Minister urged to reconsider changes to A-level practical assessment

3 December 2014

A video letter calling for a rethink on practical work assessment in science A-levels has been sent to minister for school reform Nick Gibb by Andrew Miller MP, eliciting a response from the Science Community Representing Education (SCORE), in which the IOP is a partner

Miller, who chairs the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, addresses concerns about the government’s proposed reforms to practical assessment in the five-minute video.

SCORE said: “We are pleased that the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has reminded the minister about the detrimental impact the reforms are likely to have on biology, chemistry and physics education in England. These changes mean achievement in practical work would be reported as a pass or fail, separate from the A-level examination grade. Practical work is integral to the sciences, but these changes run the risk of devaluing practical work, and may mean students are denied the rich and challenging learning experience they deserve in these subjects.

“SCORE fears that many universities will not include the practical work endorsement as part of their admissions criteria, particularly for entry to non-science subjects. This would send a strong message to schools and colleges that practical work is no longer a valued element of the A-levels, and some teachers may choose to reduce to a minimum the time spent in this area. Practical work is not an optional add-on to science – it is an essential component.

“The science and education communities have been united in their opposition to this reform, and their warnings of the impact it will have. Despite this consensus Ofqual has so far refused to listen to these warnings. We hope that Nick Gibb will take account of the important message in this video letter. SCORE agrees that the current arrangement for assessing practical work is not fit for purpose, but the proposed change does not necessarily solve the problems it is supposed to address. More time for robust research into alternative models is urgently needed.”

The IOP’s education adviser, Prof. Peter Main, said: “Separating practical work from the overall A-level grade has many potentially undesirable consequences and sends a message that it is seen as a separate activity rather than being integral to studying the sciences at A-level. It also means that the grading of A-levels taken in England will be different from that in Wales and Northern Ireland.

“The current system was not so broken that it needed immediate attention. The issues that led to the reform, which included the potential for cheating and lack of discrimination in the marking, could have been addressed using alternative forms of assessment, but these have not been explored. Instead, Ofqual has ducked these issues in favour of the proposed reforms, with the consequent risk of serious, unintended consequences.”

SCORE is a partnership between the Association for Science Education, the IOP, the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Society of Biology. Along with many others in the science education community it has campaigned against the reforms and has urged Ofqual to reconsider.

For more information about SCORE, visit

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