Grades 9-1… a complex picture.

Damian Ainscough has written a blog post about the new GCSE grading system.

Ofqual have released digital postcards explaining it as well:
OfQual GCSE Grades post card

And in response to Damian’s question on twitter I had an attempt as well. Firstly I produced this tweet:grades twitter

It’s difficult to produce an accurate representation in a tweet, but I gave it a go.

But then I did this

Grade Changes

The middle section of this image needs some explanation, meaning that this example is probably too complicated – Damian certainly thought so when I showed him; however I reckon it is worth thinking about.

Ofqual state that broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 4 and above as currently achieve a grade C and above. And the same statement is also used for 7+ and grade A (with the top 20% of those students awarded a grade 9). So I used the 2014 data for Maths and English (2015 is similar, but subtly different – I might redo this image with 2015 results). It is important to note that this is the percentage spread of of results nationally, not a guide for grade boundaries.

I think this image is important as it highlights a few things: for example that the expectation is that roughly the same number of students (perhaps fewer) are expected to get a 9 as the number of students that currently fail their GCSE. And that the new floor grade 5 is a large jump up if your school cohort is similar to the national picture – meeting it is going to be a very big ask if your school cohort results are distributed towards the lower end – remember comparable outcomes means that this spread is also related to the national KS2 data.* ***

Anyway please pick this apart. I produced this visualisation partly to see if it was useful and partly to see if I could**. Let me know via twitter or in the comments.

*Note: this is a fuzzy generalisation based on English and Maths results from 2014 (via Mike Cameron) – your mileage willvary subject by subject and year on year.
** The reason the grades aren’t equally spaced on the left hand side is so that the G1, C4 and A7 points line up. I had originally spaced them equally on both sides. Another visualisation I made last year is a bit simpler but doesn’t display the floor levels

*** I’ve looked into the 2015 and 2014 data and noticed the following: in most subjects roughly 25-30% of students achieve a C so if the bottom of a 5 (the new floor)  is going to be the top 3rd of a C, then 17-20% of students will automatically fall through the floor – as the same proportion of students who get a C or above will get a 4 or above. Under the new system up to an extra 1/5 of all students sitting most GCSEs will not get above the floor grade.

Hold the front page: Schools Week already spotted this in June – http://

— Further edit – this one is quite special :)

If we look at the Additional Science results we have a further oddity – the plan is for the top 20% of A/A* to get a 9. And so the idea is that A* equivalent students are spread between the top  of 8 and the 9 grade but if we look at additional science result A-A* in 2015 add up to 10.8% of students – 20% of that is 2.2% but the number of students with A* s were 1.9% of cohort. So in science we might have the odd situation that we’ll get more students with a 9 than we used to get with an A*. 7 and 8 will just split up the A grade. I don’t think that this was the intention.

#ASEChat 21 Sept 2015 – Live (ish) Blog

Welcome to the #asechat evening session on 21 September. I’m your host this evening and I will be attempting to live blog the chat (If @MissMcInerney can manage the Edu Select Commitees this should be a walk in the park – HA HA HA HA).

Press F5 for updates.

Question 1

So, kicking off with supporting primaries (paraphrasing):
@cleverfiend says that the support needs to be really broad – this is resource intensive
@oboelizzy the north+east midlands ASE have strong support for primary
@MsSuperScience – good links but rural means lots of feeder schools.
@SteveTeachPhysics – do we support them enough. Probably not.
@feedthegoat1967 suggests that in his experience primary schools do not see science as a priority.
@stevethedoc1 it’s all about communication – visit primaries, set up a TLC and find out what needs and wishes are from primary and secondary.
@anhalf keen to do this: prim sci teaching trust
@anhalf needs to be better comms and trust btwn pri/sec… but challenging to get to that #asechat
@teach_well I think subject knowledge support for pri tchrs much needed.

