When fieldwork makes a geographer but not a biologist: Part 2

In October of last year, two consultations were opened on A level reform and their content and assessment. Whilst the Department of Education sought views on the content of A levels, Ofqual had their own consultation about the A and AS level assessment. The British Ecological Society was keen to respond to both of these and our views were submitted through SCORE, the Science Community Representing Education, and the Association for Science Education’s Outdoor Science Working Group.

Both of these consultations mark important steps in A level reform, which is hoped will modernise current teaching at this level and better equip students for higher education. However, a key concern for the British Ecological Society and many other science organisations was the proposals in relation to practical work and field work. Whilst the conceptual and theoretical aspects of practical work would continue to form a key part of science curriculum and assessment, proposals state that assessment of the practical skills themselves would not contribute to the overall grade received. Added to this, and particularly worrying for Ecology, whilst fieldwork in Geography would remain a compulsory part of the curriculum, for Biology, fieldwork would not be a compulsory aspect.

These proposals could be detrimental for students for a number of reasons. With regards to fieldwork, it forms a huge part of ecological science, allowing scientific advances to be made and giving students vital opportunities to develop skills which they can build upon when progressing to Higher Education Ecology degrees. In addition, fieldwork is fundamental to inspiring those to get outdoors and experience undertaking science in different environments, an experience that would be taken away for some if fieldwork is no longer compulsory for Biology. The Association for Science Education’s Outdoor Science Working Group generated a specific response to the Department of Education regarding fieldwork provision.

With regards to the practical aspects, there is concern that in certain schools where provisions are already lacking for practical work and fieldwork, this change in assessment could mean that certain schools end up not teaching practical aspects at all. Practical work should not be viewed as an extra addition to science teaching; practical work underpins all scientific understanding and is fundamental for a full learning experience for students. In its response to Ofqual, SCORE recommends that practical work should form an integral part of A level science, that further work should be done to see how practical skills can be effectively assessed and that stakeholders that use grades (such as universities) should also be consulted on these proposed changes. Similar views are also voiced in the response to the Department of Education regarding subject content changes.

We are now waiting to hear back about these consultations and whether our views have been listened to. Stay tuned for an update!