Grade descriptors for the new science GCSEs – now you have all the information you need


This vital information might have passed you by – a cynic could suggest that is why this information was released on the last week of term without much of a fanfare.  Grade boundaries must be one of the most commonly asked questions about the new GCSEs.

The information is here so now we have all the information we need to accurately predict our GCSE grades for the new spec GCSEs.  The more observant amongst you may realise the significance of the graphic above.

Grade descriptors for the new GCSEs can be found here.  I’ve blogged before about the difficulty in predicting GCSE grades but you know the government was listening to our concerns by the extreme level of detail in the information they released.  To save you the effort of clicking a link I’ve reproduced this information below.

Happy predicting!

Grade descriptors for GCSEs graded 9 to 1: single science (biology, chemistry and physics) and combined science

1.Grades 8 and 8-8

1.1 To achieve Grades 8 and 8-8 candidates will be able to:

  • demonstrate relevant and comprehensive knowledge and understanding and apply these correctly to both familiar and unfamiliar contexts using accurate scientific terminology
  • use a range of mathematical skills to perform complex scientific calculations
  • critically analyse qualitative and quantitative data to draw logical, well-evidenced conclusions
  • critically evaluate and refine methodologies, and judge the validity of scientific conclusions

2.Grades 5 and 5-5

2.1 To achieve Grades 5 and 5-5 candidates will be able to:

  • demonstrate mostly accurate and appropriate knowledge and understanding and apply these mostly correctly to familiar and unfamiliar contexts, using mostly accurate scientific terminology
  • use appropriate mathematical skills to perform multi-step calculations
  • analyse qualitative and quantitative data to draw plausible conclusions supported by some evidence
  • evaluate methodologies to suggest improvements to experimental methods, and comment on scientific conclusions

3.Grades 2 and 2-2

3.1 To achieve Grades 2 and 2-2 candidates will be able to:

  • demonstrate some relevant scientific knowledge and understanding using limited scientific terminology
  • perform basic calculations
  • draw simple conclusions from qualitative or quantitative data
  • make basic comments relating to experimental methods



An accreditation pathway for SEN students


I blogged recently about the lack of suitable courses for my students at KS4.   Having discussed the options with teaching professionals, the exam boards and my governing body we have decided to run with a single science GCSE (and entry level).

The rationale for our decision can be seen in this presentation which I put together showing the key points.

I’d be interested to hear what other schools are doing with their SEN students at KS4.

Why aren’t teachers sharing more?


At the York Tweetup/Teachmeet I attended on the 22nd August, Alex Weatherall asked how we could work better together as a profession to share resources and ideas.  I’ve been asking this question since 2010 in one form or another.

My original answer to this was to upload the resources I used to my website. Initially I used a wiki to upload the resources but then I brought them within the main site using a WordPress plugin.  Many of my resources were uploaded to the TES site (where they have had over 600k downloads) but someone else did this for me (it was a huge job)

I’ve had to change the way that I share the resources on my site because the plugin I used wasn’t updated and posed a risk to the security of my site.  I put the resources in my OneDrive account and put links on my website but this is far from ideal as cloud storage is blocked in many schools (my own included).

I’ve since made hundreds of new resources that I’ve used to deliver Activate (ks3) and AQA Core GCSE but I haven’t shared these on my site.   Unfortunately the internet has become an increasingly litigious place and there is increasing competition for screen time and clicks.

My lack of time (it wasn’t always like this!) means that if I’m honest I’m not as careful about the source of my images as I used to be.  I used to meticulously hunt down creative commons or public domain imagery to use in my resources, now I check that they don’t belong to a stock imagery reseller and that’s about it.  The latest version of Office doesn’t help as you can insert creative commons images from Bing search but who goes to each site and checks the images are actually covered by a creative commons licence?  I also tend to ‘steal’ slides from different TES resources and use these within my own presentations – and it would be wrong to pass these off as my own.

I keep the working copy of my teaching resources within cloud storage and have been known to share folders when asked, however I just don’t have time to sift through all my resources to find out which are able to be shared.  I also lack a (free) technical platform on which to share them, one in which I retain control and I know won’t be closed down in the near future.

I know other publishers aren’t so careful.  Only this week I’ve downloaded resources from the TES with slides from Boardworks embedded in the presentation, or images that clearly display copyright information.

Schemes of work are tweaked to suit a department and resources end up being tweaked by conscientious teachers to suit their teaching style. Is there any value in sharing teaching ideas for individual topics and lessons instead?  I don’t have time to go to the IoP, RSC etc to find the best ideas when I might be planning for several year groups and topics each week.  If so what would a suitable platform look like?  Who would curate it and who would have access to upload materials?

We have come a long way, professionally and technologically, over the last few years but individual teachers (and departments) are still reinventing the wheel in schools all over country.  There has to be a better way of sharing what we do but even if there is many of us are lacking the time to put it into practice…



The dark art of predicting GCSE grades


It’s that time of year when I check the weather forecast before I leave the house with my dog because I don’t want to get soaked.  Generally the forecasts are accurate but if the forecast says it will rain at 11, sometimes it rains sooner and sometimes it rains later.  That’s the nature of the game – and whilst we aren’t happy about it, we accept that the Met Office have done the best that they can.  That’s the nature of a prediction.

