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Webinar on GCSE science practicals: recording and questions

Ofqual held a webinar on changes to GCSE science practicals on 28 January 2015. Watch the recording.


Ofqual is consulting on changes to how practicals are assessed in GCSE science. On 28 January we held an online seminar (commonly called a webinar) where anyone interested in learning more about our proposals could hear from us and have the opportunity to ask questions.

Watch the presentation

Science Practicals Webinar - 28 January 2015

Read the questions and answers

If the proposal is suggesting that the GCSE practical assessment takes a similar approach to A level, why does GCSE practical count for 15% but none in A level?

At A level as for GCSE 15% of the marks in examinations will be for questions which require students to draw on their practical science experiences.

At A level we will be provided all the materials to carry out the tasks, does this mean the same approach will be taken at GCSE? Will this still be vulnerable to widespread malpractice?

Apparatus and techniques needed for GCSE will be specified in the same way as for A level.

Do schools have to keep the log books of practicals all the time? Otherwise pupils could change their reports.

Our consultation is about the approach. This question is about the detail of operation and we would welcome feedback about how best this could be implemented.

Can you confirm: in written exams 15% of the marks will be based on practical skills and 15% of the marks on mathematical skills?

Yes, we can confirm that - they are both minimums - but the mathematical skills must be in a science context.

You say in your consultation document that other countries do things differently. Have you looked in detail at other countries systems where practical assessment is part of the grade?

Yes. The educational structures in other countries vary, with few countries having the formal assessment at 16 that we have in England. Likewise the use of direct assessment can vary with both the stage of education and its purpose.

Will the consultation process be affected by Nicky Morgan’s speech last night asking for a U-turn about practical assessment?

This is an open consultation and part of the constructive dialogue she mentions.

There are a differing number of practical skills to be tested for physics, chemistry and biology in the consultation - why is this?

The proposed list of apparatus and techniques has been compiled by the DfE and reflects the content requirements for each subject. They are considered to be balanced, but do let us know if you feel differently.

What is the purpose of insisting on a school record and a student record of experiments completed? If a student is often absent or works away from school, does this mean they cannot access the qualification?

This is where it is important to have further dialogue about the details once the approach is agreed.

If you are concerned about malpractice in teacher assessment of practical assessments why don’t you look to improve that instead of getting rid of it from the grade?

Our concerns are about the negative impact this is having on teaching and learning, such as narrowing of the curriculum. We want students to have the right practical learning experiences, making them memorable for the right reasons. Many teachers agree.

How would you like awarding bodies to take part in the monitoring process?

This is a matter of operational detail and we would welcome your views.

Do you expect a potential portfolio or log book model as may have been suggested for pupils at key stage 5?

Again we would welcome views on this.

How will a few set experiments broaden experience more than the current system?

At the moment the minimum requirement is one experiment. We are suggesting a minimum of 8. But we want teachers to be free to do as much as they wish beyond that.

How will the school stating that students have done experiments be any more robust than the present system?

This ties into the details of the monitoring arrangements. As 15% of the marks in exams are proposed to be on practical activities we would expect this to drive the right behaviours.

Will the mathematical skills be 15% across all units or 15% in each unit?

It would be 15% in each qualification. This may be covered in different ways by different exam boards. Please remember that the new qualifications will be linear, not modular/unitised.

In a time of insufficient funding where schools are struggling to cut costs this could result in practical demonstrations by teachers rather than students doing experiments. Less cost, less resource, minimal need for technicians could lower cost but be a worse outcome for students

Our proposals state that each specification “…must give students opportunities to demonstrate the techniques listed.”

What form will the evidence take to show that students have completed the task?

In principle in the student record, as discussed in our consultation. This is a level of detail on which we would welcome your views.

The consultation document suggests that schools will be required to confirm to exam boards that the students have done the required practical work before they sit exams. What if they haven’t?

This is a matter of operational detail for which we would have to consider balancing the responsibilities of centres and the impact on individual students.

If the approach is similar to A level will there be quantitative, qualitative and evaluative activities or will each practical cover all three?

There is more than one approach to this. That is for each exam board to determine and detail in their specifications.

If the systems in use in Singapore and Cambridge International O levels are good - why aren’t we looking at their systems?

We have looked at a wide range of systems (eg see page 7 of the consultation) and have considered them in the context of the wider educational system in England.

Have any of the alternative methods which Gatsby looked at been considered?

All proposals that were submitted as part of previous consultations and engagement were fully considered. We have drawn on these in this current consultation.

