Ofqual: New biology A-level has improved pupils' practical skills

Pupils studying the reformed biology A-level have shown better practical skills than whose who took the subject before the government’s recent reforms, a new report from Ofqual shows.

However, the skills of pupils studying chemistry and physics stayed broadly the same as before the reforms.

The reformed science A-level exams were taken for the first time last summer, after teaching began in September 2015.

In total, 1,750 pupils took part in Ofqual’s research and also responded to a questionnaire. The post-reform group reported doing practical work more often and feeling more confident than the pre-reform group.

Sally Collier, Ofqual’s chief regulator (pictured below), has been “encouraged” by the findings of the study.

“I hope that it will provide some early reassurance that practical skills have not been unintentionally devalued in the reformed A-levels,” she said.

“These are, however, early findings and we and will continue this research to include a new cohort of post-reform students later this year.”

Practical skills in science A-levels are now assessed by exam at the end of the courses and these questions make up at least 15 per cent of pupils’ overall marks.

Pupils also have to complete at least 12 practical activities throughout their course and are given a separate ‘pass’ or ‘unclassified’ grade.

Before the government reform, science A-levels involved pupils completing practical tasks under “controlled conditions” and responding to written questions.

The government chose to abandon this approach because it “presented logistical problems”, as well as concerns about “adequately differentiating between students’ abilities”.

Ofqual will continue to monitor the impact of the reforms over time. It will collect data from a third cohort of students in autumn 2018 and report the findings in early 2019.