RESPONSE OF THE JOINT COUNCIL FOR GENERAL
The Joint Council is pleased to receive this report,
taking an overview of Science Education 14 19. The Joint
Council would endorse many of the individual points made in the
Report and particularly those relating to the need for a review
of the National Curriculum requirements and range of GCSE courses
available to centres and students. A GCSE specification, however
good it may be, cannot itself motivate students. There are many
interrelated reasons why students might not enjoy and continue
with studies in science subjects. The Joint Council would suggest
that the professionalism and training of teachers, and techniques
of teaching employed, have a far greater impact on whether students
enjoy and engage with the subject. Likewise the level of support
and working environment of the teachers impacts greatly on their
ability to produce motivating and stimulating lessons, etc.
It is noted that the Report has been published before
the first cohort of students have completed their studies and
assessment based on the revised, 2003, GCSE specifications. There
might usefully be a review of the recommendations made in this
Report in the light of experience of the new specifications.
The Joint Council has also noted that the sample
of teachers, students and users consulted was small.
The following specific comments are offered against
the list of recommendations and conclusions given in the Report
on pages 5964.
The GCSE Curriculum
The Joint Council agrees that the current National
Curriculum is overloaded and would support a reduced emphasis
on content and an increased emphasis on principles, understanding
and skills. A more open approach giving Awarding Bodies freedom
to develop content which is relevant and interesting to students
and to develop stimulating methods of assessment would be welcomed.
The Joint Council would support the introduction
of recent scientific developments into the curriculum to make
it more relevant to students' personal experiences and interests.
However, teachers report that relevant material is
not necessarily interesting, stimulating or challenging. Students
can be turned off science by endless discussions of pollution,
global warming, ozone depletion, energy generation, topics in
which teachers and students often lack sufficient knowledge and
understanding to fully appreciate the problems involved. The need
to ensure such issues are addressed in the teacher training process
is paramount to ensuring their successful introduction into students'
courses of study. Teachers constantly ask Awarding Bodies for
more detailed schemes of work specifying what to teach and how
it will be assessed.
Practical and Fieldwork
The Joint Council supports the expansion of these
handson learning opportunities and looks forward to changes
in the relevant QCA Qualification and Subject Criteria for science
that would permit these exercises to play a meaningful role in
the assessment scheme of specifications. It is acknowledged that
they can be adopted as an effective teaching strategy in the current
specifications but more centres are likely to use them to greater
effect if they are reflected in the assessment packages.
Whatever practical coursework is required, it must
be practicable in schools which at Key Stage 4 often have many
large groups of students.
Use of ICT
ICT will play an increasing role in the teaching
and, ultimately, assessment, of many subjects. However, care must
be taken to ensure that the relevant equipment, knowledge, experience
and support mechanisms are in place in all centres to ensure that
this does not become the province of the privileged few. Likewise,
care must be taken to ensure that the teacher/student relationship
and interface is enhanced and not undermined by the introduction
of teaching, learning and skills development through the use of
The Joint Council believes that the introduction
of the latest core curriculum has, in fact, served to increase
the required factual content of A level courses. It has also to
be acknowledged that the concerns about parity in demand between
A level courses is an issue that has been raised by centres. Awarding
Bodies' Research Departments routinely carry out research into
the effectiveness of assessment schemes. Despite evidence to the
contrary, the Joint Council is aware that the public perception
persists that maths and science qualifications are 'harder' to
succeed in than arts and humanities subjects and, consequently,
would support the recommendation to investigate this issue further.
Gender and Ethnicity
Comments under 'The GCSE Curriculum' above refer.
The essentially mathematical nature of Physics makes
it at least desirable that potential students are reasonably competent
in mathematics. To be allowed to select Physics without understanding
its mathematical nature would be to mislead students. The reverse
is also true. Able mathematicians might not be attracted to physics
if its mathematical character and appeal was concealed or played
The most able students, those who, in earlier times,
may have taken degrees in science or engineering, may now think
in terms of 'how much will I earn' and apply for other degree
courses. Concerns about the failure of students to be aware of
scientific careers should perhaps be laid at the door of individual
school or college careers departments - recommendation 55 in the
Report reflects this fact.
The Joint Council would not agree, however, that
students are unaware of transferable skills; there is ample evidence
of science graduates becoming accountants and lawyers.
It is hoped that the introduction of new 'Applied
GCSE' courses and the current development of new VCE qualifications
to meet agreed Qualification and Subject Criteria (produced by
QCA) will begin to make vocational courses more attractive to
centres and students. An applied approach to science is not just
about making the specification content more applied, it is also
about the method of delivery, assessment and demonstrating the
application of science. A more vocational approach makes it more
interesting, dynamic, and is more inclusive for the type of learner
who has a kinesthetic and visual learning style. This method of
learning also encourages learners to take more responsibility
for their own learning. A positive response to the introduction
of these courses from employers and HE would help greatly in raising
the profile of these qualifications.