Is the expectation that the foundation paper will only require foundation maths?

Page 5 of the Department for Education content makes clear that ‘The mathematics should be at levels up to, but not beyond, the requirements specified in GCSE mathematics for the appropriate tier.’

I liked the ‘can-do’ task approach that OCR used previous to the controlled assessment. It was manageable from the teacher’s point of view in that we had to initial their booklets that we kept safely locked away.

It will be for each exam board to draw on their experience when developing their new qualifications.

Have you looked at the Queensland model? Externally moderated school based assessment with inter school moderation.

Pages 14 and 15 of the consultation make reference to this.

How confident are you that you will be able to test the practical work skills in a reliable way using written assessments?

The current system is broken. We need a new approach. This will be a challenge for exam boards, but we note, on page 18 of the consultation, that there is evidence of good practice here and elsewhere in this area.

I do not see value in administering a system by which teachers monitor students’ progress through 24 practicals as well as children logging their own progress if the emphasis is to try to get back towards teaching. Surely the penalty is already in the exam?

A number of submissions to our consultation have made this point. We would encourage you to add to those voices through the consultation, but please consider the possible implications of any alternative proposals.

I support the idea of log books but having come from an international system of 20 practicals per year myself, isn’t 8 too low? Can I ask where this number came from?

8 is a minimum. It takes into consideration the size of the qualification and the available resources. If you think it needs to be higher, please feed that back through the consultation.

Will the content of the skills be reviewed in light of the consultation?

If you mean the apparatus and techniques, then yes, and please do respond to the consultation - in particular question 1L.

The change is to improve validity of results but in practice it is not possible to ‘test’ the skills in papers, so what incentive will schools have to undertake more practical work?

We’re responding to teachers’ requests for support in the delivery of practical work; to use a qualification to address centre specific management issues would be inappropriate.

I’m a bit confused, is the plan that this will look more like the A level controlled assessment being introduced in September? If so hasn’t the cart rather been put before the horse with A level September 2015 cohort?

We recognise your concerns over the sequencing, and you are correct in seeing the similarity of approach between our proposals for GCSE and the arrangements that have been confirmed for A level.

This new approach looks like it will save teachers a considerable amount of marking time as well as allow more time for the students to explore content in more depth compared to the current controlled assessment which is obviously a massive improvement.

This is very nice to hear. Thank-you and do please make that point when responding to the consultation.

Could Ofsted monitor practical work in school to ensure it is taking place?

We’re in discussions with Ofsted. This forms part of our consultation.

You will be aware that Wellcome, Gatsby and Nuffield all disagree and are asking that this be reconsidered. What is your response?

There has been opposition. But what we have heard so far, and particularly from teachers, is a lot of support for what we are proposing. Of course there are different opinions, and that is why we are consulting.

If the assessment of students’ understanding of practical work is within the examination and there is consensus that this comes mostly from experiencing the practical work then I would question the reasoning of any further external measures being necessary.

I’m not sure we can add anything further to our earlier answers. This is something for the consultation.

How would you expect this 15% to be divided in a paper for the combined sciences amongst the different disciplines?

This can be approached in different ways, and will be for exam boards to justify their approach in proposed specifications.

Will GCSE science, additional science and separate science have common papers?

That is a question for exam boards and their specification designs.

Your response to a previous question implies that the same disparity will continue to persist between boards which is a pity as this is the ideal chance to end that.

The common requirements for apparatus and techniques across all exam boards and all specifications will help to address this.

How will practical-based questions in examination look across the tiered entry? Would they form the ‘common’ questions and subsequently be around grade 4 and 5 or otherwise?

The answer to this will come further down the track.

It is suggested that marks may be adjusted for pupils who may be physically unable to undertake practical work due do disability. Will the same apply for pupils who may be at centres such as PRUs where practical work may be challenging to undertake?

This is a matter of detail for implementation; one that will be considered once the approach is decided.

Has the initial proposal of new GCSE practical been forwarded to all the exam boards for them to prepare the new specifications ready for submission in June 2015? If yes, what is the purpose of this consultation? Will this consultation affect the outcome?

In so far as they have received copies of this consultation, yes.

Will you send us a recording of previous consultation for discussion?

All previous consultations and their evaluation are available on our website or via the National Archives.

If a school or college is undertaking a GCSE over 3 years then will the practical skills have an ‘expiry’ date? The controlled assessment at the moment has a shelf life of a year, so will the skills need to be dated within a 2 year period?

There is no expiry date.

Published 30 January 2015