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Science GCSE - confused!

(76 Posts)
lexie01 Sat 23-Feb-13 07:20:16

I have another thread running about EBacc and as part of this I have been looking at a number of senior school websites in my area and specifically their GCSE results.

On a complete tangent I noticed quite a difference between the type of GCSE's taken at state and independent schools. Specifically in the Science subjects. I looked at 3 state comps and a very small number (2 for example at one very good school) took separate science GCSE's (ie biology/chemistry & physics) and most took a single science exam (which I assume is a combination of all 3?). In the independent schools however this was reversed and most of the children seemed to take the individual science subjects. I know that this Is probably a bit of a generalisation as I only looked at about 8 schools within my area but there was an obvious difference.

Does anyone know the reason For this? My dd1 is in yr5 so we are just starting to look at senior schools so all this is quite new to me. Thanks

Snowfire Sat 23-Feb-13 08:29:01

I know that at our local state school, they encourage able scientists to take the 3 separate GCSE's but it is their choice whether they take all 3 or opt to take the double award (still covers all subjects in a little less detail). At our local independent, the triple award is compulsory so would inevitably have a higher number achieving this at GCSE.

potatoprinter Sat 23-Feb-13 08:34:09

In DD's grammar it is compulsory to take "triple science" where you end up with separate qualifications in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. There are three papers for each.

I believe that "science" just consists of one paper for each science and double science two papers.

Most schools offer a choice. The boys grammar near DD's does. My younger daughter's comp didn't offer triple at all last year.

At DD's grammar no one is allowed to do A' level without having done triple, however at DD2's comp you can.

Needmoresleep Sat 23-Feb-13 08:45:45

Triple science is standard in most private schools, at least those or a reasonable size and academic standard.

This does not mean everyone does it. Some children want to focus on arts subjects or language and are content to only have two of their options in science subjects. Some very academic schools will encourage the less gifted scientists to only do two, often using the same classtime as those doing three, and focus on achieving better grades.

Another difference that you may not have spotted is that many Indies do iGCSE rather than GCSE, with science teachers arguing that these, whether harder or not (a different debate), provide a better foundation for A Level study.

Provision for science, languages and music/art/games/drama probably marks the biggest overall difference in provision between state and private (though happy to acknowledge there are lots of exceptions).

Why the difference? Others will know more but at a guess:
1. science labs are expensive
2. good science teachers are in short supply
3. science somehow got a reputation for being "hard" and so in the target driven noughties, kids were steered towards media studies etc.
4. links between science qualifications and future employability are not known or not understood, in the way say that business studies, media studies or law are seen as gateways to future employability (which at GCSE level is almost certainly not true)

Almost by definition parents of private school students are likely to have parents who are successful professionals. Basic expectations are a good crop of GCSEs in a range of traditional subjects, a good choice of A Level subjects, which should then lead to a place at RG or similar University. Private schools know their market.

State schools with a cohort of professional parents will face the same expectations. Hence the angst about finding the secondary school which can deliver. Otherwise pressure comes from the need to meet Government targets. Presumably why Gove has changed targets to include the concept of eBACC.

Machadaynu Sat 23-Feb-13 08:47:38

warning - might be out of date

The combined science exam is designed to fit into a 2 subject slot in the timetable - this leaves more time for the other subjects but gives the kids chance to experience something of all three sciences, albeit in less detail than if they did three separate qualifications.

Most schools that do three separate papers 'squash' them into the time it 'should' take to do two, so they only let the most able students do it.

Having separate qualifications might look better on your CV when it comes to A level / University applications.

ShipwreckedAndComatose Sat 23-Feb-13 09:16:47

It would also depend on how selective the private schools are. like grammar schools, they will have students who are more likely to cope with three GCSE subjects in a very limited curriculum space.

However, two thirds of the course is absolutely identical between the two courses (AQA) and so the actual difference between the two routes is much less than you might think.

