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Reformed GCSEs change landscape for science

23 Aug 2018

James Tooze takes a look at what GCSE reforms mean for students studying science

In what was the first year of students sitting exams in the reformed Double Award Science GCSE, trends are particularly difficult to map. Instead, I’ll be looking at what has changed and how this has affected this year’s cohort of students. Unfortunately, this means that the national picture can’t be easily summarised by a nice graph or two. 

Double Award: what does this mean?

The new Science Double Award has replaced the Science, Additional Science and Further Additional Science GCSEs in England and Wales. The Double Award covers Biology, Chemistry and Physics content, with the curriculum covering roughly two thirds of the content material compared with studying each of these three subjects separately. It therefore follows that students successfully studying for the Double Award will receive two science GCSEs. So far, so logical. It could be about to get more complicated.

As the Science Double Award counts as 2 GCSEs, a student will get two, potentially different grades. However, these grades are linked to each other, awarded as X-Y. The double grade will be based on the overall mark across the three subjects; students won’t get a separate mark for each science, and good performance in one area will compensate for weaker performance in another, as in any GCSE. In England, reformed GCSEs are now being graded from 9 to 1, while in Wales the grade certifications remain as A* to G.

Students in England can receive 17 different grade qualifications for their Double Award Science, from 9-9, 9-8, 8-8 and so on down to 1-1. Exam boards decided to ensure that the larger number came first to avoid having even more classifications.  Students can only receive two equivalent grades (e.g. 6-6) or adjacent grades (e,g, 6-5), so students will not receive grades like 7-5 or 5-2. Welsh students will also receive grades in an equivalent manner, just with A* to G instead.

As with all Science GCSEs, the new Double Award is tiered with higher grades awarded from 9-9 to 3-3 and the foundation tier ranging from 5-5 to 1-1.

More students taking individual sciences

A consequence of the discontinuation of Science, Additional Science and Further Additional Science qualifications (of which you used to be able to take one, two or all three which cumulatively covered the same content as studying Biology, Chemistry and Physics separately) is a very welcome simplification of an overly complex landscape and has resulted in the number of students studying individual science subjects increasing from last year. JCQ data shows that the number of entries in Biology increased 23%, Chemistry increased 18% and Physics 17%. The number of entries in these subjects increased by 83,876 from last year to this. New entrants in to the separate sciences performed very similarly to last year’s cohort of students.

You can access the JCQ data for GCSE results here