Last call to have your say on the future of GCSE coursework

marksI’ve just completed my first GCSE ISA in years (I’ve relied on BTEC in the past to hit target grades) and it started me thinking about what is the best way to assess practical skills in science.

As all schools do, we had rehearsed the format, discussed variables, discussed what goes into a plan, what to look for in results and so on.  The danger of working this way is that marking an ISA can just turn into keyword bingo if there isn’t a good understanding of what all these things mean.

So how did my students do?  Well we were on target for which I am extremely thankful, however I’m not sure it was a very accurate assessment of what my students know or can do.

Researching other sources is an important skill in science I know, but this area is just easy marks – even my students scored 1 or 2 marks out of 2.  Writing a plan was a challenge because they know what to do but when you ask them to write things down they miss steps out, they forget to mention fair testing (even after the rehearsal!) and the risk assessments wouldn’t get past CLEAPSS…

The one area of the ISA they did very well was collecting the data – all had a fantastic set of data which was every bit as good as exemplar data.  Unfortunately there is no credit for this apart from the need to do it.  It is assumed that if candidates can’t write about it they can’t do it which is blatantly unfair.

Looking for trends in the supplied data proved to be a bit of a challenge – partly because of the terminology (remember we are a special school).  Fortunately the graphs (which the guidance says can be generated on a PC) provided some easy marks which brought up the overall total.

So what have I learned from the experience?  I now know beyond the shadow of a doubt that GCSE ISAs are not a very good way of assessing practical skills, but then I already knew that GCSE exams are a poor way of assessing what my students know about science so I can’t say I am surprised…

Have your say about the future of practical work at GCSE.  There is a government consultation that closes this week – get on there and express your opinion.  Somehow I suspect (with an election looming) that the final solution will have more to do with rigour and good soundbites than it will to do with assessing the science of our young learners.


Published by Rob Butler

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

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