Success in encouraging teenagers to study science

27 August 2009

More teenagers are studying science beyond GCSE level thanks to a course designed by University of York and Nuffield Foundation experts.

A new survey shows schools using the Twenty First Century Science GCSE curriculum are experiencing much larger increases in the number of students going on to study physics, chemistry or biology at AS-level compared to national averages.

Twenty First Century Science, designed by the University of York Science Education Group and the Nuffield Foundation, was first offered to schools in 2006 as part of wider changes to GCSE science, following pilot trials. It aims to give all students an understanding of the science they experience in everyday life with additional courses for those contemplating further academic study.

Schools using the course saw an average increase of 37 per cent in the number of students taking AS-level biology, 25 per cent for chemistry, and 34 per cent for physics in 2008. Recent figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications show national increases of 10 per cent in biology, 8 per cent in chemistry and 9.5 per cent in physics.

Professor Robin Millar, one of the curriculum’s authors, said: “Providing courses that recognise the diversity of students and that link scientific concepts to everyday contexts and issues is the best way to encourage more young people to value the subject and consider studying it at a higher level.

“The messages from this survey are timely with another review of GCSE science currently in progress.”

All students following the Twenty First Century Science curriculum study a core course which uses topical issues, such as climate change and genetic modification, to improve scientific literacy. They also choose between ‘additional science’, aimed at students considering A-level in science subjects, and ‘additional applied science’ focused on problem solving in workplace settings.

Topics can be added to ‘additional science’ to give the student three GCSEs in chemistry, physics and biology.

Read Professor Robin Millar's full article (PDF)

See the TES article of 28 August 2009

Notes to editors

  • The survey was a written questionnaire sent to 434 centres. The response rate was 40.1 per cent. A telephone survey was conducted of centres that did not respond and compared to the data from those that did.
  • The University of York Science Education Group is based in the Department of Educational Studies
  • The Twenty First Century Science website has further information about the GCSE course.