The new BTEC level 1 Applied Science – is it for your school?

The team at Pearson have been busy updating and promoting their new level 1 BTEC qualifications. This follows a move to the new assessment framework in line with other BTECs but is it a good qualification to use with your lower attaining students in the same way its predecessor was?

I’ve sat through webinars and read the material on the website  – I hope I’ve not got the wrong end of the stick! I’ve focused on the appropriateness and relevance to students in a school setting – I don’t know enough about FE to comment.

So what’s changed for the better?

  • Differentiation – now three levels of pass so is likely to appeal to a wider range of learners.
  • The focus of the qualification now makes it more suited for students who have completed ELC or GCSE (In my last school we didn’t offer science to P16 due to the lack of a suitable qualification)
  • More of a focus on practical skills (and it’s still 100% internal assessment)

Barriers to adoption by a school

  • The new assessment regime makes this qualification less suited to students with SEN than the old version. There is an expectation that students are working more independently and there will be less scaffolding than allowed under the original level 1 BTEC. That poses serious barriers to many level 1 learners. In line with the revised level 2 BTECS, feedback is different and Pearson states “Feedback from the initial work should tell the learner WHAT is missing but not HOW to achieve it”.  There is a special retake process but this can only lead to a pass grade.
  • The qualification still doesn’t carry performance measures or count towards progress 8. In this situation, you have to stop and ask yourself what qualification is most appropriate to my learners? If they are unlikely to pass GCSE Science or on the border-line of a pass, this qualification is unlikely to be for them.
  • For KS4 learners, ELC is co-teachable with GCSE whereas this qualification would not be. The new L1 BTEC would be best taught to a discrete group, most likely at KS5 (and not many schools offer a P16 pathway that isn’t A-level)
  • There is overlap but not coverage of the GCSE specification content. This qualification was not written to be a GCSE replacement but an alternative qualification for students aged 14 and over.
  • Although a level 1 qualification, some of the tasks are quite challenging and require a different teaching approach to ELC and GCSE

So where does this leave the qualification?

Whilst interesting, this is a niche qualification that most secondary schools will skip past for the reasons detailed above. If this qualification interests you and you would like to find out more, the link to the  BTEC L1 page is here.

Saturday CPD – a wonder for busy teachers or a millstone around their necks?

Rhetoric Program Flexible Learning Classroom

I read with interest today a blog post written by Debra Kidd announcing that the forthcoming Northern Rocks event will probably be the last.  For those who haven’t attended one before, Northern Rocks is one of many teacher organised CPD events on a Saturday (with excellent feedback).

Debra makes some interesting points in her blog post, concerned that teachers could be worried about missing out and in doing so, increasing their own workloads. That got me thinking as, through my role as regional secretary for the ASE, that I could be part of the problem as we organise CPD on a Saturday too.

So why do we organise CPD on a Saturday? We organise it because people come. It’s because teachers are finding it increasingly hard (and I don’t recall a time it ever was easy…) to get out of school on a weekday. Many schools restrict CPD, only paying for CPD that has direct links to the school development plan.  Teachers have fought back by organising their own events on a Saturday, where time is given freely and costs to be covered are minimal. As an ASE member, I give up my time to organise CPD and sometimes to present as well. We try to restrict our events to half a day because we know a full day is a  huge commitment.

Comments I read today on Twitter are making me question my stance on Saturday CPD.  I hope Kristy doesn’t mind me stealing her tweet to quote here, but her comment struck a chord and made me reflect on how I feel about Saturday CPD.

I used to work long hours on school days (even Fridays) and I spent my Sundays planning lessons on top. I was reluctant to attend many CPD or education related events because a Saturday was my only day off, the only day I got to spend with my family and most importantly my only time to stop and recharge.

Are we, as Kristy suggests, creating a two-tier culture within education – those who have time (not by choice) for CPD and those who do not? If that is the case, how far does this division go? Could it potentially affect recruitment (for example as part of a selection process) or could it influence pay decisions?

Are we creating an underclass of teachers, who through no fault of their own, are being denied CPD as the expectation shifts to one where teachers are expected to attend CPD in their own time?

CPD should be a core entitlement of any profession. It’s so important that schools have five days set aside for CPD so when did expectations change?

Perhaps I exist in a bubble. Many of the Saturday CPD events are publicised on social media, and the presenters and attendees occupy the same bubble (which anecdotal estimates put at 3-5% of teachers). Perhaps most teachers are oblivious to these events and so don’t feel they are missing out?

