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.