Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Joint Council for General Qualifications

1.  What evidence do the exam boards have to support the statement "that the current range of specifications meets the needs and aspirations of centres"?

  All Awarding Bodies consult widely with centres about their proposed specifications and take careful note of the comments which are received in a variety of ways. For example, there can be consultation by questionnaire, through meetings of teachers and through Subject Committees comprising practising teachers. Every effort is, therefore, made to meet centres' needs although it has to be recognised that both the subject content and the assessment pattern in specifications are constrained by national criteria. For example, there are limits on coursework weightings.

  By encouraging and where possible acting on the feedback received, Awarding Bodies believe that they are, for the most part, meeting the needs of centres. Recent feedback suggests that the introduction of specifications in GCSE Applied Science (Double Award) have been seen by many centres as fulfilling a need.

  However, Awarding Bodies are also aware that:

    —  at all levels there is a need to include more up-to-date ideas, particularly those which impact on the everyday lives of students;

    —  the practical applications of science should be highlighted more strongly;

    —  science is distinguished from other areas of study by the inclusion of practical, hands-on experimental work; those developing the curriculum sometimes forget that it is often this work which inspires students to continue to study science;

    —  for students towards the lower end of the ability range, or who are experiencing demotivation, the current Single Award GCSE course which many take does not provide stimulation as it is very "academic" with little practical work possible.

2.  In working "closely and co-operatively with QCA" do the exam boards consider it their role to initiate change or simply to implement it? Please give examples.

  When developing qualifications and subject criteria, QCA consults with a range of organisations and individuals with expertise in the relevant fields. These would include, for example, subject associations, higher education and representatives from business and industry as well as Awarding Bodies. Thus, the Awarding Bodies have an input at this stage. There are opportunities for Awarding Bodies to have formal and informal contacts with QCA to suggest any changes that they think are desirable but the subject criteria are then determined by the Regulatory Authorities. It will be seen that Awarding Bodies both initiate change, suggest refinements to proposals and implement the changes instigated by QCA. Scrutiny reports from QCA have indicated areas for improvement which are then addressed by individual Awarding Bodies within the timetable required by QCA. Each Awarding Body is continually looking to develop new specifications and to support centres using current specifications in new ways. For example, Awarding Bodies are, individually and collectively, pursuing the following initiatives:

    —  working with QCA and the University of York Science Education Group to develop a new version of the National Curriculum in Science, to be piloted from September 2003;

    —  working with the University of York and the Nuffield Foundation to deliver an AS specification in Science for Public Understanding. This specification, with its clear emphasis on ideas about the nature of Science and the applicability of those ideas in the wider context has attracted both those students with an arts background and also those studying Science beyond the age of 16;

    —  developing a pilot Single Award GCSE Science specification to meet the need identified in the response to Question 1 above;

    —  developing the use of websites and other ICT solutions to support teachers and students.

3.  How do the exam boards ensure that the items produced for assessment match the intentions and aims of the science curriculum? In particular, are the exam boards content with the assessment arrangements for GCSE Sc1 investigations? If not, what are the issues and how could these be resolved?

  The intentions and aims of the science curriculum were considered when writing specifications, and the assessment objectives are mapped closely to the papers produced. Practical assessments follow set criteria or their equivalent. Awarding Bodies do have some concerns with the assessment of Sc1 coursework, and there is evidence that a relatively small number of different investigations is actually used by centres. Some GCSE science specifications, together with the two pilot developments mentioned in the response to Question 2 above, have assessment models which are less mechanistic and which should differentiate more effectively. A wider range of investigative skills is assessed, an indication of the Awarding Bodies' commitment to continual improvement of the assessment process.

4.  What evidence do you have for the reliability and validity of your examinations in science?

  The Awarding Bodies believe that all examinations on general qualifications (GCSE, GCE and VCE) have a high level of reliability. This belief is supported by the statistical information obtained from the outcomes of awards. It is believed that the assessments of the AS examinations are valid because the actual outcomes have so far reflected those expected. All Awarding Bodies follow the requirements of the Code of Practice fully and carefully and its application is monitored by the Regulatory Authorities.

5.  What fraction of exam boards' budgets is spent on research and development? What issues are you researching now?

  All Awarding Bodies have Research Departments and staff with dedicated responsibilities for research across the whole range of the work of each Awarding Body. Issues relating to the establishment and development of Curriculum 2000 are of particular importance currently. The JCGQ has established a Research Committee which reports directly to its Management Committee and which establishes annual priorities for inter-Awarding Body research and undertakes a regular programme of comparability studies. Much of the work undertaken is cross-curricular.

6.  Are the exam boards involved proactively with the development of new methods of assessment? If so, where are the priorities at the moment and how are these being taken forward? If not, where does this responsibility lie and how do the exam boards take this into account when developing assessment items?

  Awarding Bodies are involved proactively with the development of new methods of assessment and the application of ICT solutions to the assessment process. In developing new specifications, all Awarding Bodies will actively consider whether new measures of assessment are suitable and will measure the achievements of students in a valid and more reliable fashion, ensuring that they are fit for purpose.

7.  What views do you have on the role of teacher assessment in external examinations? Would you be happy to see a substantial increase?

  The Awarding Bodies have considerable experience of developing and operating specifications and syllabuses with various weightings of internal assessment. The proportion of marks allowed for internal assessment has been reduced in recent years. Were a general increase to be allowed, it would be important to ensure that robust, manageable and economic moderation arrangements were in place.

  Teacher assessment is necessary when it is felt that there is a need to assess attributes that cannot be measured by means of an externally marked examination.

  Experience shows that teacher assessment is generally reliable and accurate.

  Any consideration of an increase ought to be considered in the broader context of the work currently being undertaken by the DfES and the Cabinet Office to examine bureaucratic burdens on teachers, the findings of which are likely to be known later in the year.

8.  How do the exam boards support curriculum development and the introduction of new specifications in science? Please give examples.

  Awarding Bodies will each work in different partnerships with curriculum groupings. For example, AQA has worked closely with the Nuffield Foundation on the development of Science for Public Understanding. OCR works closely with curriculum development agencies, such as the Nuffield Foundation, the University of York Science Education Group and the Institute of Physics in the development of new specifications.

  Awarding Bodies support the introduction of new specifications by comprehensive programmes of nationwide meetings with centre representatives and the production of support materials appropriate to the subject and level of qualification.

9.  Are there any particular challenges in developing specifications and methods of assessment for vocational qualifications?

  Clearly there are many careers which rely on or have links with science. There are a number of challenges in developing specifications and methods of assessment for vocational qualifications, including the following:

    —  the appropriate degree of specialisation within the vocational context;

    —  the need to ensure parity of demand across a large range of options;

    —  the need to assess the evidence produced by students in ways which are robust, valid and yet manageable;

    —  the need to design a qualification which is appropriate both for students who wish to go immediately into employment and for those who wish to proceed to higher education.

March 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 11 July 2002