I hadn’t worried too much about this in the past as our regional science CPD events typically pull in under 100 delegates. There were relatively few Saturday CPD events in my area but as I’ve spent more time researching I’ve found more and more on offer on a Saturday with teacher-led conferences, subject association led CPD and even trade shows like the BETT show and the Education Show at the NEC. I do worry that we could be approaching a point of no return and that Saturday CPD could become the norm rather than a personal preference.

Update: Since I wrote this article it occurred to me that this issue goes further than Saturday CPD.  I’ve seen more and more books published for teachers – books on how to teach, manage behaviour, differentiate and so on. Books written for teachers, often by teachers or ex-teachers. What they all have in common is a price tag (£15 seems to be the average price) that could prevent teachers with a limited budget from buying them. These books are shared on Twitter, teachers who have read them are quick to say so and there quickly starts another missing-out culture.  Since Christmas I’ve seen perhaps a dozen books that I would like to read which amounts to nearly £200 in value (and I haven’t even considered the time it would take to read them all!) Sadly I’ve had to say no to most of them, and I do wonder what I’m missing out on. Were I at the start of my career I might have felt under more pressure to part with my hard-earned cash.  I know some schools have a CPD library – is that a solution or will that reduce sales to the point that authors don’t see a return on the time they invest in writing?

Image © lhammersmith

Why don’t we want to take staff out the classroom for CPD?

I know, since I recently left a senior leadership post, that schools are finding finances are tight at the moment. I know that schools are struggling to keep the staff they have. This means that funding costs for CPD are going to be tight – quality CPD costs money and then there are cover costs on top. I also know that individual teachers are under more pressure than ever to teach good lessons, deliver results and to help students achieve target GCSE grades.

That made me think of the parallels between investing in CPD and seeking advice about how to invest your money. Last year I saw a financial advisor and paid for his advice – I did this because I had two options. I could leave my money in a standard deposit account or take advice about how to invest my money to make it last me to 60! To get a better return on my money I had to pay for some advice from an expert. This is a similar decision to choosing to invest in CPD for staff, it should be a no-brainer but that isn’t the case in some settings.

The graph shows survey results from real middle leaders (I asked them myself!) It is interesting to note that the number one barrier to engaging in CPD is taking staff out of the classroom. I’d be willing to bet that good quality CPD for a teacher could outweigh the detrimental effect of missing a single lesson (or even a couple). Unfortunately not wanting to take staff out of lessons can be a rather short-sighted approach and one which could have wide-ranging and long-lasting repercussions.

Of course, another option which only the most forward-thinking schools have embraced is to timetable CPD time for all staff. School leaders in these schools already appreciate the value of quality CPD and this post isn’t directed at them.

As a member of a regional committee of the Association of Science Education, we run a number of CPD events for our members (and those that aren’t). We run our CPD on a Saturday morning to allow teachers who are willing to give up their personal time to attend. This isn’t an ideal situation but removes barriers to CPD for those who want to take part. You can find a full list of ASE regional conferences here.


Double or triple science? – questions your department should be asking

Combined science or triple science? Schools have been faced with this conundrum for years and debate over which pathway is best for which students is nothing new. The BBC published an article (with a nice interactive map) in 2015 suggesting that the curriculum offer varies according to where you live in the country including the number of science GCSEs you (can?) take.

The debate has continued with data analysed by Education Datalab of the 2016 results showing that pupil premium students are less likely to follow a triple science route (and an interesting relationship between KS2 data and rates of triple science entry). The data should not be surprising to anyone who has worked in a science department where entry decisions have been made.

Another worthwhile read is “Stratifying science: a Bourdieusian analysis of student views and experiences of school selective practices in relation to ‘Triple Science’ at KS4 in England” by Louise Archer, Julie Moote, Becky Francis, Jennifer DeWitt and Lucy Yeomans.  The paper concludes that very few students have a genuine choice over their choice of science qualification and this is largely down to the school.  The study also found that socially disadvantaged students were less likely to study triple science (this was quite pronounced).  The students involved had the perception that triple science was only for the ‘clever kids’ and not for them (which diminished the status of core science and BTEC science)

The debate over double and triple science was brought back into the headlines following the speech given at the ASE annual conference by Amanda Speilman.  Amanda said “And in most of the schools we visited, the option of taking triple or double science GCSE – and as a result, some key stage 5 courses – was almost entirely dependent on student results and overlooked pupils’ own aspirations. I get very upset about schools that only allow a pupil to study a subject if they are expected to get a grade C or certain level. It shouldn’t just be about grades; studying a subject is important in its own right.

