Spoilt for choice

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
Steven Chapman previews the new GCSE courses which offer students greater flexibility to follow their interests

Big changes to GCSE science take place this year as double science disappears and a host of options and pathways open to students. Most significant is the replacement of Science 1, Scientific Enquiry, with How Science Works, an attempt to address the problem of scientific literacy.

The aim is to make GCSE science suitable for citizens and future scientists. It covers material on how scientists work, what is the nature of risk, how do we evaluate evidence, and so on.

All students will have to study one GCSE science core and most are expected to choose a second science GCSE, but the form it takes can vary. Many will opt for additional science, which takes students to the level needed to study science in the sixth-form, but there are many options depending on a student's interests and what a school feels happy to offer. A pupil could take core science, plus additional or additional applied, or even three separate sciences.

The science and innovation section of the 2006 budget says that all students attaining level six in their national test results at key stage 3 will be entitled to study separate sciences.

The work on these changes started as a result of the "Beyond 2000: Science education for the future" report (Nuffield Foundation, 1998). It advocated science for citizens and led to a pilot course which evolved into 21st Century Science OCR, one of the four major suites of specifications available. This course has been piloted for a year and has changed as a result of feedback. All four packages must follow the programme of study and reflect the emphasis on how science works, although some specifications have embraced the changes more openly than others.

Each awarding body has an official publisher partner, but many publishers have produced linked, unofficial material. If your school is tied to a course you may want to get the official material, but also get a departmental set of resources of a different package, especially for the How Science Works section.

There are also several specialised books available for courses, such as Folens' excellent material for the applied science option, including electronic material for teachers, as well as the more traditional books.

The following criteria, and speaking to as many teachers as possible, informed my verdicts. However, my views (not in any order of recommendation) are based on what I was sent by the publishers - sometimes a prototype, a test CD-Rom, or a proof - as the full resources were not available.

The criteria

* Design. Is the book attractive and easy to use? How many illustrations? Are they in colour? Are the books wordy and, therefore, potentially unsuitable for low-ability readers?

* Content. As well as following the national curriculum programme of study, some are linked to particular specifications, but there are other important considerations. Are the big underpinning ideas covered? Are there relevant and interesting examples and contexts? Do the questions test all abilities? Is there a temporal or a subject (chemistry biology and physics) progression?

* Structure. Is there progression from KS3? Are there differentiated materials or even whole books for students of all abilities? Is there challenging work for the more able? In this, I have included How Science Works - the part that will need the most support. How well has the book matched students' and teachers' needs? Is the material explicit or implicit?

* Extras. Are there any ICT resources? Is there a supporting website? What multimedia packages are available?

* www.21stcenturyscience.org

* 360science.edexcel.org.uk

* www.aqu.org.ukqualgcsesci Steven Chapman is lecturer in science education at the Institute of Education, University of London

* For an overview and comment on the new specifications (published in The TESon January 6) and a report on the 21st Century Science pilot (from TES Teacher March 31), go to www.tes.co.ukteachersciencegcse


OUP 21st Century Science Oxford University Press

Student books pound;8-pound;17

Teacher guides

ipack CD-Rom pound;600

Tel:01536 741068



Book design

The pages are brightly coloured and contain many photos and large colourful diagrams. Each double-page spread has key words in a pastel-coloured box.

Every section contains questions in the text and more thorough questions at the end. A glossary of key words is at the back of the book.


The content is determined by the modules relevant to each section. For example, the applied science communications option has a section on all aspects of digital and analogue, as well as a helpful key skills sections on such topics as using an oscilloscope.


The books follow the modular structure of the course and have explicit sections on How Science Works. The examples are relevant to the text and are usually enclosed in a box - eg a section on digital communications with DAB (digital audio broadcasting) radio as a context.


The ipack contains lesson plans, video clips, animations, guidance and much more. The worksheets are in Word or pdf formats and can be altered. For example, there's a section on genetics, which allows people to decide the likelihood of their children having a particular disease.


This outstanding set of resources is well thought out, creatively presented and reflects the years of work that has gone into them. The section on How Science Works would help any school, whatever their specification. A triumph.


AQA GCSE Science for: Core GCSEscience, higher and foundation, additional, additional applied, applied double award, biology, physics and chemistry Hodder Murray

Student book pound;14.99

Teacher guides pound;40

Interactive presentations pound;175

Tel: 020 7873 6000



Book design

The layout is brightly illustrated with relevant photos and illustrations.