Question 2

@viciascience To help sec sci tchrs understand KS2 science, read the assessment framework just published by DfE.
Be good if pri tetras could share good practice with sec on formative assessment, summative assessment and record keeping.
@stevethedoc1 commission says not about tracking but about making sure they are getting better. Less admin more learning!!
@anhalf New curriculum clear on outcomes..secs need to trust us that we will do that!! Tricky when they also have to prove progress #asechat
@stevethedoc1 partnerships NOT either phase DOING it to other

Question 3

@StevetheDoc1 must be share, so much from last thirty years still not seen or used by majority.
@viciascience Just back from Huddersfield teach meet where we were sharing ideas and resources. Inputs from Twig / Smart Learning #ASEChat
@a_weatherall brilliant but that’s just to a few. I mean much more widely and openly.
@alomshaha Suspect lot of informal sharing already happens. Problem is, if everybody shares, who pays for creation of resources?
@a_weatherall the associations who are so worried about science in schools being seen to be excellent should do so.
@stevethedoc1 that is the big question, always to so few, how do we get everyone, 23,000 Primary in England
@alby I’d rather share ideas than resources. The obsession people have with resources drives me nuts.
@secretphysicist I think ‘resources’ should be free. You tend to reap what you sew in my experience.
@alby I disagree.

@dannynic perhaps better use of local clusters supported by the ASE – local sharing/CPD
@ellieERussell Sometimes online (twitter, blods etc.)good as geographical neighbours might not be like-minded in style
@stevethedoc1 but we need to get at schools or depts more than individuals
@dannynic ASE could get involved in creating more accessible content – perhaps bite-sized videos and webinars?
@cleverfiend I would have liked SSR from @theASE to be this #asechat
@SAPS_News Personally think we need to be open about sharing failure as well as success – though it’s harder to do #asechat
@viciascience Section in SSR called sci notes exactly for sharing good ideas #ASEChat
@robbutler what do teachers want from the ASE that they can’t get from social media? Authority? Trust? Reputation? Ideas?
@oboelizzy SSR still an excellent way of sharing ideas also EiS, IMO online useful as well but not instead
@SAPS_news From personal experience – networks I can ask for local advice, exchange support, keep abreast of issues
@NeedhamL56 buddies! Like minded people who recognise the importance of subject specific interactions, wider than sch
@oboelizzy the more answers we can get to this q the better, so ASE can really move fwd and be the best!!!
@robbutler we find primary members engage more with our events. Is it lack of specialist knowledge? Being more open to ideas?
@stevethedoc1 identify and nurture presenters from teachmeet thru pop ups into workshops, mentoring needed.
@viciascience Conferences allow in-depth conversation and sharing of ideas. Want more teachers to present
@a_Weatherall this is a good idea. And maybe video TMs more #asechat – youtube excellent way to share ideas
@hrogerson Has any mention been made of the quality of the practice that can be shared? Sometimes it might not be that good. runs and hides
@viciascience Remember one size never fits all. Need multiple ways to support teachers
@Dr_hern we’ve benefited from the Ogden Trust getting us working with other local physics teachers. @ogdentrust

GCSE Science specifications are released

Here are the draft specifications for GCSE Science from each of the exam boards – they are due to be ratified by Ofqual before end of the summer holidays. Officially for first teaching in September 2016, but some schools run a 3 year GCSE so they will be teaching this from September 2015.
Please could you comment below if your school is doing this – we could do with getting heads together over the summer to formulate an appropriate scheme of work – see below.

This table has links to the relevant webpages (click on each exam board) as well as direct links to the specification as PDFs.

AQA EdExcel Eduqas OCR Gateway OCR C21
Combined Science

Combined Science
Combined Science Combined Science Combined Science Combined Science
Biology Biology Biology Biology Biology
Chemistry Chemistry Chemistry Chemistry Chemistry
Physics Physics Physics Physics Physics

keep-calm-it-s-only-gcse-science-5I will study the physics specifications in more detail and report back, but here’s a comment: the content for these GCSEs has changed greatly. There is little resemblance to the topic structure that existed before.