This is such a waste of our talent. It means that too few pupils, especially the more disadvantaged ones, are sufficiently challenged and too many have their education and career options unnecessarily limited. Making sure there is a challenging science curriculum for all pupils, with clear pathways into a career, further or higher education, should be a priority for all secondary schools.”

At a meeting of heads of science last week we were discussing the entry policies of different schools.  Countywide data suggested a huge variation in entries between core/applied and triple. Of course, the choices are reduced this year with the introduction of the new science specifications. Whilst the discussion progressed I wrote down a series of questions that I could be asking of heads of science if I were representing Ofsted or a local authority.  It may be useful to consider how you would answer these if asked?

  • How much curriculum time do you give to triple science? Is it the same as other option blocks?
  • Do you use after school or lunchtime classes to fit in sufficient time for triple? If so has this affected outcomes?
  • Do you have an entry policy for triple/combined science? How do you ensure that lower attaining students are not left behind?
  • How does your tracking data inform curriculum choice and exam tier (and pathway) of entry? How do you evaluate the success of this policy?
  • Who makes the decision about curriculum choice? SLT, the science department or your learners?
  • How does the choice of triple relate to P16 destinations (or study options at P16?)
  • Do you use KS2 data to inform your processes? Do you do this for the benefit of your students or for progress 8?
  • How do you ensure that interested students aren’t barred from taking triple science?
  • How do you stream/organise the curriculum groups? Is it the same for triple and other options and if not what message does it give the other students?
  • How does the ethos of the school relate to policy for entry – is there a link?
  • Do you have students that follow less than three of the separate sciences? Is this mixed with computer science? How does this work for students?
  • How do you prepare students for the triple exams? Is this the same for double and triple routes?
  • How do you choose numbers for each route? Are you capped by subject teacher availability? Does the timetable limit the numbers for triple and force students to follow a double pathway?
  • Does availability of other subjects that share a bucket with science for progress 8 affect the choice of double vs triple?
  • How do you divide staff time by science teacher? Do you have the strongest teachers or subject specialists teaching triple science? How does this affect the results for double science?
  • If students have more than one subject teacher, how do you ensure that skills are taught across all the disciplines and given the same status by all teachers of science?

I hope you find these discussion points useful.

Should I renew my membership of the Chartered College of Teaching?

Coin Toss
Like many others that I mix with online and offline,  I am already an active member of a subject association and a member of many other education networks. I like to think that I’m fairly well informed about key issues in education.

Through the Association of Science Education I get subject-specific advice, access to regional and national CPD conferences at reduced rates, I get access to a network of science teachers, I get my Chartered Science Teacher status, I get two science-related magazines and I even get my professional insurance.  This is my benchmark of a professional organisation.

When I joined the Chartered College last year I saw it as taking a punt. I didn’t know what I was going to get but it was only £29 for me to join, so I signed up and became a founding member.

Time flies and a year later I find myself being asked to renew (although the price has crept up to £45, 65% more than I paid last time). I reflected on how much I’ve used my membership (it’s why I’m still a member of the National Trust, I visit their properties and car parks enough to justify the membership fee).

So how have I gained (or not) personally by being a member of the Chartered College?

  • I have received two (?) journals over the last twelve months
  • I’ve received a lapel badge and a notepad with the Chartered College logo on.
  • I once downloaded some of the summary materials from the University of Bristol (although this isn’t listed as a membership benefit any longer)
  • I’ve twice accessed the research database, once to write a blog post and once to research a presentation proposal.
  • I didn’t go to the annual conference – I couldn’t justify the cost plus the train ticket (more than the conference fee) to attend
  • I am already a Chartered Teacher at a fraction of the cost – I don’t see the recognition through the Science Council as being any less meaningful
  • I have only just discovered my ex-MAT is on the list of CCT founding networks…

Since I joined last time, my career path has taken a sudden and unexpected detour from the chalk face and although I’ve got more time to make use of the benefits they still haven’t been that useful. I love the Chartered College and all it stands for but in times when money is getting increasingly tighter for all in the profession, I join others in having to consider this purchase carefully before I make it.

Is your membership up for renewal? What decision have you made? How did you make your decision? Should I stay or should I go?

Image ©ICMA Photos