Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
Image of Hilary Wilce

The Quandary - 06 Mar 2008

Does it matter if a pupil does a double science award at GCSE, instead of three separate sciences?

Hillary's Advice

This query comes from a parent currently looking at secondary schools for her son. She has no idea whether he will want to study science at A level, but is trying to keep his options open.

However the sad truth is that if he goes to a state secondary school he is likely to study the so-called double award, since less than a quarter now offer separate physics, biology and chemistry teaching. The double award programme covers all three sciences, but in less detail than studying the three subjects separately. Schools say that students who take it have no problem moving on to A level, but the award's standards have been criticised in the past by the Government's own curriculum watchdog, the QCA. In addition, recent changes to some GCSE science teaching have switched the focus away from content and towards debates about science-related issues, making GCSE science even more watered-down, at least according to some critics.

Yet the country's declining scientific base is such a problem that the Government has now said it wants schools to pool resources so that all pupils can be offered the chance to study three science GCSEs, and the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust is drawing up plans for 600 of its schools, specialising in science, technology and engineering, to reintroduce the separate sciences.

This might offer your son some hope of a more rigorous science education when he gets to this stage, although all schools will continue to find their hands tied by a chronic lack of good science teachers.