas for Outstanding Science Lesson

After months of secrecy I can announce that my contribution to the 100 Ideas series from @BloomsburyBooks will be released on 19th November.


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More questions than answers…!! My visit to Ofqual

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 CleggMary 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?

Office Worker with Mountain of Paperwork

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…!!

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Why GCSE Science Assessment Is Broken – and the struggle to fix it!

Update to this post to follow…. “More questions than answers… !!!”

Ian McDaid

Lets begin with Ellie.  Ellie probably achieved a level 4 at KS2, may have reached a high level 5 by the end of KS3, and chose to study only Core science at GCSE. Now Ellie probably has a target grade of a C for GCSE.  At the moment she will have to do some controlled assessment that counts as 25% of her overall Core science mark.

Now lets have a look at what happens if Ellie sits an AQA Core science ISA.  She completes her first ISA and scores 20/50 = 4o UMS marks.  She then tried really hard and on her next ISA improves by 10 marks.  She now has 57 UMS marks, an increase of 17 UMS.  Her friend Brad scores 35/50 at his first attempt = 70 UMS marks.  On his second attempt he also improves by 10 marks.  He now has 100 UMS marks, an increase of 30…

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