A suite of GCSE science courses developed in partnership with the University of York

Reports from pilot centres in the South-East and Hampshire

Here are some reports on the first year and second year of the pilot courses.

Peacehaven Community School
Gravesend Grammar School for Girls

Tolworth Girls School, Surrey

Adult Education College for Bexley

Waldegrave School for Girls, Twickenham

Hitchin Girls School

Whitmore High School, Middlesex

Baycroft School, Hampshire

See also this report to the 21st Century Science Advisory Group from Haggerston School, London E2, and a Haggerston School pupil's response

Report from a pilot centre in January 2006:
Peacehaven Community School

New courses for a new Specialist Science School

Peacehaven Community School (PCS) opened in September 2001 with only one year group - year 7. Now we are into our fifth year and those first year 7s are in year 11 preparing for their GCSEs. We've come a long way in a short time, and Twenty First Century Science is one of many initiatives which staff and students have embraced.

New courses for a new school

When our current year 11 was in year 9, we were collecting GCSE specifications from different exam boards ready to make a decision on which course to follow. We'd heard about Twenty First Century Science and knew about the changes to the National Curriculum due to take place in September 2006. We didn't want to implement a course involving writing schemes of work which would only last for two years. Therefore we contacted the Nuffield Curriculum Centre and the University of York Science Education group to find out if we could take part in the pilot.

The pilot experience

We were accepted onto the pilot and began attending the numerous meetings and training courses ready to implement the course after the year 9 SATs. These have been really beneficial - a strength of the pilot scheme. Because they were regular they gave teachers a chance to feedback to each other and to the authors of the courses on the implementation of the GCSEs. All this feedback has been taken on board for the September 2006 courses.

The decision to follow the Twenty First Century Science pilot specifications was the best decision we made in the science faculty! It enabled us to give students a choice of the type of Science GCSE they would like to follow. All students follow GCSE Science A, and then they choose either Additional Science if they want to follow the pure sciences at A-level, or Additional Applied Science if they prefer a more work-related course.

Planning and organisation

We began our planning by dividing up all three GCSE courses equally between staff. Every member of staff took 3-4 modules which they were interested in and were in charge of making sure we had the correct resources and equipment to follow. This engaged staff, and the effort which we all put in has been rewarded, as we only have a few changes to make for September 2006.

The courses are run in parallel. Each group has two teachers – one who just teaches Core Science for 5 lessons a fortnight, and another who teaches Additional or Additional Applied for a further 5 lessons a fortnight. All students in the school follow the two science GCSEs and will gain two awards in August. As each course has Higher and Foundation tiers they are accessible for all students. This is another strength of the courses. Foundation and Higher tiers throughout also mean that the triple science option, which will be available from 2006, will also be accessible for all students.

Staff and students enthusiastic

It is a course which staff believe in and are very enthusiastic about. This enthusiasm is fed down to our students.

Not once have we heard 'Why do we have to know this?' or 'What is the point in learning this?'

As a Specialist Science School we have been committed to Twenty First Century Science and can see the results in the attitudes of our students. They care about their community and how science might affect it and Twenty First Century Science gives them the science and the opportunity to discuss controversial issues so they can make informed decisions in the future. We feel there is no better way to prepare our students for a 21st century world.

Dawn Perry, Position of Science AST

Report from a pilot centre in June 2005: Gravesend Grammar School for Girls

The different style of teaching in Core Science has taken some getting used to, but we are now feeling confident, and it has been worth it.

Students value the opportunity to discuss issues. We started with Year 9 after SATS. The students looked at a news article about stem cells, read and understood it. One of the girls was pleased to able to tell her mum and dad about it. Students are doing science without realising it! this is good for some who think they don't like science.

Chris Simpson

Report from a pilot centre in June 2005:
Tolworth Girls' school, Surrey

Students found the Core Science approach and the new skills they needed exacting, but settled down in the second year as they saw the point of it. At first they had difficulty in thinking about new things, seeing the big story and forming opinions. In the ‘Earth & Universe’ module, the Tsunami brought science into students’ consciousness rather than just being another lesson. They also enjoyed the topic on healthy lifestyles.

It’s been a good opportunity to upgrade our ICT – and we’ve been pushed into learning how to use it! It’s been a struggle, but there’s been useful cross-fertilisation into other subjects.

