Science - Be a BTEC champ

18th November 2011 at 00:00
Reluctant students respond well to a highly practical course

Teaching a compulsory subject such as science to key stage 4 pupils - half of whom probably wouldn't choose to do it - has always been a challenging task, particularly when GCSE was the only option.

In the past, I've taught GCSE science to mid-to-low ability pupils, and getting them to try to understand scientific concepts and ideas has often been an exercise in frustration.

But five years ago, with the introduction of the BTEC, something positive happened. Though the content was based at GCSE level, the pupils only had to produce a portfolio of evidence to show their understanding, without having to sit formal exams.

BTEC wasn't easy on the teacher at the beginning, because it's evidence- based and you have to be the one who provides the evidence. Mentally, the pupils switch off, so I had to learn how to vary the tasks in the assignments to keep them motivated. A good example is biology, where I might use a PowerPoint presentation or video followed by a worksheet. My approach would be highly practical. For example, when teaching about the five groups of vertebrates I would present five pictures and ask pupils to list the differences within each group, then the similarities.

On several occasions pupils have even asked me if they can take their folders home to show their parents - and remember, we're talking about 16- year-olds! In my school, more than half the students are taking BTECs. If they were phased out, I don't think a lot of parents, or pupils, would be too happy.

But, most of all, I think you would have many more pupils going back to the days when they "switched off" in science because they couldn't cope with the GCSE class.

Kirsty Biggar is a science teacher at a secondary school in inner-city Liverpool



Cmmarshall113 has shared helpful resources for getting started with BTEC first certificate or applied science - they are getting great feedback, too.

If you or your colleagues are dealing with BTEC for the first time, try adkeele's PowerPoint introduction.

Maximise the benefits of the BTEC without getting bogged down in record- keeping or assessments - try Glen Gilchrist's workbook.

In the forums

BTEC vs GCSE - join the debate.

And how would you make the BTEC more interesting for a low-ability set? Experiments? Podcasts? Share your ideas.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today