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.

Resource author profile – @TJohns85

This is the second in a series of articles talking to authors who write or share science teaching resources. Some of these authors have chosen not to reveal their identities and some are happy to be identified.

An interview with Tom @TJohns85 

Tell me about your background – subject, phase, experience Secondary Science

9th year at the chalkface

Held a TLR (whole school) for 5 years

Where in the country do you teach?  Academy (MAT?) or LA school? Southwest, Academy
What sort of resources do you share? I shared paid resources which I specifically make to sell – these are not just powerpoints but mainly ‘interactive notebook foldables’ and quizzes. They are a bit like creating and selling a book. Most of my TES resources, however, are free
Where do you share them? TES, own site, other paid site, within school, subject association? TES and TpT

Free within school/department

Do you get paid for creating your resources? Do you sell or charge for your resources? See question 3 above
How lucrative has sharing/selling your resources been? I cant retire on it however it is enough to pay for a family holiday in the summer.
Do you know how many downloads or how widely shared your resources have been? On TES

All (paid and free)  resources as of 12/11/17

Views 473590

Downloads 208186

Paid for purchases 1000+ (over 2 years)

Why do you share your resources? I have added free resources since my PGCE – I decided long and hard to ‘sell’ some as they were a little bit different. No one forces any to purchase the resource and many take hours and hours (as does writing a book)
What advice would you give to other would be resource authors out there? Find a niche, don’t just upload powerpoints.

Don’t use rip off TES, price fair and be open and honest

Anything other comments Please link to my blog post – joining the dark side


You can find Tom’s resources here on the TES

What I learned in my AQA hub meeting…

Earlier today I attended an AQA hub meeting. Kudos to AQA for the efforts they are putting in to make sure schools are well supported in the run-up to the new 1-9 GCSE.  The hub meeting was useful in determining which tier to enter borderline students, to look at how practical skills could be examined and to look at the types of questions that could be used to test A02.

As always, these meetings are often as useful for what you find out from networking with the people there…

  • AQA hadn’t considered teachers might want to photocopy the resources they provided as a spiral bound booklet.
  • Teachers say they don’t have enough assessment materials to rehearse the new 1-9 GCSE with students
  • The age range of science teachers ranged from the very young to my age (and even older!) so I’m reassured to know that not every school drive out older staff through an excessive workload
  • Assessment systems are equally despised in schools across the region with data requests from SLT being a common cause for complaint.
  • Some schools are doing mocks now and again after Christmas (one even enquired about teachers putting on extra lessons in the holidays to make room for another mock – it wasn’t clarified if the school offered to pay overtime…)
  • Linked to assessment systems many students have targets that are unrealistic. One school assigned grades based on a distribution and predicted some students a grade 8, SLT said those students need to get a grade 9 now in the exams…
  • Time allocated to science teaching is inconsistent and varies from school to school (and widely between double and triple  in one school…)
  • That teachers are determined to do what they can for their students whether than be attending hub meetings or putting practice materials and lessons together.


Getting SEN learners to reach their potential at GCSE – spaced recall?


Last year I struggled with GCSE additional science.  My students lapped up the content, they answered exam questions at the end of each lesson but they really struggled to remember the sheer range of information they are expected to recall when we reached the end of the course.

I was talking to a senior leader from another academy within our multi-academy trust (I’m so grateful we have a sharing and collaborative ethos) and she was talking about spaced learning.  As an experienced special school teacher, I know the value of repetition (or repetition, repetition, repetition as we call it) but I have never read any research on the subject.

A quick Google search revealed spaced learning is a technique in which summarised content is repeated several times at intervals with the intention of strengthening recall at the end.  This has been taken into classrooms in the form spaced recall where students recall or remember information a number of times to strengthen the memory.

That’s when I remembered that one of the perks of being a member of the Chartered College of Teaching is access to research journals (and to be honest it is the first time I’ve found my membership of the Chartered College useful!).  A quick search through my email account and I was online searching for research papers, something I haven’t really done since my student days.  Interesting papers were downloaded as PDF files, thrown into Evernote and annotated – I wish I’d had that facility when I was an undergraduate…

A quick search of research papers, Google and Twitter tells me that I’m a little late to this party.  There is plenty of scientific evidence to suggest that spaced learning works but not a lot to tell me what would work best with my students who all have special educational needs.

So what did I learn from my reading that would be useful in my setting?