The pages have different coloured boxes to denote various kinds of information. At the end of each section a yellow area contains exam questions and a summary. Learning outcomes are featured at the beginning of each chapter.


The scheme of work's divisions are covered, with chapters on the Earth's atmosphere, radiation, and so on. These are colour-coded for physics, chemistry and biology. There are boxes with definitions in the corner of each page. In the oil section, terms such as "monomer" and "polymer" are defined.


The structure is fairly linear with no explicit mention of How Science Works. However, the contexts and examples illuminate ideas about risk - for example, in using nuclear power for the generation of electricity.


Hodder Murray's GCSEScience website contains many resources, including a scheme of work with lesson plans, learning outcomes and differentiated activities.



The material is fairly wordy and may not suit all readers. However, the books were popular with the students I showed them to, because the explanations were clear and helpful. The electronic materials are very useful with weblinks.


Collins Science for: Science, AQA, Edexcel360, OCR B

Collins Education

Student books pound;14.99

Teacher book pound;99.99

Whiteboard resources pound;235

Tel: 0870 787 1612


Book design

All these books have orange, slightly garish covers with a cartoon character on them. The pages feature pastel-coloured boxes for information, and lime-coloured ones for questions - the information is crammed into every page, giving it the same feel as a revision guide. Key words form a running feed across the bottom of each page.


Bubbles contain small chunks of information, which thoroughly cover the content. Some of this is standard information, with interesting extra details in side-bars. For example, a section on fertility has a side-bar on the morning-after pill. At the end of each section is a self-check activity and a "maximise your grade" box. This is particularly helpful, as it shows the kind of work needed to move from an F to a C, then an A grade.


The books are subdivided into the same sections as the awarding body guidance. How Science Works is not explicitly mentioned, but each of the contexts are relevant to this section of the programme of study. In the Edexcel books, for example, this is through interesting and relevant contexts.


There are a number of electronic materials available on the Collins websites www.collinseducation.comautositesdefault.aspx?pageID=460 Verdict

The covers are off-putting, but the content is well covered. They may look like revision books, but students said they had all the material they would need for module exams. How Science Works is not explicitly covered, but it is implicit. These are useful alternatives to official texts and students may like to have them at home.


Cambridge University Press Science for AQA

Cambridge University Press

Class book pound;15.95

Teacher Planning CD-Rom pound;25

Science Teacher File CD-Rom pound;250

Tel: 01223 312393


Book design

The bright and colourful layout features a refreshingly small amount of text on each page. There are bright illustrations and illuminating photos, closely matched to the text.


Individual chapters are matched to the awarding body's scheme of work. So, for example, the section on Using Waves contains all the basic physics of radiation, but the material is split into small chunks, which is useful for less-able students. There are "remember" boxes and exercises at the bottom of each double-page spread, but the exercises are often relatively simple, such as completing missing words.


The books have colour-coded chapters and each page has a section called What you Need to Remember, although these are little more than copy-and-complete exercises, which could be useful for revision but seem very basic for running through first time.


The Science Foundations website has details of all the resources and online material that will be available from 2007.

www.cambridge.orgukeducationsecondaryscienceks4science_foundations Verdict

These books are very colourful and would suit lower-ability students.

However, I was disappointed with the assessment material. Hopefully, the online resources will address this when they become available.


Edexcel 360 GCSE Science


Textbook pound;14.99

Teacher Guide pound;40

Tel:020 7873 6000


Book design

These books have a conventional design and are well illustrated with photos and illustrations. Colour-coded page corners highlight the three sciences.

There is a large amount of text with worked examples in pastel boxes.


At first glance the books appear to be quite traditional, covering the biology, physics, and chemistry sections of the core. They are relatively text-heavy with a few worked calculations for the physics section. There is no explicit How Science Works section, but many of the topics are implicit in the material. There is an excellent section on risk included in Space and Its Mysteries, looking at the chances of asteroid impact.


The books follow the three units from core biology, chemistry and physics of the Edexcel 360Science course. These include Environment, Genes, and Space and its Mysteries.


There is a range of material on the Edexcel 360Science site. This includes learning resources and schemes of work for each topic.

360science.edexcel.org.ukhomewhat-is-360sciencegcse-science Verdict

This solid set of resources is the endorsed publisher's material for this course. By themselves, the books are relatively conservative and traditional, but they contain very good, thoroughly covered material. I am not sure how useful they would be for less-able students, however.