I went in onto school last Wednesday to check my results (perks of my role).  This is only my second year of teaching GCSE science following a break of several years teaching BTEC (we only ever have one year 11 group).  You could argue that this year I had more data on which to base my predictions as I had the cohort last year as well.  My predictions were based on:

  • Mock exam result
  • Exam questions completed in class from ExamPro (so with A/C/G demand gradings)
  • ISA coursework
  • Classwork
  • Comparison to similar students last year
  • Gut feeling/aptitude

Prediction accuracy last year (numbers are percentages)


Prediction accuracy this year (numbers are percentages)



Unfortunately my predictions this year were on the high side so that my accuracy rate was lower.  I accept that I was a little optimistic for a couple of students but I had a much larger cohort this year due to Y10 and Y11 taking core together so I would have expected to at a similar level of confidence to last year.  I decided to do a bit of digging on the internet – it is surprising how little published information there is, and how many teaching professionals say they can’t predict with any accuracy.

This paper by Cambridge Assessment would suggest that teachers are better at predicting at the top end of the grade range than the bottom end. I was interested to read that accuracy is around 45% for maths and the sciences overall.  Unfortunately there is no data for special schools (we are a small group) but accuracy in the 20% range seems reasonable for students in the same ability range as my school.  This could help explain why the accuracy of my predictions dropped from last year (and would rate my predictions as better than many!)

It will be interesting to see how this picture changes with the move to 1-9 GCSEs as most teachers I speak to seem to be converting old-money GCSE grades into new rather than working natively in the 1-9 grades.  This will be compounded by the change in grade boundaries as more grades are introduced at the top end – perhaps the accuracy of predictions will flip with those grades in the 1-3 range being higher?


I’d be interested to hear how you predict your (GCSE) grades and how accurate your predictions were (you can get a matrix here if you want to crunch the numbers yourself)



Come on teachers – take back control of your CPD

Every teacher needs CPD.  Even the best of teachers can benefit from new ideas and techniques, I’m told “there is always room for improvement”. Unfortunately the demands of modern teaching mean that CPD delivered in INSET days is often linked to school improvement priorities (or worse, isn’t developmental in nature).  Even if you see a course outside your institution and your school can afford to fund it, you are often asked how it links to school improvement plan and if it doesn’t you can’t go.  To cut a long story short, teachers find it hard to get out of school for CPD.

With the school out of the equation it is down to teachers to take back this control.  Don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need any – even the act of meeting other (science) teachers and the networking that comes with it can be a source of ideas and inspiration.

Join Twitter and look for twitter groups and chat that is linked to your subject – e.g. #ASEchat for science teachers, and get networking for ideas. Many people prefer to keep a separate Twitter account for this whilst others (like myself) prefer to maintain a professional manner at all times.

Next I would recommend you join a subject association and look for the courses they run.  Quite often you will find that they are available to members at a heavily subsidised rate.  Speak to your school coordinator about being released to attend the courses they run – you are more likely to be released for courses run by subject associations.  Some associations run events on a Saturday which means teachers can attend if prepared to give up a day on a weekend.  Experience of organising regional events for the ASE tells me that many teachers are prepared to give up time on a Saturday but getting word to them about courses proves to be very difficult (so make sure you sign up to any mailing lists to keep up to date). Science teachers check out the conferences organised by the ASE here – you don’t have to be a member to attend (although you get subsidised prices if you do!)  Speak to your school about them paying for you to attend weekend courses if you go down this route – many of the courses are far cheaper than a paying a supply teacher for a day.

Evernote Snapshot 20160822 151943

Yesterday I attended a teachmeet/tweet-up where a group of science teachers came together to share ideas.  Members of this group had three things in common

  • Most were members of the same subject association – the ASE
  • Many were known to each other in cyberspace through Twitter
  • All were prepared to give up a day (or longer) of their holiday for the chance to get together and exchange good practice (and spend some time in the local pub as well!)

Teachmeets are less formal/structured but free – and vary in location, duration and subject content.  Many are advertised on the teachmeet wiki and others through subject associations websites/newsletters.  Not only are they a brilliant source of ideas but they also provide an excellent opportunity to network with like minded teachers.  Exam boards often have network or hub meetings which can serve a similar purpose, although these tend to be more one-way.

So there you have three ways that you can take control of your CPD to help you develop as a professional but the I can’t finish without a word of advice to fellow school leaders.

  • Set directed time aside to allow teachers to take part in CPD.  Even cancelling the odd meeting would go some way towards easing the time pressures that teachers face and be seen as a measure of good will.
  • Don’t insist on all CPD being linked to school improvement priorities.  Yes this is where you might target the bulk of your resources but think of the impact of a course that moves a teacher from being a good teacher to being an outstanding teacher.
  • Set up a teachmeet style sharing session in your own school and get teachers sharing good practice – if you aren’t sure what a teachmeet should look like then send someone out to do some research.