Education & Family

'Mickey-Mouse' A-level science practicals warning

girl Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Practical assessments are to be marked separately from the final grade

The "Mickey-Mouse practicals" students do under the current A-level system, have nothing to do with "real science", a teaching union conference has heard.

Science teacher Simon Clarkson told the ATL annual conference the current system of controlled assessments simply asked students to "jump through hoops".

However, delegates did not feel the answer was to remove practicals from the A-level grades altogether.

New tougher A-levels are due to be taught from September 2015.

Practical experiments

The exams regulator, Ofqual, has decided students taking new A-levels in chemistry, biology and physics will perform at least 12 practical experiments.

But these will be assessed as a pass or fail and will not count towards the A-level grade.

Instead, written exams at the end of the two year course will form 100% of the final grade.

Leading science organisations have already criticised the plan, arguing it will lead to practical work being "de-prioritised" in schools.

The resolution commits the ATL to lobby the new government after the election to overturn the decision: "such that the assessment of practical work in science subjects as AS- and A-levels is included in the overall qualification grade."

The proposer, Matt Mugan from Somerset, argued that overall, the new A-level system, which will separate AS-levels from the A2 qualification, would mean more students "will fail".

However Mr Clarkson, a physics teacher in a comprehensive academy in Leicestershire, said the practical work required under the current assessment system did little to develop students' problem solving and scientific skills.

He said that the plans for separate practical assessments would "give us space to do some real science with our students".

'Artificial hoops'

Geoff Pye, from Southend, said his school had switched to teaching iGCSEs in science instead of GCSEs to avoid having to prepare pupils "to jump through artificial hoops".

When it came to AS-level however, Mr Pye said he was required to get pupils "to hoop jump rather than teaching them advanced skills with advanced equipment".

The new system would allow the school to teach "real practical science", said Mr Pye.

In response Mr Mugan warned: "If we reject this motion, we're effectively lying down and saying A-level reform is okay."

Another speaker, Matt Surman, warned that the union had already adopted the reversal of A-level reforms as policy.

On Monday, ATL general secretary, Mary Bousted criticised the exams regulator for not being prepared to engage with debate and uncertainty in ignoring the concerns of the science community over its plans for assessing practical skills at A-level and GCSE.

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