Gateway Science: OCR Science for GCSEHeinemann

Textbooks pound;17.99

Teachers' CD-Rom pound;105

Tel: 01865 888084


Book design

Each section is colour-coded by subject and each page has key word boxes and examiner's tips. It also features an appendix on science in the news, and a glossary. There are many illustrations and the pages are colourful and interesting.


This is an endorsed publication for OCR Gateway Science, which is a more traditional specification. The content is subdivided into the topics laid out by the awarding body. There are module questions at the end of each topic, and short questions.


The structure rigidly follows the material in the unit topics. How Science Works is not explicitly mentioned, but many of the questions refer to this area of the programme of study.


There are a number of resources available at gcsescience.com, including revision questions and guides.


These high-quality materials offer a traditional approach to science. The examples, tips and questions are helpful, but the coverage of How Science Works is hidden. For anyone studying Gateway Science, however, they would be essential.


21st Century Science


Student textbooks pound;15.95

Teacher's Guide pound;75

Copymaster pound;75

Teacher GuideCopymaster CD-Rom pound;150

Also available: Longman GCSEScience for AQA

Edexcel 360Science

Tel: 0800 579 579www.longman.co.uk

Book design

This series aims to cover the material through relatively brief double-page spreads. Each page has many photos and illustrations with little text, which is ideal for low-ability readers. The double-page spreads feature a summary box of one or two key sentences and up to 12 questions. Each book comes with a CD-Rom of material.


The core material is broken down into smaller pieces with "by the end of this topic" questions in side bars, but the OCR books are skimpy. For example, the section in 21st Century Science about renewable energy resources: "Why would hydroelectric power stations need to be in hilly areas?" AQAuses an excellent dice-model for Radiation half-life.


How Science Works is incorporated into the material. For example, at the end of the energy section there is a debate-style piece about nuclear power. The chapters cover the material in short double-page spreads.

Each book comes with a CD-Rom of materials, such as monitoring sheets.


There are worksheets based on the topics, eg in vitro fertilisation. A copymaster CD also contains worksheets and a teachers' guide.


The OCR books contain a short, sharp version of the science. The material is somewhat brief to help children and, although How Science Works is mentioned, it doesn't underpin the material as the course developers intended. The AQA version is more full-blooded.


AQA Science

AQA Additional Science

AQA Additional Applied Science GCSE Biology, Chemistry and Physics

Nelson Thornes

Student books pound;15

Revision Guide pound;4.50

e-Science CD-Rom pound;300

Tel: 01242 267100


Book design

The information is in large white boxes on a coloured background. Activity boxes and recap questions are in different colours. The photos are relevant and well chosen. At the bottom of each page a visual map shows progression through the topic.


The content is well written and covers the material in the programme of study thoroughly and at the right level, with engaging examples engaging backed up by colourful photos - eg the section on cleaner fuels that use "Gasahol" pumps.


There are activity boxes and recap questions. How Science Works is addressed through the contexts and issues. For example, in Applied Science there is a section on immunisations today, which follows on from the traditional story of Edward Jenner.


The CD-Rom features a wealth of material, including clips from Channel 4's Scientific Eye series, lesson plans, simulations, activity sheets, teachers' material and more. The digital and analogue signal simulation is one of the best I've seen on a subject that's tricky to explain.


This is a very good set of resources, with much rich material available electronically. The examples and contexts are relevant, engaging and well-thought out. The materials are impressive and there is a cohesion across the textbooks, revision guides and electronic resources.


Science Uncovered AQA for: GCSE Higher and Foundation Heinemann

Student Book pound;15.99

Online subscription pound;495

Tel: 01865 888084


Book design

The book is subdivided into sections on biology, chemistry and physics by means of brightly-coloured page corners. There is a bright double-page introduction and the many illustrations are always eye-catching and relevant to the text.


Core GCSE science material is thoroughly covered, with pertinent and helpful examples - eg, in the section on plants and oils there are pictures of foods with oils, Innuits with fish and a field of flax. Each section has questions at the bottom of the page and key points in brightly coloured boxes.


How Science Works is explicitly covered in a section at the beginning of the book, but is also woven into the text. The end of each section has examination-style questions. There is a glossary at the end of the book, which defines key words.


The Science Uncovered for AQA website contains many resources for the course. Homeostasis Man is an interactive activity where students look at an environment's effect on a human's core temperature.



These high-quality books are very useful and cover the material well. They are amply illustrated and feature relevant questions. The way in which How Science Works has been incorporated is commendable. The electronic resources look excellent. This is a very good set of resources.

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