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Science Coursework

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Although I am not a fan of long postings I though this was worth the space when I saw its in the TES 'breaking news' section today....

Schools science exam system "failing students"

By John von Radowitz, Science Correspondent, PA News


School science exams are narrow, simplistic and failing to prepare pupils for their future careers and studies, Britain's leading academic body said today.

The Royal Society said secondary school and college science examinations were not testing the full range of skills and knowledge demanded by employers and universities.

In particular, it criticised "rote" learning and "standardised and predictable experiments".

A report from the Royal Society called on the Government to make the way science is examined more motivating and relevant.

The comments come as the Government undertakes a major overhaul of the education system.

Professor Mick Brown, chairman of the Royal Society's steering group on assessment of school science, said: "Getting pupils to learn to conduct overly simplistic practical scientific experiments, which never go wrong, does not give them a sense of the dynamism of real scientific research.

"We need a system of assessment that fuels pupils' enthusiasm for the subject by opening up this exciting world of problem- solving, discovery and innovation, while at the same time supporting their factual learning."

In the short term, the Society is urging the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exam watchdog, and the awarding bodies which set exams, to encourage testing of a wider range of skills in secondary school science.

The report argues for greater use of continuous assessment by teachers, so that pupils' learning needs can be identified and addressed.

It claims this can be achieved without imposing excessive workloads on teachers and pupils.

"The pressure on teachers to deliver exam 'results' is immense," said Professor Brown.

"Their professional skills and time must be better utilised to teach and assess science in a way that helps pupils succeed in science careers and as informed members of society as well as in exams.

"This means encouraging analytical skills and using an exam as a tool to help pupils learn and become enthused rather than simply as a means to a qualification."

The way in which science learning is examined was crucial because it had a huge influence on a student's interest in the subject, said the report.

This was especially critical with so few students choosing to study physics and chemistry after the age of 16.

A system that perpetuated the idea that sciences are more difficult than other subjects only worsened the problem, said the Royal Society.

The report was based on the findings of a study commissioned from King's College London on the effectiveness of science exams for 14 to 19-year-olds.

Teacher Michael Terry, a member of the Royal Society steering group and curriculum team leader for science at Alexandra Park School in the London Borough of Haringey, said: "As a science teacher I feel very strongly that the existing methods of assessment are failing many of the young people who are studying science.

"Too many students are misled by the existing exam system into thinking that science is mainly about regurgitating uncontentious facts. And many science teachers find themselves unwittingly 'teaching to the test'.

"The assessment arrangements for coursework reinforce this approach.

"Current practice in too many schools has very little to do with scientific investigation and too much to do with helping students meet the exam board criteria."

Isn't this pretty much what what we have all been saying in this thread? <_<

Edited by Maggie Jarvis
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I'm not so sure. There is a lot I would disagree with. This just seems to be a collection of soundbites without much substance. Anyone can throw together the old cliches of "if only teachers did it this way, students would be so much better at...".

Does anyone know how it is possible to get hold of a copy of the original report that is mentioned? I'd like to read it.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Guilty on the 1st two counts BUT it is not the teachers fault, its direct result of two factors. (1) pressure to get good results - repeat what you know works and (2) and RARELY DISCUSSED, the demands to produce numbers to match criteria - rarely mentioned and wipes out 95% of all GCSE chemistry.

Broaden the criteria with good 'moderated' mentoring the coursework itself will broaden.

I must confess I've written two extremely well used web pages on the '1st two counts' they were meant to represent a combination of 4 good 'brainstorms' to represent the four criteria for students or new teachers. Opinion is divided on their 'cheat level' BUT I was a long way from what sites like 'revisioncentral' offer which I find disgusting, where you can buy whole pieces of coursework and free subscription if you supply 3 pieces of finished and good grade coursework. I wish it could be covered by the law!

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