Double or Triple?

Interesting discussion here on school science education. Part of it discusses the merits of the combined science double award versus the three separate sciences.

One argument in favour of the “Double Award” which has some merit is that students will study some of all three sciences until they are 16, whereas if only the three separate subjects are on offer those who are not interested in science will drop at least one of them.

My first problem with this notion is that biology, chemistry and physics are separate subjects. Sure, they are all sciences but French, German and Russian are all languages. Would anybody seriously suggest they be crammed together into a “Talking Foreign” double award?

My second problem is that cramming the three subjects into the timetable slots for two means that none are covered in any depth. Furthermore, this will result in science teachers not only teaching outside their subject specialisms but teaching subjects they are not actually qualified to teach. Let me illustrate:

A rule of thumb is that teachers should have studied a subject to one level higher than they teach it. Consider a teacher who has a degree in biology, A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics but dropped Physics after GCSE. She will be fine teaching biology to A-level and chemistry to GCSE but really she should not teach physics beyond Key Stage 3. That’s Years 7 to 9 for those who do not speak educationese. However a combined science GCSE requires her to teach physics to GCSE.

There are ways round the problem, of course. One is the fact that each science is reduced to 2/3 of a subject so teachers teaching subjects they are not qualified to teach will be able to keep ahead of all but the brightest pupils. Another is to reduce the content of each subject yet further. I have touched on (alright, whinged at great length about) this in previous posts. I found a further example yesterday, which was a physics question from a higher tier paper in which the examinee was required to answer questions about a couple of newspaper articles on the supposed risks of mobile phones. This was purely reading comprehension and could just as easily have been placed on an English Language paper. Certainly it could have been answered by students who knew no physics at all. Cynics will doubtless claim that it probably was.

A final thought. When some of the students of this dumbed down science have worked their way through the system and become teachers themselves, what do we do then?

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One Response to “Double or Triple?”

  1. darthtater Says:

    Your final thought – you’re too late, it’s already happened. Double Science GCSE 1990, A levels 92, degree 95 gap year, pgce, that gives over 10 years in the classroom…
    I’ve met colleagues who are scared of all but the tamest Chemistry demonstrations, and heard of some who had to have a guide to what’s meant by proportional and inversely proportional prior to marking coursework which could include graphs. We’re in a bad way and not likely to get any better, especially as teaching kids how to pass an exam gets better results that teaching them Biology, Chemistry or Physics.
    Don’t get me started on the wrong answers sometimes found in mark schemes at GCSE. Example from OCR Gateway:
    specification statement (students should be able to) “Describe how molten rock can find its way to the
    surface through weaknesses in the crust.”
    question “Magma from the mantle is able to rise up throught eh Earth’s crust. Explain how. Use ideas about density.”
    so-called correst answer “magma is less dense (than the crust)”
    Not only does the answer not match the specification clearly, it also does not appear to agree with reality. A few minutes research gives this:
    Continental Crust: 2.7 to 3.0
    Oceanic Crust: 3.0 to 3.3
    Mantle (silicates): 3.3 to 5.7 (increasing with depth?)
    Outer Core (liquid): 9.9 to 12.2
    Inner Core (solid): 12.6 to 13.0
    I could go on all night but it’s supposed to be the holidays.

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