From apathy to application

31st March 2006 at 01:00
One school in County Durham is now reaping the benefits of getting involved in a GCSE science pilot two years ago, as Rebecca Flynn reports

Two years ago Woodham Community Technology College, County Durham, became involved in the pilot project for the OCR GCSEscience course, 21st Century Science. This year we reaped the rewards. Our Year 11 pupils excelled themselves - in particular those studying the 21st Century applied GCSE course. These pupils achieved a 63 per cent A* to C pass rate, well above the national applied science figures of 33 per cent.

These "applied" pupils were those whose grades might hover around the CD borderline category, those who were apathetic towards their science lessons and could not see the relevance of their studies. So what happened?

When I asked the pupils some started with those immortal words "Well, in my opinion..." These were the same pupils who found it difficult to make eye contact in Year 10 never mind express an opinion. Yet these pupils told me that 21st Century Science "is successful because the things we learn we can use in the real world". Take, for example, the applied life care unit.

Pupils learn about healthcare practitioners who attend emergencies and about the "golden hour". Through triage role-play pupils learned the recovery position and their ABC emergency aid protocol (airways, breathing and circulation). By carrying out standard procedures they recognised that their patient, acted by an overzealous Year 10 pupil, had low blood pressure due to internal bleeding.

Standard procedures, which are counted in assessed portfolio work, include measuring pulse rate, recognising ECG traces and recognising the procedure for taking blood pressure. Several pupils said that they would now feel more confident in helping out in an emergency and recognise the importance of witness statements. This science is widely applied, about learning practical life skills, not just about passing an exam. It is a genuine pleasure to be working with pupils in these lessons. Each session is vibrant; they want to discuss what they have seen on Casualty or ask about anaemia because they've heard a relative talk about it, or discuss whether diet and weight have a link to diabetes because they heard something in the news. Remember these are the pupils who previously would have been disengaged by science. They want to do this course because they see how it applies to them and their family.

In addition to learning about the body, students learn about fitness and lifestyle and those who work in related occupations. As part of her portfolio, one pupil wrote a questionnaire, took herself off to the gym and interviewed the instructors about their work. This was an independent piece of work but, as she told me, she wanted to learn more about fitness instruction since she was thinking of this as a career. Another pupil used family contacts to get himself a work placement in Darlington Memorial Hospital so that he could research his work-related report in more depth.

Rebecca Flynn is acting head of science at Woodham Community Technology College, County Durham


Getting started

Websites for 21st Century Science:

GCSE-science features information areas for both teachers and learners as well as case studies from some of the 120 centres that took part in OCR's exclusive pilots. Visitors can play an interactive space themed computer video game, download the free Science Year Planner 2005-6 and log in to the online discussion forum and check the live countdown to the September launch.

Fifty-five per cent of the exam marks are derived from coursework, marked and then moderated internally in the first instance. Madeleine Walton, lead teacher for 21st century, has attended moderators' training at York University. York University Science Education Group offer training to schools that will be participating. They have a helpline, tel: 01904 434 701 to advise and help colleagues.

Jennifer Burden is the project manager, email:

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