Results are in for A level reforms…

Earlier this year, the BES contributed to two responses regarding the recent consultations on A level reform and the way that A levels are assessed. In mid-April, the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofqual, who carried out these consultations, announced their plans and what changes lay ahead for science subjects. Worryingly, the changes that the BES and others took issue with still seem to be going ahead.

For science subjects, these two consultations have been extremely important in relation to what will be taught at A level and how students will be assessed. Whilst the DfE sought views on content changes for many subjects including science, Ofqual asked for comments relating to how subjects such as science should be assessed. The BES responded to both of these consultations through SCORE and the ASE outdoor science working group.

Concerns regarding these two consultations that we voiced related to:

  • The proposals which stated that assessment of practical work within the sciences would not count towards the overall A level grade and would instead be reported separately (and thus risk this aspect not being fully taught in some schools and generate uncertainty over a student’s full scientific experience and skillset for HE institutions when selecting students).
  • The fact that whilst fieldwork would remain compulsory for Geography, it would not be compulsory for Biology (and thus impacting the ability of students to develop key skills relevant to ecology).

The documents that have now been released announce the changes that will take place. Ofqual have confirmed that the practical skills within science will be reported and assessed separately to the rest of the science content as they initially proposed, and will be stated as a simple pass or fail. This goes against the views of the BES and SCORE, who were keen for practical skills to remain part of the overall science grade; Professor Julia Buckingham, Chair of SCORE and Society of Biology Council member, says “We fully appreciate that reform is needed but the current solution is rushed and does not address operational issues. We believe we can develop workable new approaches but Ofqual has decided to go ahead with an inadequate solution.”

To defend these changes, and alluding to the new announcement that students will be required to undertake a minimum of 12 practical sessions throughout the year, Glenys Stacey, Ofqual Chief Executive said: “The new A level sciences will give teachers the opportunity to carry out much more practical work than they do now. They will be able to help students develop those vital skills across a range of activities and experiments.”

Whilst this was not the outcome that we would necessarily have hoped for, the BES is now talking with others within the science community to discuss our next steps. We are keen to further work and engage in this new framework to ensure that A level students receive practical training in a breadth of topics within Biology, and work to ensure that fieldwork is an integral part of the 12 practical sessions that will be compulsory for students to receive.

The DfE also released their planned content changes, which whilst a priority for the BES and others, is slightly less of a concern as we are confident that we will be able to have further input in this area in the coming months. Standard deviation was added to the mathematical teaching for students studying Biology, and proposed topics within Biology will not change despite some concerns from other organisations that the content covers a lot of breadth but not much depth. We will continue to work to make sure that ecological science is covered in sufficient detail as is possible within the Biology subject content.

Overall, the BES and the organisations that we work alongside are confident that we can continue to work and input into these changes. We want to ensure that Biology A level content and assessment will enable students to develop a well-rounded skill set in both practical (including fieldwork) and theoretical areas of Biology and equip them with the necessary knowledge to enable them progress within this subject area if they wish to.