Judith Pelham

Report from a pilot centre in June 2004:
The Adult Education College for Bexley

My group ranges in age from 14 to 69. They are only doing Core Science as we have no lab, no equipment, and no money - but loads of enthusiasm! We've got a sink.

Students are all enjoying the course and prepared to contribute and stand by their views.

The greatest challenge has been doing some practical work!

June Blackwell

Report from a pilot centre in June 2004: Waldegrave School for Girls, Twickenham

What students liked most about Twenty First Century Science was:
In Core Science, students liked the relevance of the topics, especially You and your genes. Students liked the video clips, powerpoint presentations, and simulations.

Students found the Additional Science topics (called General Science in the pilot course) course similar to what they have learnt before. They were comfortable with this type of teaching.

The big changes from the course we were doing are:
Core Science allows pupils to delve more deeply into the topics. Pupils appear more interested and enthusiastic in the lessons. They don't just see the lessons about how to pass the exam.

The greatest challenges have been:

  • Resourcing equipment in line with recommendations for the pilot course.
  • Teaching all the topics.
    ed and taught alongside each other.
  • It's difficult not to slip into traditional teaching, especially in the Additional (General) Science topics.
  • Differentiating worksheets [Ed's note: the project team have addressed this for the 2006 resources.]

Claire Williams

Report from a pilot centre in June 2005: Hitchin Girls' School, Hertfordshire

We’re delighted with students’ grades! It’s given us the enthusiasm and encouragement to continue. We find that students are more on target at the end of the course. Those in bottom sets have previously switched off by the end, but now they are staying interested. We’re finding it a challenge to assimilate the new material before teaching it, but this will improve.

It’s more relevant. The Year 10s preferred it to the KS3 science they’d been doing before. They enjoyed growing organic vegetables in Core Science ‘Food matters’.

In Applied Science students liked the way what they were learning related to them. They enjoyed making reinforced concrete and hairy jelly as examples of composites in the Materials & performance module. Students liked having so much freedom in choice of coursework: a dancer looked at dance shoes, and one student studied breast implants; but they found that there weren’t that many different materials used, and many ended up finding that optometry was more rewarding. What you are meant to teach in the Applied modules will be a lot clearer in 2006.

Phil Jackson, Maria Dixon, and Alison Salmon

Report from a pilot centre in June 2005: Whitmore High School, Middlesex

What students liked most about Twenty First Century Science was studying topics where they can see a relevance to everyday life.

Some Applied Science practicals were really good, especially in the modules 'Life care' and Harnessing chemicals. We also found that getting results thoughout the course was very positive and morale-boosting.

The big changes from the course we were doing before have been:

  • not having to teach hard concepts such as homeostasis and feedback mechanisms to foundation level students
  • such a variety of coursework in Applied Science: this seemed very daunting at first, but once tackled it was quite straightforward with good guidance and detailed marksheets. It is a good idea to have such a heavy weighting of coursework in Applied Science, because this helps the foundation students.

The greatest challenges have been:

  • Differentiating worksheets to allow foundation students to access the course *
  • Teaching topics we haven’t encountered before
  • Getting money from senior management for new resources
  • Building a detector for exhaust emissions for the Air Quality module in the core Science course (Ed’s note: this will be optional in the Sept 06 course.)

Next year students are going on to A-levels and, in some cases, vocational courses linked to science. They are also interested in courses such as midwifery, physiotherapy, and radiology – all this thanks to A1 'Life care', an excellent topic. We found that inviting in outside speakers such as nurses and midwives provided valuable information for students about their future choices. It also helped them with their Applied Science work-related report.

Heena Patel

[*Ed’s note: the 2006 materials are much more clearly differentiated, following the experience of pilot schools and resources they have produced, for which the team are very grateful.]

Report from a pilot centre in June 2005: Baycroft School, Hampshire

(Special School for pupils with moderate learning difficulties)

The topical aspects of the Core Science course interested students – learning about things they’ll need to make judgements about in later life. Students loved the ICT resources and the case studies – chosen more sensibly this year than last year!

The style of teaching has been a big change. There’s more discussion, and students have been able to discuss and raise points of view.

Karen McQuillan

Advisory Group

The Advisory Group provided advice in the early stages of the project on:

  • the science in the course and how science is represented,
  • the balance of the course in its coverage of the content and nature of science and of wider issues,
  • the relevance of the course to wider issues of concern to society.