Roisin Sat 23-Feb-13 09:40:06

Yes, each science has three 1 hr papers: C1, C2 and C3 etc, plus an internal assessment.
If you pass C1 + P1 + B1 = science GCSE
If you pass C2 + P2 + B2 = additional science GCSE
If you pass C1 + C2 + C3= Chemistry GCSE

At a selective school all students are capable of doing the triple science programme, so they can arrange their timetable accordingly. In non-selective schools, it's more complicated.

The real issue to look out for is the percentage of students doing BTEC science, because this is a much easier qualification than the GCSEs and is in no genuine sense 'equivalent'. Many schools use it appropriately to suit particular students, but some schools use it to make their results look better, or just because their science teaching is not very good!

ShipwreckedAndComatose Sat 23-Feb-13 09:51:26

I would agree with that Roisin.

And add that two excellent GCSE science grades are a better A level preparation than three poor ones. Quality is definitely better than quantity.

So many schools with a tight timetable restriction will focus on the double award rather than pushing for triple and risking the students not becoming well grounded in the concepts because they were rushed through.

Knowsabitabouteducation Sat 23-Feb-13 10:01:49

The mention of 'combined' science takes me back 20 years.

Of GCSE, started in 2010, Science, the majority of students should have the opportunity to get certificates in three sciences, by two pathways:

B1 + C1 + P1 + CAT = (core) Science
B2 + C2 + P2 + CAT = Additional Science
B3 + C3 + P3 + CAT = Further Additional Science


B1 + B2 + B3 + CAT = Biology
C1 + C2 + C3 + CAT = Chemistry
P1 + P2 + P3 + CAT = Physics

Both pathways cover exactly the same modules, teaching, controlled assessments and exams. Exactly.

They key difference is in the first pathway. The Further set of modules is optional, and the core exams can be taken and certified at the end of Y10. No decision on taking Further modules needs be taken until end of Y10/beginning Y11.

Whether a school goes for the first pathway (Science/Additional/Further) pathway, or the second (Biology, Chemistry, Physics), the students will be taught and will be learning separate sciences, ie they will know whether the lesson is biology, chemistry or physics, and will (hopefully) have a different, specialist teacher for each one. They will likely be timetabled to have all three sciences in the each week. It is perfectly truthful for a school to say that they teach separate sciences to all pupils, regardless of how they administer the exams.

lexie01 Sat 23-Feb-13 15:17:21

Oh gosh this is so confusing and all a complete surprise to me. Why was it ever made so complicated. I don't remember ever having a Science option. Admittedly it was some time ago (late 80's) but it seemed much easier to simply select biology, chemistry or physics. I hated physics for example but quite liked the other 2 sciences so took those at o level (I am showing my age now) but not physics. I would not have wanted to take a Science GCSE that included physics as well as the others.

It was interesting that at the 2 state schools I looked at (both rated as Ofsted outstanding with very good GCSE results) in one school there didn't appear to be an option to take single subject GCSE's and in the other only 2 children sat single subject qualifications but 100+ plus took the combined subject.

Does it not cause them problems if they wish to study these subjects at a level?

Tbh I found it all a little depressing looking at these results. I assumed there would be a difference between state and inde in terms of results (selective, small class sizes etc) and breadth of subjects available but not such a difference in what I class as core subjects. Moan over.........

webwiz Sat 23-Feb-13 15:31:36

The constant changes to science GCSEs is one of the most confusing things that I've had to get my head round to do with school exams.

DD1 did double science GCSE (two gcses covering all three sciences) and went on to do Biology A level and is now at university studying Biology, DD2 did the core science and additional science mentioned further up the thread and went on to study Chemistry as one of her A levels. DS is in year 11 and does the three separate sciences (I'm not sure how may take it at his school - just the top set of 30 I think) he has no intention of taking any science A levels and has been thoroughly put off science!

Knowsabitabouteducation Sat 23-Feb-13 15:41:25

Additional Science modules should be sufficient preparation for A-level.

The Further modules teach 'factoids' IMO. They don't really add to skills or attitudes.

It has been traditional (pre-NC) to study for two science subjects alongside everything else. This contributes towards a broad and balanced curriculum. If a third science is taken, it may remove the option of another important subject, or dilute everything.