Effects from spaced learning appear to be persistent across all stages of development (Vlach & Sandhofer 2012) and it can be seen in other species too (handy for some of my groups!) – I should have realised this from my dog training.

Those participants who used a toolbox or scaffold to model the key concepts do better than those who have free study time (important if you are setting homework tasks!) – Egan 2012

The spaces between learning activities could be as little as ten minutes (Vaz 2014) and as much as days (Bergey 2014) or weeks (Lockyer 2017)

Three lots of stimulation (learning) is enough to significantly strengthen a synapse and lead to increased recall (Vaz 2014) and this technique could have benefits for learners with ADHD as students are more engaged, although I would love to see more detailed research on this to determine the reason, if one exists (Vaz 2014)

Final thoughts

Nearly every paper confirmed there are benefits in recall from spaced learning  The difficulty for me as a teacher is having enough time to build this approach into my teaching.  I have to teach an entire GCSE (including mandatory practicals) in a year and finish teaching this course sufficiently early to revise with my learners (who won’t or can’t revise at home/independently).

Of course, I won’t need as much revision time at the end of the course if spaced learning has the desired effects but it still makes delivery tight.

I have two double lessons of 100 minutes each and once we have enough content to revisit, I intend to dedicate 30 minutes a week to revision (spaced learning – recap) which students will complete in a separate book. I don’t know how successful this will be but the results will be an indication.


Bergey, B.W., Cromley J.G., Kirchgessner, M.L. & Newcombe, N.S. (2014) Using diagrams versus text for spaced restudy: Effects on learning in 10th grade biology classes, The British Journal of Educational Psychology, 85, 59-74

Egan, R. (2012) Understanding the effects of different study methods on retention of information and transfer of learning, Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology 10(2) 659-672

Lockyer, S. (2017) Spaced Learning: The final frontier in revision. Impact, Interim Issue

Vaz, A.C. (2014) Spaced Learning: Making space for neuroscience in te classroom, e-TEALS: An e-journal of Teacher Education and Applied Language Studies, 5, 1-17

Vlach, H. & Sandhofer, C.M. (2012). Distributing learning over time: The spacing effect in children’s acquisition and generalization of science concepts Child Development, 83, 1137-1144

Updated Nov 2017 to remove acronyms and make it clear what spaced recall actually is.

The importance of the curriculum – thank you Amanda Spielman

Last week the new Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman spoke at the ASCL conference.  She was setting out her stall as one of the most influential leaders in the world of education, and she told the conference of school leaders “Vitally important though a school’s examination results are, we must not allow curricula to be driven just by SATs, GCSEs and A levels. It is the substance of education that ultimately creates and changes life chances, not grade stickers from exams.

She also told her audience “I am determined to make sure that the curriculum receives the proper focus it deserves.

It’s hard to point the finger of blame at school leaders who, anxious to avoid being labelled coasting schools, have done everything they can to boost their progress 8 scores and EBacc results.  Fortunately, the governors at my school had the foresight to put the needs of the individual first when we built our curriculum so we aren’t pushing students through inappropriate exams to boost our school results.

Last week  I attended some CPD with the Institute of Physics discussing how to encourage more girls to follow a STEM career.  Whilst the advice they were giving wasn’t anything that you won’t have heard before it does make you appreciate the effect that teachers and the curriculum have on the long-term life chances of our students, regardless of phase or socioeconomic background.   Much of the language we use in class and the way we run our lessons could potentially have long-term implications for our learners (Stonewall give similar messages about gender neutrality which can influence attitudes from a very early age)

A fortnight ago I was part of a discussion with the 11-19 committee at the ASE talking about combined science vs triple science.  The options path decided at the end of KS3 (year 8 now in many schools) can determine, for better or worse, the life chances of students who may either choose or be guided towards an option that isn’t appropriate for them.  This decision could be made on experience in previous lessons (bringing us back to the message from the IoP) or could this choice could be restricted based on a flawed assessment system at KS3.    Those of you interested in the combined vs triple debate will be interested to read this article on education datalab.

My point is that the curriculum you offer, whether it be at departmental level or at a whole school level, will have long-lasting repercussions for your students and it is important you’ve got it right.  For this reason I commend Amanda Spielman for the tone she has set as she takes up the mantle of Chief Inspector and look forward to seeing the discussion about the curriculum develop as she continues in office.