They all cover new subject criteria as defined in the DfE GCSE Subject Content for combined and single science but aside from the order it’s more or less the same content as the DfE document on first look.

My initial advice would be to study the sample assessments and make a decision on exam board based on accessibility of assessment as the content is all but identical.





  • Comparison of Proposed Exam structure
  • Identification of key descriminators between each course
  • Practical requirements.


Please comment below with your thoughts and advice – I will collate any pertinent tweets.

It is important that the DfE publish correct science content in their GCSE subject content

Yesterday I posted this reaction to the publication by the DfE of the GCSE_combined_science_content (copy taken – original link here). Others, including @alby and @hrogerson have written and commented about this as well.

[Another update: in the comments Richard Needham from the ASE has reminded me that over the next few weeks QfQual will be using these documents to ratify the Exam Boards’ science GCSE specifications. Not a good situation.]

[An update: the DfE released the GCSE_single_science_content in another document (original link here). Some of the errors below including the kinetic energy formula have not made it into this document and the space physics is obviously only considered interesting enough for the triple scientists. I will check the rest.]

I thought it relevant to post some specific points (just from the physics section – which didn’t even appear correctly in the table of contents). Now some of these are more pedantic than others but there are essential aspects of the physics curriculum which are just wrong.

What annoys me more than anything is the thought that this collection of subject specific requirements for exam boards to assess and therefore for teachers to teach has been put together in such a slap dash way. Perhaps I’m being unfair, I’m sure a lot of thought has gone into this extensive re-write of the GCSE curriculum, but for this final draft to contain the same mistakes as a year ago, even after correction tells me that the quality control on these important documents just isn’t good enough. It’s not rigorous, nor is it outstanding. In my opinion, for these mistakes to have happened in the first place meant the document definitely required improvement; but this final draft is inadequate.

Let’s start with the clanger:


If you want to know what is wrong with this read my post explaining the problem. Why this is such an issue is that the DfE fixed this, but they clearly aren’t running any sort of version control on their documentation. For this really bad mistake to make it back in is astounding.

This section doesn’t appear in the table of contents, and going by this first paragraph, this is probably a good thing. Let’s however concentrate on the broadest issue described and ask ourselves why then does neither the big bang, nor the lifecycle of stars appear in this subject content? The exam boards are not allowed to add to this content, just make it broader or deepen the topics within. Shameful really. (How do we spell bullet?)

[Update: Space is in the separate science content. Shame the poor combined scientists don’t get anything about space but hey, I’m not writing the curriculum, just proofreading it.]


This sentence is senseless. But lets add the missing to after that and ask what they want to assess. When we teach Hooke’s Law we talk about stretching the spring by applying a force (singular) to it. I think this needs clarification.science_bendcompress

The second part of this bullett [sic] point is a bit odd.science_nm

Mathematical skill 1c is the use of ratio in converting units. In this case the ratio to convert between Nm and J is 1:1 as the joule is a unit given to the energy transferred or work done calculated by multiplying force times displacement along the line of force (dot product of two vectors) – this would give the units of newton metres but we use joules instead. The reason Nm is rarely used as a unit of energy is to avoid misunderstandings where a torque or turning force (also calculated by F × d but as a cross product, not a dot product – vectors Mr Gibb) is mistaken for an energy or vice versa.

I must teach how fast the wind blows – is this using the Beaufort scale or miles per hour or knots? How very odd. Also the speed of light would be a good thing to add here. I’m not sure of the point of the transportation systems but hey.


Acceleration in free fall on Earth due to the Earth’s gravitational field. Are we going for 10 or 9.81 m s s to be more rigorous? More on this later.

Now this one is good:


The enclosed area of graphs is a graphical representation of the integral of the function of the line on the graph (thanks Newton). We integrate velocity with respect to time to get distance, but what happens when we integrate distance with respect to to time. I’ll tell you what happens: the last 40 minutes of Interstellar – i.e. nothing to do with Physics!

