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Scientists have lost battle to keep A-level exams practical

Published on April 9, 2014,

According to the Times, science experiments will no longer count towards final A-level grades after the exams regulator overruled protests from societies and education charities…

Ofqual has rejected a campaign by leading science bodies who tried to overturn its plans for structural reforms to A levels.

The regulator is to go ahead with plans to end the current system under which practicals conducted in class under exam conditions make up between 20 and 30 per cent of final grades in biology, chemistry and physics.

Instead, final grades will be awarded entirely based on written exams, with some questions adapted to test knowledge of experimental concepts and methods. Students’ competence in practical work will be reported separately on exam certificates…

One of Ofqual’s concerns is that practical science assessments can be compromised by sixth formers’ use of Twitter. A-level students are set unseen tasks but do not perform these at the same time. Some teenagers discuss their assignments on social media sites, giving an advantage to pupils who have not yet done them.

Another concern is the reliability of letting teachers assess such a large proportion of marks that count towards final grades…

Peter Main, of the Institute of Physics, said it made no sense to report practical science skills separately on an A-level certificate. “There is a tendency to see practical work as an add-on, whereas [it] is integral to science. It is what science is: the interplay between theory and experiment. Even a theorist has to respond to experiments.”…

More at: Scientists have lost battle to keep A-level exams practical (subscription required)

See also: Obsession with health and safety is killing science, claims James Lovelock

Are you relieved or disappointed to hear that Ofqual is sticking to its guns over removing the impact of practicals from the final A level grades? Do the reasons given – especially the potential impact of social media – make sense? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…

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27 comments
Anthony Gerrard
Anthony Gerrard

I believe science experiments are an important part of a student's knowledge development and should be left as is. This could have a drastic impact on the choice of career for the student.

- http://onlinecollegeguru.com

Ingotian
Ingotian

@hrogerson @MaryMyatt So why not devise our own Techlevel, get it performance points and UCAS points. It can be done quite easily.

andylutwyche
andylutwyche

@SchoolsImprove Can't blame Ofqual here can you? Centre assessed work has potential for manipulation in the pressurised results-driven world

Aqua_Rach
Aqua_Rach

@TFScientist indeed! I am told it is cos drama uses a final performance but portfolio work in art is another good eg of practical assessment

TFScientist
TFScientist

@Bio_Joe I know - my wife is a drama teacher, remember ;) And she says no reason it couldnt work for science

TFScientist
TFScientist

@Aqua_Rach How often in the world of work are you asked to write everything you know about a subject in two hours with no web or notes?

TFScientist
TFScientist

@Aqua_Rach Exactly. Have external assessors from other schools, or a portfolio. Academic vs vocational is only a dichotomy at school!

TFScientist
TFScientist

@Bio_Joe I can't remember half my degree KNOWLEDGE, but the skills and how to think and analyse have stuck with me

TFScientist
TFScientist

@Bio_Joe standard solutions, how to dissect, how to design an experiment, how to peform stats, how to use a colorimeter, use software etc.

TFScientist
TFScientist

@Bio_Joe passed you don't need to remember huge army of facts - many can be looked up. What you need is skills. How to pipette, how to make

TFScientist
TFScientist

@Bio_Joe My point is a wider one. Focussing on more depth, more detail and more knowledge is pointless in an internet age. Once exams are..

TFScientist
TFScientist

@Bio_Joe Fair enough. But the same can be said of any subject. Knowledge stuffing will do no good in long run. Kids can build on prac skills

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