Action on science GCSEs

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Ofqual has forced the three main England-based exam awarding bodies to take swift action following its evaluation of GCSE science standards.

Ofqual evaluated the new general science GCSEs as well as the separate physics GCSE. It found found that although Maths and English literature standards had been maintained, science was clearly a cause for concern.

Ofqual's chair, Kathleen Tattersall, said "The results of our monitoring of the new GCSE science specifications in 2007 and 2008 and the review of standards in GCSE physics in 2007 raised significant causes for concern.

"Our monitoring shows that the revisions to the GCSE science criteria in 2005 have led to a fall in the quality of science assessments."

The regulator said the boards' syllabuses were over complicated and gave students too many optional ways to obtain the qualifications. This had made it difficult to compare their achievements. And there was too much emphasis on multiple choice questions.

Ms Tattersall said the QCA was again reviewing the GCSE science criteria with a view to new syllabuses being in schools and colleges ready for first teaching in 2011.

"Science is a vitally important subject and it is essential that these new criteria and specifications should engage and challenge all learners, particularly the most able."

She added: "It is absolutely essential that standards remain consistent from year to year and across awarding bodies."

Schools Minister, Jim Knight, said: "I am obviously concerned about the issues highlighted in these Ofqual reports.

“I welcome the immediate actions on science being taken by Ofqual – covering both this year’s exams and ensuring any problems with GCSE science are fixed in the longer term.

"This is a science problem not a GCSE problem - I am reassured by Ofqual’s findings that ‘the system is generally in good health’."

Mr Knight also reiterated that there were issues with a limited number of exams and that this was not a reflection of the exam system overall.

“In more than 60 reviews of GCSEs and A Levels covering almost a 15 year period, the overwhelming majority have not identified a problem, suggesting there is nothing inherently wrong with the exam system,” he said.

Ofqual's changes for 2009 include:

  • Improved quality of questions, to stretch and challenge all students
  • Work, including training for senior examiners, to improve objective tests (multiple choice)
  • Tighter marking criteria to ensure that only the answers deserving of the marks are credited
  • Some internal assessments revised to ensure better challenge to students


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