Danger Will Robinson. The danger of reading the last phrase here and taking it literally is dangerous. science_earth

Of course in a plug this would be a problem. But the accidental connection between the live and the earth in an appliance is what could save your life. If there is no connection between live and earth, but there is a connection between live and you, then you’re scuppered.

Let’s deal with these two clangers in one shall we. Gravity force no! Let’s call it weight shall we, as that’s the main cognitively dissonant aspect of this whole section of physics at GCSE. Gravity constant (g) No! No! No! This should be the gravitational field strength at the Earth’s surface. It’s anything but constant! The gravitational constant is given the symbol G and is a very small number, and is a constant. It is not used in these equations. Just wrong, wrong, wrong!

science_gravityconstant science_gravity

Charge flow is a rarely used term and just confuses matters especially in this second equation. Current is the rate of flow of charge. The charge flows in a current. Charge is measured in coulombs. Charge flow is kind of synonymous with current. It’s confusing. Charge will do.

science_chargeflow science_chargeflow2

Why is this equation here, but the transformer equation from unit 3 of the current GCSE not included. [An answer my own question. The transformer equation is in the seperate sciences document.] This simply states that, assuming 100% efficiency in the transformer (never happens), power is conserved. Where’s the useful stuff, that shows how a transformer works. I think they’ve put the wrong equation down here.science_transformerpower

Cough. T not B.


Here’s the practical list we’ve been awaiting with this final draft. The phrase appropriate apparatus pervades. Thanks for that. Very useful information – so glad for the wait.


Here’s the full set.



Now, DfE please remove this draft of the GCSE content and fix all the mistakes in it (again), then republish.


Whatever it is they’re peddling, it sure ain’t Physics!

[Note: I have posted again on this in more detail here]

Here is the latest offering from the DfE on what teachers and exam boards should be teaching and assessing in science at GCSE – you know the rigorous qualification where 5+ is needed for a good pass!

Last year the DfE released their draft GCSE subject content for combined science which resulted in a rather frustrated post about the mistakes in the document.

And tonight, they’ve released their GCSE_combined_science_content final draft. Turn to page 37….

Wrong again!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wrong again!

This is after they fixed it last time.

Hat tip to @hrogerson for the spot.

And @alby has noticed that Physics isn’t in the table of contents. Well I refer you dear reader back to the title of this post!

More on the Royal College of Teaching

In which I discuss some of the reasons for the College of Teaching, as I see it, as well as a suggestion for a membership structure.

On valid criticism


Anton Ego © Disney/Pixar

For some reason, it always seems harder to come up with positive and useful plans for any project than it does to criticise and complain about decisions made. For example (some valid) criticisms about Building Schools for the Future were made by politicians in the early days of the last parliament and most of the projects were scrapped without much apparent thought for the effect this would have on schools, schools’ budgets, and schools’ places (see, there’s another criticism; I said it was easy). The government through the DfE decided to concentrate on developing the Free Schools programme assuming it would provide the places instead of handling the places allocation directly themselves or through LAs. It is easy to criticise this decision too, and yet, as was pointed out to me last night, it’s a complicated process to ensure that places are ready for the future; it requires a lot of effort, communication and collaboration to develop the optimal solution. The same is true for encouraging enough people to join the profession through an appropriate training and qualification route, or providing an appropriate method of assessing practical work in Science qualifications. It’s easy to criticise decisions but much harder to come up with good, credible and robust solutions.

Some, or perhaps most, of the criticisms of the proposed Royal College of Teaching have been well founded. It was indeed frustrating that one of the first consultations for the Royal College of Teaching took place at the start of a new school year during the working week. The idea that £12 million (over 5 years) is to be given to a new professional body with apparently no questions asked when it isn’t yet backed by the majority of teachers appears to many to be a frivolous use of taxpayers money. The idea that membership should be open to all seems like an own goal and could turn the Royal College of Teaching into a club for everyone with no mandate from or for practising teachers. The potential conflict of interest of the four groups that are running this initial consultation can be criticised. That there has not been enough communication to teachers outside the social media bubble is a real problem. Teachers had the universally disliked General Teaching Council thrust upon them, so it’s an easy leap to suggest that this isn’t going to be any different.

