What should a KS4 science curriculum look like for SEND learners?

 

I’ve been reflecting on the curriculum for SEND learners, and regular readers of my blog will know that I’ve written lots about the KS4 curriculum before. Previous posts have been written from the point of view of a classroom practitioner but now I’m looking in from the outside. I’ve met lots of teachers and school leaders over the last year and have pulled together my thoughts and reflections after speaking to them.

Many departments will be reviewing their curriculum offer as a result of the proposed Ofsted framework (not the aim of the new framework but an inevitable consequence)  For those late to the party, the new framework is built around the 3 I’s – intention, implementation and impact. I believe the first of these is where things for SEND learners starts to go wrong.

As a special school our ‘intention’ (our ethos & school values) revolved around preparing students for life after school. High aspirations and high academic performance are an important part of this (as long as they are realistic) but our intention also extended to the life skills and opportunities that are needed to make the most of those qualifications. I’ve written before about the implementation (approved and backed by our governors) of our curriculum, which trod the difficult line between the needs of the learners and accountability measures (especially as a special school in a mainstream MAT).  We were fortunate that Ofsted wasn’t interested in Progress-8 as a special school, although we still used it to benchmark ourselves against mainstream schools and obsessed about it (to a lesser extent than mainstreams) in our frequent data drops. Having met many teachers and leaders over the last year (whilst wearing a variety of hats and representing different interests & organisations) I’ve collated my thoughts below

Barriers to a full GCSE curriculum

  • Covering the content – the quantity (getting to the end of the specification)
  • Understanding and engaging with the content
  • Recalling the content taught over two (or usually three) years
  • Exam technique
  • Exam pressure (having to sit so many exams for one subject)

Model 1 – Entry level certificate (ELC)

There are many learners for whom ELC would be an appropriate pathway but they are prevented from following this option by the need to study a qualification that contributes to progress 8 data. I’ve met subject leaders who have gained permission for this route but most are accrediting alongside another option. In my mind ELC is KS3+ and there isn’t as much overlap with GCSE content as many would like.

Would I recommend this option? Over my last few years in special education, I could count on my fingers the number of students whose accreditation journey stopped at ELC (but of course that was under a system where they could take a single science exam each year)

Model 2 – co-teaching ELC and GCSE

This is a preferred option of many including the exam boards, but it could also be the most expensive and time-consuming of the options. The content isn’t a problem but you have to make sure you find time to fit in the classroom based assessment (as all the assessment for ELC happens in school).  

This modular nature of this option has the advantage of building confidence and self-esteem of your SEND learners over the course. It’s also an easier sell to SLT who will still have the GCSE to count in those all-important performance tables.  With many schools aiming to complete GCSE by Christmas of year 11, learners would have a qualification under their belt before sitting the GCSE exams.

There are plenty of published resources to support this option, with more coming on the market this year (this is where I should declare that I have written a workbook to support this option) If you do go down this pathway, make sure you have assessment points and a clear understanding of timelines at the start of your course.

Model 3 – partial GCSE

This is a model that I’ve seen increase in popularity over the last year. The premise is simple – rather than superficially teach 100% of the content, you teach part of the course in greater depth and miss out some of the content that learners might not need. Some subject leaders gasp in horror when I mention not teaching all the specification, but this the way I’ve taught GCSE for many years. The foundation textbook from OUP follows exactly this approach and is AQA approved (so it isn’t a forbidden practice)

I’m sure that many learners could benefit from the extra depth and reinforcement that this method offers.

Model 4 – full GCSE

I don’t really need to say much about this model as just about every science teacher must have experienced it and be aware of the pitfalls. It does ensure that there won’t be topics on the exam papers for which learners haven’t been taught.

Model 5 – alternative qualifications

It’s interesting that the only schools I’ve come across who don’t follow a GCSE/ELC pathway are PRUs and special schools (which harks back to what I said at the start about performance measures)

The best model?

The best model is the one which meets the needs of your learners and could be a combination of the above.  It has to be a decision that is taken locally, and with the approval of SLT and the governance structure of your school.

 

GCSE 1-3 students – the forgotten cohort?

AQA recently released some very useful documents that gave feedback on the  2018 new-specification GCSE exams. As well as including common mistakes made by students, the documents gave entry numbers and grade breakdowns for each of the science specifications.

The entries for AQA are summarised below:

Specification

Foundation

Total

Higher

Total

Overall

Boy

Girl

Boy

Girl

Biology

8705

7984

16689

55547

57285

112832

129521

Chemistry

7556

6688

14244

54824

55516

110340

124584

Physics

7458

6805

14263

55001

54364

109365

123628

Trilogy

86803

77419

164222

55707

64283

119990

284212

Synergy

2305

1905

4210

814

790

1604

5814

I was interested to see that the take-up for Synergy was much lower than I was expecting. However more interesting is the difference in single biology compared to single chemistry/physics. I’ve spoken to several schools who have entered SEND students for single GCSE biology – and whilst this might not account for all of the difference in entries it is certainly a contributing factor.

I did some ‘back of a fag packet’ calculations using the percentages of grades awarded and a significant number of students gained grade 3 or below (figures in brackets include those with 4:3)  These figures won’t hold up to rigorous scientific scrutiny (in my defence I was probably paying more attention to the Apprentice on TV than the scribbled figures on my notepad) but they do give an idea of the percentage of the cohort that isn’t reaching grade 4.

% of Foundation

% of total entries

Biology

58%

7.5%

Chemistry

57%

6.5%

Physics

51.8%

6.0%

Trilogy

55.5% (72.5%)

29% (40%)

Synergy

29.4% (40%)

40% (52%)

Total exams

17% (21%)

I hear of schools putting all of their efforts (CPD, development plans etc) into getting students the 7-9 grades whereas the equivalent percentage of students getting grade 7 or above (calculated using the same method) was only a few percent higher.

Given that lots of students fall into the 1-3 bracket we need to pay more attention to how to support them. I’ve seen GCSE 1-3 CPD from STEM learning and the Science Learning Partnerships  (I’ve even run the course myself!) but my experience is that schools aren’t booking on these courses (perhaps because of a shortage of money or perhaps because of a shortage of capacity?)

I’m pleased that Oxford University Press is looking at this issue across the board, not just in science.  Their English Catapult scheme looks just as good as their new ELC/1-3 foundation tier GCSE textbook. They have products in development for your ELC/1-3 learners (but not all schools are able to afford them) If you haven’t seen their Foundation GCSE textbook, check it out (and also look at the principles behind it – and it is AQA approved)

Please make sure you focus as much attention on your 1-3 foundation learners as you do your 7-9 learners. They might not be EBacc students or have a full quota of Progress-8 buckets, but the success they experience in science might be every bit as life changing and motivating as hitting a grade 9 is for a higher tier student.

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.