Members of the group
Sir John Krebs (Chair), Food Standards Agency Food Standards Agency
Professor Peter Atkins, University of Oxford Peter Atkins
Professor Derek Bell, Association for Science Education ASE
Professor Richard Dawkins, University of Oxford Richard Dawkins
Professor John Durant, At-Bristol At-Bristol
Dr Roger Highfield, Daily Telegraph Daily Telegraph
Professor John Holman, National Science Learning Centre National Science Learning Centre
Sir Roland Jackson, British Association BA
Lord Jenkin of Roding, House of Lords Lord Jenkin of Roding
Jeanette Longfield, Sustain Sustain
Marguerite Mason, National Federation of Women's Institutes WI
Professor Angela McLean, Dept of Zoology, University of Oxford Zoology
Dame Bridget Ogilvie, University College London Astra-Zeneca Science Teaching Trust
Professor Jonathan Osborne, King's College, London Jonathan Osborne
Ezi Papakostopoulous, St Paul's Girls School St Pauls Girls
Sara Parkin, Forum for the Future Forum for the Future
Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal Martin Rees
Heather Sillitoe, Specialist Schools Trust Specialist Schools
Professor Kathy Sykes, University of Bristol Kathy Sykes

Pilot teacher inspires Advisory Group

Sheila Curtis of Haggerston School brought the project to life with her description of the pilot in her school. All 180 girls are taking the Core Science course. Then 120 are following the Additional Applied course with 60 taking Additional General.

Sheila explained that teaching a 21st Century Science Core lesson is a very different experience from what has gone before. In previous years students would have been expected to make a table of wavelengths and the uses of the electromagnetic spectrum which some would have learnt for the exam. This year even the most switched-off students in the class could not help but be interested in a lesson in which they were asked to get out their mobile phones, switch them on and discuss whether the microwaves could damage their brains. The open debate around mobile phone safety even encouraged some students to say that studying the electromagnetic spectrum had been their favourite subject.

The practical work in the Additional Applied course is particularly popular with its links to out-of-school contexts such as health clinics or forensic crime detection. One teacher was amazed when his lower set group got engaged with a debate about the social construction of science. The questions were: "How long is this line?" "How can we be sure?".

The Additional General course has a smaller group of students which, by self-selection, are mostly of higher ability. They are really enjoying being stretched and challenged by the ideas. High points for the teacher have been those occasions when 15-year-olds stay behind after a lesson because they are so engaged with balancing equations or understanding momentum.

The year pilot so far has been a roller coaster for the teachers with real highs but also some definite lows. However there is a real buzz in the staffroom when things have gone well. The course influence has spread across the curriculum. One RE teacher has been thrilled that students' ability to discuss ethical issues has never been better.

Andrew Hunt

For the Advisory Group click here

Report on the pilot course: a Haggerston School pupil writes ...

A students' view
I am a student at Haggerston School currently taking science core and the applied course. I think the course is very different and is the real way that science should be taught. At first I found it really difficult to settle into. In the past we were told the facts and explained why they were the way they were, but now it is more a matter of questioning how the science fits into the real world. I think this should be the case. After all knowing what IVF is and how it is done for example, is science. However knowing what different groups of people think about the treatment gives us a bigger view of how society accepts it apart from just the science point of view of it. This also develops other abilities that we may have like arguing and discussing the issues around us.

Overall I think all schools around should consider 21st century science. However I think teachers also need to be taken into account as it might not always be easy to teach something that has not been done before and is the first of its kind, maybe giving them more training before they start teaching, so that they all know how things should be done and how they should go beforehand.

I see the teacher from Haggerston School says: "The Additional General course has a smaller group of students which, by self-selection, are mostly of higher ability. They are really enjoying being stretched and challenged by the ideas". (See Pilot teacher inspires Advisory Group)

I think this undermined the Applied subject and made me feel as if Applied was for lower ability students and that we do not get stretched and challenged. As you know better than me, the courses are different; in General you are taught aspects of certain topics in detailed science and in Applied we study topics, which are not as detailed but just as difficult and challenging as they are based on the issues surrounding us all the time.

As a student taking the Applied course, I think that Applied is more advanced in the sense that we develop skills useful in our subjects as well, such as research skills, presentation skills, debating and discussion skills which widen our way of thinking as we listen and hear other students opinions. Doing nearly one practical every lesson, we learn how to use certain technical equipment which then makes what is being taught easier to absorb and take in. The above quotation I believe creates the wrong impression amongst the students.

Haggerston School student, age 15