There are more questions (see Helen Rogerson’s post for a whole host) than answers at the moment: Who can call themselves a teacher in the College of Teaching? Why do we need a new College of Teaching anyway – what’s the Royal College of Teachers (est. 1846) been doing all this time? What is the Royal College of Teaching for? Wherefore Royal (or not)? I don’t have answers to all these questions and I only have a few responses to the criticisms (remember, it’s hard to come up with solutions).

If we keep looking going over the history there is the danger of not making any progress at all. So what I want to do is make a suggestion on the question of membership and what I see the College of Teaching is for.

Held to Account

Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales

I have been speaking to my uncle recently, who is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (for England and Wales) and has been all his working life, and I have asked him what it is about the membership model that makes it work? The bodies which look after the professionals that are able to call themselves Chartered Accountants are well respected and have a well established model of membership, training and regulations. An accountant or bookkeeper doesn’t need to be a member of an Institute of Chartered Accountants (for example ICAEW, ICAS or CIMA) in order to practice as an accountant, but if they are members, and are eligible, then they can advertise their Chartered status. The status defines their professional expertise, but also provides a level of prestige within their trade. The Institute of Chartered Accountants accepts membership from students, trainee accountants, practising accountants, as well as those who train accountants (most of whom are themselves practising but not all) and the retired.

The accounting professional landscape is very complex, and there are only a few similarities to teaching; for example there are many routes into accounting with many different qualifications that can be taken before an accountant might take on clients. One of the ways that accountants are held to account within their profession is they have to pass a practising certificate in order to be able to perform certain activities within their professional role – such as performing an audit. Teachers have a certificate system that enables us to practice, which is our Qualified Teacher Status (your mileage may vary). The right to practice as a Chartered Accountant can be removed by the ICA for defined reasons. In the teaching profession, the responsibility for administering the training of new and existing teachers in England and regulation of the teaching profession is currently handled by the National College for Teaching and Leadership, a government agency. The new Royal College of Teaching would not/should not be in a position to take on this role. And yet it’s been given a lot of money (£12 million would pay for 50-100 nurses over 5 years) to provide something for the teaching profession; but what?

The raison d’être

The conversation I had with my uncle, where he asked many of the same questions that other have posed over the last few months, revolved around what the purpose of this professional association is going to be. The initial proposals for the College of Teaching have suggested (see the FAQ sheet):

  • Challenging professional standards with validity, portability and accreditation
  • Professional recognition and status
  • A robust, respected portfolio demonstrating teachers’ development
  • Guidance and support from a College Mentor
  • Access to up-to-date research evidence to support more effective classroom practice
  • Access to professional knowledge that will draw upon academic research. Members will have the opportunity to contribute to a growing knowledge base that will help all professionals
  • Being part of a College that is recognised by schools who are committed to accessing professional learning, accreditation, sector-led standards and peer-to-peer review
  • Work towards better outcomes for young people as they enter an ever-changing and challenging global job market.

As I see it the primary objective would be to provide me, as a member, with the ongoing training and professional development support that I will continue to need throughout my profession. Why did my training, access to research on teaching, and certification suddenly stop after my PGCE (and QTS year)? Sure, my school has provided me with training on certain aspects of my practice, but there’s nothing really to take with me apart from what is in my head, or written down on my professional development record. I want something more, that I can measure myself against and commit to working towards as part of my professional development. Now, I could do this by myself or through my school, but not necessarily in a way that will mean my development is valued across the professional field. If, and when, I move jobs, what aspects of my professional development are transferable? I see the College of Teaching as an avenue for providing me with the resources and the development route throughout my career.

Who’s in? Who’s out?

One main sticking point is membership. I’ve written about membership and what defines a teacher before, and while there are those who feel my argument suffers from the continuum fallacy, others see the teacher question as a key point.

