The search for a suitable science exam for my SEN students

Day 23 - Exam hall


I teach students with special needs, many of whom have good science skills.   It was customary until recently that all students did entry level qualifications, but I decided to challenge my students more and push them into GCSE equivalent examinations.


First of all we tried AQA Core science (modular multiple choice), thinking that multiple choice exams would suit our students.  The literacy requirements of this course were an absolute joke and students didn’t realise their full potential because they were held back by the way the questions were phrased.  When I worked through past papers with students the structure of the questions was not at all logical and candidates frequently became confused.


Having worked with other schools on BTEC I decided to try level 1 BTEC (Introductory).  The first cohort through responded really well but subsequent cohorts were plagued with poor attendance (most of it genuine and for medical reasons) and late comers who had missed chunks of the course.  As we progressed through the course it became apparent that we were spending more time generating portfolio material than we were spending on the actual science teaching.  My students are unable to catch up on their own, and we have many significant holes to fill at the end of the course.  If you only had to reach 80% or so of the assessment criteria it wouldn’t be a problem, but 100% for my students is a big ask!   To add insult to injury Edexcel have changed from a pass/merit/fail system to a pass/fail system that carries an extremely low point score (and yet still has similar assessment requirements).  Needless to say we will not be following BTEC Science next year.


So the search is on.  I need to find a qualification that lets my students demonstrate their science skills.  It seems the government would rather test students on their retention and memory skills with the shift away from modular exams.  I’ve looked at specifications and many of the ISA’s/coursework assessments are very demanding necessitated by the fact our science exams have apparently been much too easy in the past…


My question to you is what qualification do you recommend for students who have special needs and poor literacy skills (their science skills far exceed their literacy skills)?  What qualifications are you planning to adopt with your SEN students this year and what is the rationale for your choice?  Any feedback appreciated.


Image © jackhynes on Flickr


Published by Rob Butler

Ex-science teacher, ex-school leader and full-time geek.

One reply on “The search for a suitable science exam for my SEN students”

  1. This is a good question!
    Many of the science teachers I work with, from Hampshire special schools, have been able to make use of a combination of the AQA Core and Entry Level Qualifications. It wasn’t perfect, but they made it work. They are all very worried about what to do when the new specs come on stream. We are having a first real look at the issue in a couple of weeks, now that we have most of the accredited specs available. I’ll let you know what their thinking is then.

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