Scientists have lost battle to keep A-level exams practical

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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Categories: Secondary.


  1. andylutwyche

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

  2. irvingphil

    SchoolsImprove Brilliant. Experiments no longer part of science. Making British education the best in the world. #science

  3. skoobee7970

    pianistsam SchoolsImprove massive surprise. Evidently Gove didn’t like getting his hands dirty… oh, wait… #sarcasm

  4. Ingotian

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

  5. Mktadvice4schls

    SchoolsImprove sad to see it go but had to happen as gaming and corruption had made status quo untenable

  6. TFScientist

    Aqua_Rach #rage #idiots Drama can safely assess practical, why can’t science? A bad day for science education in England

  7. 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

  8. TFScientist

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

  9. 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?

  10. TFScientist

    Aqua_Rach The wider world is about practical skills, not internalised knowledge. If only ofqual and educationgovuk understood this

  11. Bio_Joe

    TFScientist Aqua_Rach ofqual educationgovuk the practical skills at ALevel are nothing like real science. I like people to know things.

  12. 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

  13. TFScientist

    Bio_Joe I know – my wife is a drama teacher, remember 😉 And she says no reason it couldnt work for science

  14. 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..

  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. TeacherChemist

    Bio_Joe TFScientist Aqua_Rach ofqual educationgovuk I disagree Joe,experience at A-level allows development at uni, then workplace etc.

  18. TFScientist

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

  19. hecharden

    hrogerson MaryMyatt Students will struggle at university. My chem practicals lasted for 5 hours at a time from first year!

  20. 5N_Afzal

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove And why shouldn’t same apply to the comment they’ll make on practical skills?

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