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ASE raises concerns for assessment of fieldwork in new A levels

20 January 2014

Ofqual consultation on New A level Regulatory Requirements

A response from the Outdoor Science Working Group (OSWG) of the Association for Science Education (ASE)                                                                                                                 

ASE in a response today to an Ofqual consultation raises concerns over practical work, and particularly fieldwork, in science. The Outdoor Science Working Group (OSWG) welcomes the recognition of the importance of practical work, including fieldwork, but does not support the proposal for the outcomes of practical work assessment to be reported by a separate certificate and not to contribute to the overall A level grade.

Marianne Cutler, ASE Director Curriculum Innovation and Chair of OSWG says in a statement:

"This proposal is unlikely to be successful in achieving the desired outcome in Ofqual’s statement that ‘this should mean that students will be taught a wider range of skills. Teachers will not feel under pressure to exaggerate or be over-generous in their assessment’. We are unaware of the evidence to support this statement and share the widely recognised concern that ‘unless the outcome of the assessment contributes to the overall grade, practical skills will not be taught, or taught well’. We anticipate that this will particularly be the case in those schools whose provision for practical work, including fieldwork, is already seen to be lacking. The disparity in existing provision has been highlighted in recent SCORE and Ofsted reports and we are concerned that this proposal will increase this disparity, further disadvantaging some students.   

"This proposal is different to the arrangement proposed for geography; that the outcome of the geography fieldwork assessment should be included in the final grade. We disagree with the conclusion that the range of practical skills in science are so different that they are unable to be assessed similarly through student-led non-exam assignments which take place over a period of time. For example, science and geography share similar needs for high-quality practical skills in data gathering and choice and use of appropriate equipment. We can see no justification for excluding such assessments from the final science grade. This is particularly true for biology fieldwork.

"We welcome the proposal that ‘exam boards should be required to set out in their assessment strategies how they will assess both practical skills and the related theoretical and conceptual understanding’ but recommend that Ofqual lead this process by providing guidelines, informed by research and best practice (including shared practice between science and geography fieldwork), to inform the development of assessment strategies by awarding organisations, and Ofqual’s decisions on whether qualifications have met the Condition of Recognition.

"The substantial work required to develop the above guidelines, informed by research and best practice, and to trial potential models of internal assessment of practical work, and fieldwork, strongly suggests that any introduction of the new A level regulatory requirements should be delayed until at least September 2016. This would synchronise the development and introduction of new GCSE and A level courses, as a desirable outcome."

OSWG will continue to provide further information and contribute to the research evidence for different assessment models of fieldwork in science.

Marianne Cutler, ASE Director Curriculum Innovation, Chair of OSWG For further information on ASE’s OSWG refer to

Supporting Information

Consultation on proposed A-level Regulatory Requirements SCORE’s response to the Ofqual consultation. 17 January 2014

Practical work must remain part of science A-levels, say experts The Guardian 17 January 2014