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London | Tuesday 16 July
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Wellcome Trust criticises plan to end practical assessment in science GCSE



In December, the exam regulator Ofqual announced that assessments of candidates’ practical work would no longer count towards final GCSE marks when reformed science GCSEs were introduced in 2016. Instead, they proposed that 15% of marks could come from exam questions that would “draw on students’ practical science experience”.

These plans have received criticism from the Wellcome Trust, the largest funder of UK scientific research outside of the government, who sent a letter to Glenys Stacey, Ofqual head. The letter, reported in the guardian last week, was also signed by the Nuffield Foundation, the Gatsby charitable foundation and Sir John Holman, a former government science adviser.

“Ofqual’s proposals are being formulated in the absence of evidence on the effect they may have on the quality and quantity of practical science being carried out in schools, on the effectiveness of written questions in assessing practical skills, and on the potential impact on students’ engagement in science learning,” says the Wellcome Trust letter.

The main concern behind these plans is that without the assessment of practical work experiments will be devalued, and could even be edged out of the classroom altogether. This goes against the scientific community’s view of the crucial importance of practical work, especially when the economy most needs high-skilled scientists.

Ofqual have defended this risky proposal, saying practical assessments failed to distinguish good candidates and that exam questions could test skills learned in the lab. However, the plans seem to have been rushed through, only a few months after removing practical assessments from A-levels. With more than a third of 14- to 18-year-olds saying that doing experiments at school encouraged them to study science (2013 poll commissioned by Wellcome) it is clear the implications of these plans need to be better understood before the go-ahead – not the other way around.

Read the guardian article here.


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