I don't think colleges or universities care whether you have 2 or 3 science GCSEs. They may care about the overall balance, and most do care about the number of high grades.

I would personally lean towards two science GCSEs and make sure you have the full compliment of language/humanity/arts. The only exception in my book would be if the school makes the top set do triple, and puts you in a lower set if you don't want to do this.

Knowsabitabouteducation Sat 23-Feb-13 15:44:35

Science GCSEs change about every 4 years - much the same as any other subject.

They have to respond to current issues and emerging technologies, so must be dynamic subjects.

LeBFG Sat 23-Feb-13 15:50:15

I was assured during teacher training at a local grammar school that the separate sciences was a bit of con and they only kept it as an option to please the middle class parents. In terms of uni access, the double award is perfectly acceptable. Much more important are the A-levels taken.

LeeCoakley Sat 23-Feb-13 15:51:13

Haven't they just changed?

Dd3(yr10) is taking end of year 11 exams in Physics, Biology and Chemistry (if I've understood her Physics teacher correctly) and there is none of the learn-a-bit-then-take-a-module-in-it which my other dds did in Science throughout yr 10 and 11 iirc. Disclaimer: I might have this completely wrong!

webwiz Sat 23-Feb-13 16:05:42

Yes it has changed again so that year 11 can take the modular version but year 10 have to take a linear version.

worley Sat 23-Feb-13 16:05:58

ds1 is in yr9 and started his GCSE's this year. he is in top set and doing triple science, but he has an extra lesson after school for this. only the children doing triple science get this extra lesson. so others in top set and not wishing to do triple don't have to go to the extra lessons (also has extra tutorials during holidays - all run at the school by his teachers) he has his first exams in June I think...
his teacher explained it all to me at parent evening.. but I got a little los tbh... all changed since I did mine!

happyAvocado Sat 23-Feb-13 16:16:58

I was assured during teacher training at a local grammar school that the separate sciences was a bit of con and they only kept it as an option to please the middle class parents.

what did he mean by that?

I haven't looked into how much different is double science over triple but surely - there would be different depth and breadth to subjects studied by those kids?

ShipwreckedAndComatose Sat 23-Feb-13 16:21:21

The thing is though, in the 80's you chose Biology, or Chemistry or physics. And if you were a natural scientist and likely to take them further...then you did two or all three.

the then Tory Government decided that this was specialising too early and that all students should keep on a mixture of all sciences.

This is why we have either a general science GCSE path or you do all three as separate sciences.

I agree with the poster who said they had been advised that separate science was a bit of a con to keep middle class parents happy. That's probably another reason its offered at private schools so much.

ShipwreckedAndComatose Sat 23-Feb-13 16:24:42

btw I am a science teacher who teaches at a state comprehensive where we run equal numbers of separate science classes to double award classes.

its the question that we are asked most commonly...will our son/daughter study separate sciences? Even in year 7 parents want assurance of this! I have never really understood why really.

but then i suppose I have an insider perspective on it all..

happyAvocado Sat 23-Feb-13 16:32:16

why is it a con?

Knowsabitabouteducation Sat 23-Feb-13 16:34:48

But we don't have a general science path.

GCSE qualifications are made up of Biology, Chemistry and Physics modules.

As someone who did just Physics and Chemistry in the 80s, I think it is a real benefit to learn all thee sciences, but I am not a big fan of giving up an option to do this. I don't think it has anything to do with the last Tory government being nasty. It's a good thing, and I notice that Labour didn't want to change it back.

ShipwreckedAndComatose Sat 23-Feb-13 16:37:59

sorry, knows, did I imply it was a nasty decision? I didn't mean to, I was just stating what has happened historically to explain the current system to those posters who are, rightly, confused.

Knowsabitabouteducation Sat 23-Feb-13 16:39:17

I hope to ease confusion you do not refer to general science to your parents.

happyAvocado Sat 23-Feb-13 16:41:17

ShipwreckedAndComatose - could you please explain why having 3 separate sciences at GCSE is a con?

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