My suggestion to help smooth the impasse is that at its inception the College of Teaching should have a membership structure that identifies practising teachers, but not to the exclusion of others who would be able to contribute to the College’s raison d’être. To not include people who teach or train teachers in the College of Teaching seems to me to hobble the College in being able to give the development I want it to provide.

Here is what I propose (loosely borrowed from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales):

  • Membership should be available to anyone training to be, currently practising or having previously been a classroom teacher.
  • Associate membership should also be available to anyone who provides ITT and ongoing training for teachers.
  • There should be a number of faculties that members and associate members can join starting with, but not limited to:
    • Practising Teacher
    • Trainee Teacher
    • School Leadership
    • Development and Training
  • Membership of a faculty should confer specific voting rights to you as a member with Practising Teacher faculty members having most privilege. I suggest that College of Teaching members who are not members of a faculty would have no voting rights.
  • There should be a number of special interest groups that relate to the sector / subject area that members can join including by way of example, but not limited to:
    • EYFS
    • Primary
    • Secondary
    • Maths
    • Science
    • English
    • Humanities
  • There should be the opportunity for members of affiliated teaching associations and unions to join the College as part of their other association membership (e.g. Association for Science Education) with the same faculty rules applying.

Out: Plans, experts and above all, leaders. In: Adapting – improvise rather than plan; fail, learn, and try again

These are my suggestions only – I offer them out to be critiqued and criticised without fear or favour as I’m sure they will be.

I also think if we stick religiously to the plan outlined in the initial proposal by the Claim Your College cohort or even the membership structure I suggest here, that we will come unstuck. It’s not currently an optimal solution but with bottom-up adapting and experimentation with these structures as the College takes shape we should get a solution that is.

All aboard?

The selection committee for the first board of trustees is being nominated for the Royal College of Teaching. For what it’s worth, the wheels are being set in motion. There is a lot money from the taxpayer being put on the table to push this body forward (that I would argue is largely unnecessary; I do want to know more about how this money is to be spent and whether it actually needs to be). The four groups who have set the initial course have said they will step out the way to let the College follow the route these trustees and the members wish to take. I know I want to be along for the ride, The question is: who else does?

Some recent reference posts:

How much mathematics should be examined in GCSE Biology, Chemistry and Physics

Schools Week has reported on the GCSE Science Consultation response from Ofqual with a comment from Richard Needham @viciascience on the proposed percentages of maths examinable content: 10% Biology, 20% Chemistry and 30% Physics.

Now I don’t know the full mechanics behind developing exam questions and how these percentages will correspond to marks however it seems to me that these percentages are biased unnecessarily towards Physics.

Physics is traditionally thought of as being the subject with the most mathematics content due to the number of formula required, and in the new GCSE content, this requirement has become much stronger with an increased number of formula, and requirement to commit most of these to memory. However once a formula has been recalled or selected the use of it doesn’t require any extra mathematical knowledge to use it (except perhaps rearranging, and more complex formula with squared terms).

Contrast this will biology where students have to have an understanding of statistical techniques which aren’t used in the other two single science subjects.

Here is the breakdown of mathematical requirements and how they contribute to the subject content at GCSE. There are 19 requirements for Biology, 18 for Chemistry and 20 for Physics. They seem evenly distributed and this doesn’t correspond to the 10%,20% and 30% split.

I am interested in your opinion of how import you feel each requirement is to the individual subject? I have prepared a questionnaire to collect this information, which I plan to share with Richard and use to form some collective response from #ASEChat teachers to the consultation.

It will take some time – but I would appreciate it if you would spend some time thinking about it.

The questions are all the same for each requirement – Rate how important it is to examine this aspect within each subject. Please rate from 0 – Not important (i.e. it’s a general mathematical skill, no special reason to examine within this science subject) to 4 – Very important (i.e. it underpins aspects of scientific understanding within this science subject).

I realise this is a big ask during your Easter Holiday. I estimate it will take around 15 – 30 mins depending on whether you leave extensive comments.

Here’s a link to the form or you can fill it in below:


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