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Dr Mark Downs FSB, chief executive of the Society of Biology, co-signed a letter to the Times, published on Saturday 21st December 2013. The letter outlined serious concerns with the current proposals for the assessment of practical work in the new A level science qualifications, due to be introduced in September 2015.

The sciences are intrinsically practical subjects. Ofsted's recent report on school science found that the best schools ensure that pupils master the investigative and practical skills that underpin the development of scientific knowledge.

However, current plans for assessment in the new biology, chemistry and physics A levels mean that hands-on practical skills will no longer contribute towards a student's final grade.

Gemma Garrett, head of education at the Society of Biology, says: “The proposals divorce the theoretical aspects of practical science from hands on practice; despite both being integral skills. Not only does this misrepresent the nature of science, but it poses a real risk of reducing the amount of practical work undertaken in schools. This will leave students poorly equipped in the skills required by higher education and other progression routes in the sciences.

“Practical work is a core skill, so proposals which would allow pupils to fail their practical assessment and still achieve the highest grade in A level biology are unacceptable.”

Ofqual are currently consulting on the proposals for the new A levels. The Society will be responding to this through SCORE. If you would like to contribute to this, please contact Gemma Garrett, head of education, at gemmagarrett@societyofbiology.org.  

The Society recently responded, through SCORE, to the Department for Education consultation on the proposed content of the new A levels. The response included subject-specific appendices for biology, chemistry and physics.

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