February 1, 2016 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin
I should start by saying that I detest coursework in all its forms (including controlled assessment). I say that as someone who benefited greatly from coursework through their own education. As a teacher however I have had a peek behind the curtain and all that was ever revealed to me was how contrived and corrupt the whole system was.
I start by saying that because, despite it being one of a LONG list of changes that I and my department have had to contend with this year, I am incredibly hopeful and enthusiastic about the changes made to the assessment of practical skills in A Level Science.
As a department we started planning for the new A Level specifications at the start of the academic year in 2014. It has however been a slow process to discover exactly how the new assessment of practical skills was going to take place. It is only since November 2015, two months AFTER starting to teach our new A Level specifications, that we began to see some clarification about how this new assessment regime would work.
We are now in the process of playing catch-up. To help the department with these changes I have completed the training prescribed by the exam boards, but most usefully I attended a session at the ASE national conference delivered by Catherine Witter, Lead Practical Adviser for AQA. This session formed the basis of the training I delivered to my department about the changes, the PowerPoint of which can be viewed below:
Some points I think are worth noting regarding the changes and the accompanying centre visits:
- The emphasis of the changes is very much on increasing the amount, quality and value of the practical work pupils complete at A Level. There should not be a need for centres to increase teacher work-load or admin work disproportionately. In fact, one pint stressed by Catherine Witter was that schools very much have ownership over how they track and record the progress of pupils. There is no one prescribed method.
- The CPAC pen portraits (which can be found in my resources folder here) are a useful tool in training teachers to recognise what constitutes a pass or fail for each CPAC strand.
- Not every pupil needs to be assessed during each practical for a particular practical. Judgements can be focuses on a select number of pupils, with the pupils changing each lesson.
- CPACs can be assessed in ANY practical, not just the 12 specified core practicals.
- There are no defined number of times a pupil has to demonstrate the ability to pass each CPAC strand.
- The monitoring visits are to ensure that teacher assessment is robust and consistent across the department. They are not a form of inspection. The tone that AQA have been using when discussing these visits is very much that these visits are more supportive and advisory than anything else. They want centres to deliver this assessment in the correct way and will be helping as much as they can to ensure that this happens.
As a department, we now have a lot of work to do to catch up with the changes that have been made. Here are some things we are going to be working on straight away:
- Training pupils about how the new practical endorsement is going to work for them.
- Ensure that all departments have the CPACs mapped out within the current schemes of work. All teachers should know which CPACs are being assessed in each practical.
- Design a faculty-wide template for pupil tracker sheets so that pupils know what progress they are making.
- Design easy-to-use sheets for teachers to assess pupils during practical sessions or look in to how this information can be recorded live electronically. All teachers in the school have use of an iPad so an electronic version may be best.
- Look at the AQA ‘what we are looking for’ information documents for each CPAC strand and identify any additions we would like to make in departments. This information will then be shared with all teachers to ensure consistency in assessment.
In the long-term we would like to develop materials beyond written documents to help train future staff members. We will aim to build a portfolio of videos and exemplar work to ensure that we build our expertise as a department and maintain consistency in the judgements made.
I am really looking forward to seeing how these new A Level specifications develop over the next couple of years. Practical work will truly be a core component of the course rather than a bolt-on when time allows!
All resources used in my training can be found in a shared Dropbox folder HERE. Thank you to AQA and Catherine Witter from whom most of these resources have come from.
If you are a Science teacher and you would like to share how your department have developed the delivery of the practical endorsement then please get in touch! It would be great to share more ideas across lots of different schools.