Rise in science uptake boosts GCSE revamp

28th August 2009 at 01:00
Reforms spark 10% leap in entries for subjects with new modular approach

A huge increase in the number of entries for GCSE science subjects is proof that the radical overhaul of the qualification will be a success, supporters said this week.

Take-up of the three separate science subjects - biology, chemistry and physics - went up by around 10 per cent each this year, while entries in most other subjects dropped.

Science became the first GCSE subject to undergo a major revamp in 2006, with a new modular approach that breaks the courses up into separate units of study.

Similar reforms will be rolled out across most other GCSE subjects in Wales from next month, in what will be the first real evolution of the qualification since it replaced O-levels 20 years ago.

The new approach allows pupils to re-sit each module if they fail first time, and gives teachers the option to start courses a year early and to enter candidates for assessment when they choose, either after teaching each module or at the end of the course.

The core subjects of English, Welsh, maths and IT will be revamped for first teaching in 2010.

Derec Stockley, director of examinations and assessment at Welsh exam board WJEC, called the science results "very encouraging".

He said: "The new modular approach has worked well and attracted more candidates.

"It allows staged assessments and flexible progression routes, and pupils get a picture of their success as they go along."

Headteachers said the new modular approach has proved popular, particularly with boys who respond well to smaller units of study.

Brian Lightman, head of St Cyres School in Vale of Glamorgan, said: "Our pupils have responded well to it and have enjoyed it - we have noticed a big surge in motivation for science, and we have found higher numbers of pupils achieving the higher grades.

"About two-thirds of our pupils have got A* to C in science and that is across the whole year group - which is nowhere near where we were only two or three years ago."

Mr Lightman said the improvements have led to increased interest and take- up of the science subjects at A-level.

Mr Stockley said: "These pupils will no doubt go on to further study in the subject and work in the field. It also bodes well for education because science has traditionally been a difficult subject area in which to recruit teachers."

The overall GCSE pass rate in Wales rose slightly this year, up from 98.4 per cent in 2008 to 98.5 per cent, while the proportion of candidates gaining A* to C grades went up by 0.5 per cent to 65.5 per cent.

Mr Stockley said the rise was almost entirely down to the improved performance of girls, who increased the results gap with the boys from 7.2 per cent in 2008 to 7.6 per cent this year.

"While pupils of both sexes had improved results, the girls' results improved by more, which is very disappointing to see," he said.

However, boys achieved better than girls in maths and the separate science subjects.

There was also an encouraging increase in the number of students achieving the Welsh Baccalaureate qualification at both intermediate and foundation levels after it was rolled out to 63 schools and colleges.

Last year less than half of candidates achieved the full diploma at either level, but this year 53 per cent of foundation candidates and 51 per cent of intermediate candidates gained the award.

Mr Stockley said the skills-led qualification is becoming more appealing to schools as many move increasingly towards a skills-based curriculum, some from as early as key stage 3.

"Schools are aware that these skills are valued by employers and educationists alike," he said.

"I think teachers are realising you can't just impart knowledge and leave it at that any more."

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