There is some surprise at the recommendations and
conclusions in this section. The constraints imposed by the National
Curriculum requirements are acknowledged in the Report but no
account appears to have been taken of the impact and constraints
arising from the Qualification and Subject Criteria, developed
by QCA, which all specifications must meet in order to achieve
accreditation. Indeed, in vocational qualifications the mandatory
units are prescribed by QCA and handed down to the awarding bodies.
Coursework/practical work used to play a much more
prominent role in specifications in science and many other subjects.
Constraints on the assessment weightings permitted for internally
assessed work places, in turn, restrictions on the time available
for it and the emphasis it is given in any course of study. Likewise,
the weightings assigned to individual assessment objectives can
dictate the range and type of questions employed to achieve effective
and reliable assessment. Given the constraints imposed by the
need to meet the requirements of the National Curriculum Programme
of Study and the relevant Qualification and Subject Criteria,
the Joint Council view is that the current GCSE examination papers
contain a commendable range of question types, addressing a balance
and range of knowledge and skills set in a range of application
and issuesbased contexts.
Whilst it is acknowledged that specifications can
promote different teaching and learning strategies they can only
do so to the extent that the 'rules they must obey' permit. It
is interesting to note that the new developments welcomed in the
Report do not necessarily conform to the current requirements
The Joint Council Awarding Bodies would welcome the
opportunity to be actively involved in the review of the relevant
Criteria and National Curriculum requirements.
The comments under 'Responsibility' above refer.
It is emphasised that, for any progress to be made, considerable
changes to the National Curriculum Programme of Study and the
QCA Criteria would be required. Indeed, the awarding bodies have,
up to now, been praised by QCA for the way in which they work
together to apply the Programme of Study.
Concern has been expressed that the QCA requirement
for whole investigations in some subjects is the main factor holding
back the development of more stimulating and engaging practical
work. Many teachers and students find practical work, other than
an investigation based on a 'plan', to be great fun and to have
considerable educational value.
The Joint Council would like to see a wider debate
on this issue.
Science for citizens and for scientists
The Joint Council would support the introduction
of more modern scientific issues into the curriculum but would
also draw attention to the need to ensure all students have a
sound knowledge of the basics in order to fully appreciate, discuss
and respond to issues in an informed manner.
Recommendation 34 is a key point which must not be
lost in any reform.
A new curriculum
The Joint Council would support the suggestion that
a greater range of science courses could be developed. The Awarding
Bodies would welcome the opportunity to be involved in any review
of the National Curriculum with a view to producing a core of
study that promotes active learning that can be endorsed through
the GCSE specifications developed.
The need to have a clear and consistent understanding
of what is meant and expected by the term 'scientific literacy'
is crucial to the teaching and assessment of the skill. There
is a real danger that teaching and questions based on Figure 5
(page 41) of the Report would be very demanding and stimulating
to the most able students only.
Support for Teachers
The Joint Council would strongly endorse recommendation
As previously stated, the Joint Council would support
the recommendation that a greater range of GCSE Science courses
should be developed (comments under 'A New Curriculum' refer).
However, it must also be recognised that there will be the need
to ensure that comparability of demand is accurately monitored
across the range of specifications in order that students, teachers
and users of the qualifications can be confident of their 'worth'.
As a core subject it is hoped that all schools can
be supported to develop sound, motivating and worthwhile courses
The Joint Council would support the view that A level
courses should be considered to be an end in themselves, educationally,
as opposed to being designed primarily to meet the needs of universities
The principle that students must be provided with
pathways that enable them to progress is one the Joint Council
would support fully. This was the driving force behind the development
of modular schemes of study and assessment (preCurriculum
2000) and why these courses became so popular. It is agreed that
'resit courses' are rarely successful in motivating students
and consideration should be given to how more stimulating options
could be made available.
Science for all
The suggestion that a compulsory post16 curriculum,
that includes science as one of its core subjects, is something
that could be counter productive and make science even more unpopular
The Joint Council believes that most science teachers
would support these recommendations.
The Joint Council Awarding Bodies would agree with
the conclusion in point 65 and would ask whether teacher training
courses address this issue with NQTs and whether they have considered
running refresher or INSET courses which could offer opportunities
for teachers to be kept up to date with techniques, equipment
and developments. The Joint Council believes that teachers would
welcome practical science classes of no more than 20 students
for GCSE courses of study. A smaller maximum number is desirable
for AS, A level and Advanced Vocational courses.