Plans for differently weighting the maths content of new science GCSEs have “little justification”

Plans for differently weighting the maths content of new science GCSEs have "little justification"

Ofqual’s proposals for differently weighting maths content  in the new science GCSE exams have “little justification”, says a science subject leader.

Vice chair of the Association for Science Education (ASE) Richard Needham was responding to today’s launch by the exams regulator of its consultation on the new single and combined science GCSEs to  be taught in schools from 2016.

It’s the third time Ofqual has consulted on the new GCSE science exams. Two previous consultations were held on the removal of practical science controlled assessments.

But the new consultation reveals there has been no U-turn on the proposals for practicals. Student practical work will be assessed through written exam only and make up at least 15 per cent of total marks.

Ofqual is also proposing that new GCSEs give at least 10 per cent of marks for relevant maths skills in biology, 20 percent in chemistry, 30 per cent in physics, and 20 per cent in combined sciences.

Mr Needham is critical of the weightings and said they could give the impression of biology as an easy subject, leading pupils to make a wrong choice.

He admitted maths there was a general consensus on the need for more maths in science exams but that there was “little justification for having different weightings for maths in GCSE courses between one discipline and another”.

According to Mr Needham, current sciences GCSEs test a narrow range of mathematical skills, while the study of science beyond school level depends increasingly on students having a good grasp of scientific principles.

“Schools therefore need to build progression in mathematical understanding into their science courses from an early age.”

Ofqual said in a statement: “The proposal for no less than 15 per cent of the marks to be for the demonstration of mathematical skills in each of the sciences had fairly low agreement [in a recent consultation]… Similarly, the proposal that the weighting of mathematical skills should be the same in each subject had a low agreement rate at 31 per cent.

“Teachers, awarding organisations and stakeholders recommend that it should be 20 to 25 cent for physics, 15 to 20 per cent for chemistry, 10 to 15 per cent for biology and 15 per cent for combined sciences.”

Under the new plans for practical work schools must make a contemporaneous record the work the student has undertaken during the practical activities and what the student has learned from them.

Instances where schools don’t provide a statement or provide a false one to confirm the completion of practical work will be treated by the exam board as malpractice, says the consultation.

Papers will be tiered, with an individual student taking either foundation tier or higher tier. Ofqual is consulting on the detailed requirements for tiering.

The consultation closes on 4 May.