SEN learners and the new science GCSEs

multchSince I wrote my last posts  about the new GCSEs (here and here) I’ve had several people get in touch to seek advice or ask what we are doing.  I’ve written this post to provide an update.


When the new KS3 curriculum came in we decided to shadow Activate science (I say shadow because I don’t use Kerboodle and I don’t use textbooks in the classroom).  We bought the year 9 scheme as well but quickly abandoned it as it turned out to be a dry parallel of GCSE topics.  That left me with a short KS3 and a three year KS4 to fill.

The current year 9 are the first to have experienced the shorter KS3 and with final GCSE specifications being a long way in the future we decided to do BTEC Science with year 9 and come back and make a decision ready for September.  I also have year 8 moving up to KS4 needing to start a KS4 topic.

My current year 10 have just sat AQA Core and have just started AQA additional, and my year 11 did BTEC science followed by AQA Core.  There has been lots of student anxiety around the three core exams (and lots of anxiety from me in my role as exams officer trying to provide the support awarded through access arrangements)

Where we are now

I had thought I knew what I was doing next year because of the lack of options. Entry level isn’t demanding enough, BTEC is, well BTEC, and there are no more single combined science GCSEs.  I was all set to choose an exam board and prepared a presentation for our governors to keep them up to date with our thinking.  There was much debate about the pressure placed on exams in sitting six hour of exams in whatever combination we choose, combined with all the extra demands of the new GCSEs that I blogged about before.  I also wanted to alert the governors there will be budget implications for the new required practicals.

Unfortunately discussion overran the time available and it was agreed to return to this at the next governors meeting.  I agreed to put together a little more information on the options available and these are what I’ve listed below.

Three year GCSE – Double award combined

Three year course, possibly with entry level certificate taught alongside for those who can’t cope with the demands of GCSE.

Either 6x1hr or 4x1hr45m exams

Two year ELC and single science GCSE

NC covered by ELC (taught to foundation GCSE level where possible so double science GCSE remains an option for the odd student).

Single science GCSE (probably biology) which count as a single GCSE in the sciences bucket of progress 8

Examined by 2x 1hr45 exams

Entry level and BTEC L1

NC covered by ELC and reinforced by teaching BTEC science.  Doesn’t allow for any student who has a target grade higher than an F and will make no contribution to progress 8.  Much of the BTEC content is dry and the focus tends to shift from learning to generating evidence.

iGCSE (with ELC?)

Edexcel/Pearson have a single science iGCSE in development but won’t be ready for accrediting students until 2019.  That leaves Cambridge iGCSE.

Exams 1x45min, 1x1hr15min and 1hr30 practical

My presentation to governors and staff

I’ve embedded the presentation I created – feel free to download and adapt it if you need to have similar discussions at your school.

Finally it would be great if you could leave me a comment letting me know what you will be doing with your SEN students or if you have any words of advice to share.


Published by Rob Butler

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

4 replies on “SEN learners and the new science GCSEs”

  1. Am in exact same predicament, teaching in a SEN school only the higher ability students have been able to undertake foundation single science but struggle with the exams even with extra time(yes am also the exam officer!), opted to go with the double award ELC and single for less able. Nothing else fits!

    1. Ditto I also work in a special school and am going to move to double entry level award, with a single GCSE. It will be difficult to know which single science to plump for. I only occasionally have students who can cope with the demands of GCSE and physics might suit one, while biology might suit another. And my favourite to teach is the chemistry…
      What a dilemma, and a potential organisational nightmare.

  2. Hmm, the new courses are tough for UK centres. I think the most suitable course out there right now is CIE IGCSE single-award Foundation Tier.

  3. Likewise. We’ve been struggling with single science for some time due to less able pupils coming through. This year we’ve opted for OCNWMR Entry Level award and OCR Gateway. Next year we’ve got OCNWMR Entry, OCNWMR Level 1 and possibly Gateway dependent on timetabling. It’s looking like we will have to scrap GCSE altogether after that due to timetabling and the fact that we haven’t got the practical resources for new combined courses.

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