Choosing an exam board and specification for the new science GCSEs #asechat

Pupils sit their GCSEs

New specifications come into effect from September this year as the government continues the introduction of new linear GCSEs from grade 1-9 intended to be tougher and more challenging.  In the past schools chose an exam board based on content and assessment of the content.  To a certain extent there will be a lot more homogeneity between exam boards and even specifications from the same board as the content is dictated by the government.  There is also no single combined science option now – instead there is a combined science qualification worth two GCSEs (double award).  Single sciences also continue to be an option.  One of the biggest changes is the removal of the ISA and I’m still not sure how I feel about this as some students benefited and some students lost out under ISA.  Instead science skills will be assessed as part of the terminal exams which carry 100% of the marks.


Fortunately, we will retain tiers as I know this poses real problems to my students in English as they see the paper as very hard (since the same paper goes from grades G to A*).  Mathematics features strongly in the new specifications accounting for 20% of combined science as do enquiry skills questions which are work 15% of the marks.


With these changes common across exam boards the offerings of the major exam boards are very similar and challenges faced by schools will be common across all the exam boards.  This leaves schools free to choose exam board based on the support (or service) they receive from the exam boards, the structure or split of the final assessments and the wrap-around services they provide like KS3 schemes or Y10 exams.  Having been to meetings with all of the exam boards I have been impressed by the professionalism and way they have tackled the new curriculum.



AQA Edexcel


Qualifications offered Synergy Trilogy Combined science Gateway A 21st Century B
Overview Content split into topics. Ideal for 2 teachers – divides content into 8 units Traditional separate sciences – similar to teaching triple but less content Traditional combined Traditional science course similar to separate sciences. Applied science in association with York University.  Science taught in topics – often perceived in schools as being for those not going on to do A-level
Assessment 4 exams – each 1hr45 mins long 6 exams – each 1hr 15 mins long 6 papers of 1hr 10 mins long 6 papers of 1 hr 10 min 4 papers of 1hr 45 mins
KS3 scheme KS3 scheme available. Plans to move into KS3 assessment etc (probably as a paid service) Five year scheme

11-16 progression scale

Online assessment and mark books (not free)

Set of excellent STEM projects to provide a transition to GCSE but not a full scheme for KS3 on their own. Could be used with Y9 for those that do a 3-year KS3 (are there any of you left?)
Wrap around services Excellent no-strings CPD sessions online (I’ve done two of them already!).  Y10 exam in development. Year 10 exam – externally marked (rehearsal for GCSE).

Two terms’ worth of free teaching and learning resources as a bribe 🙂 Online course planner.

Supporting materials published by Pearson (not free).  Exam-wizard is free with questions.

Free mock


Delivery guides for several/most of the topics covered and checkpoint tasks.

OCR weren’t pushing any fancy wrap-around services (and I don’t see any on their website) but when I saw them in person they had the biggest focus on the science content.

SEN ELC scheme co-teachable (is that a real word?) with GCSE.  New ELC to complement GCSE.  SEN friendly schemes available for foundation only ELC to run alongside GCSE.  Short topics with a test to help map to GCSE.

GCSE has saw-toothed demand so students don’t give up part way through. SEN friendly language

It was suggested that SEN students could do 1 single science GCSE and cover the rest of the NC through the STEM projects.  There is also a new ELC certificate as with other exam boards.
Other comments KS4 schemes available (several to fit different scenarios)


“start early, finish strong”

KS4 schemes available Layout of specifications very clear with misconceptions and mathematical content for each topic.

So which course are you offering in September?  I think I’ve nearly decided…




Published by Rob Butler

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

4 replies on “Choosing an exam board and specification for the new science GCSEs #asechat”

  1. I’m disparities not to be able to offer GCSE science any more at my special school, the quantity of material to cover for double award will be too great. I will probably offer the double entry level award (AQA). If I get a really able student I may consider a single science option.

    1. I’m planning to offer GCSE/ELC over three years with plenty of revision built in – it has been suggested that you can offer a single GCSE eg biology if you wanted but cover rest of NC through other means. Progress-8 might be more important to special schools than the old performance tables were though…

  2. Hi Rob, Couple of additions to your analysis.

    The delivery guides will cover the full specification and the full set will be released over the next few months. They will be fully integrated into the online Scheme of Work builder ( as they are with the A-levels.

    The more detailed outline planning is currently on our online community ( and will be published on the main website when complete.

    Again, as with the A-levels, we will continue to release new teaching and learning support materials over the life-time of the specification (topic exploration packs, transition guides, practical support etc).

    I have to disagree with your interpretation of 21st Century Science as ‘applied’ and not suitable for prospective A-level students. It is explicitly a context-led course (as our ‘B’ suite at A-level are), rather than the more traditional concept-led Gateway course, but it follows the same science and plenty of students successfully progress from 21st Century to A-level.

    Thanks for the interesting blog.

    David Paterson (OCR Chemistry Subject Specialist)

    1. Thanks for adding what I’ve missed – some useful points. OCR certainly knows how to put a specification together, I wrote this post in the hope that departments will review their choice of exam based on the current spec rather than what they’ve always done 🙂

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