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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 August 2005, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Pattern of science study changing
science student
There has been a boom in students doing vocational courses
This year's exam results highlighted shifts in the study of science.

Fewer students were entered for the qualification most take - double award science, counting for two GCSEs.

It still had the bulk of the science entries, 494,450 - but that was 32,567 fewer than last year.

As highlighted by the Joint Council for Qualifications, some switched to the single subjects - biology, chemistry and physics - favoured by independent and selective schools.

Together, entries for those rose more than 7,500 to 162,518.

Vocational options

But the others opted either for the single award science GCSE - taken by 15,253 more this year (21%) and 89,348 in all.

Or they took vocational routes. There was a doubling of entries for the new Applied GCSE, which counts as two GCSEs, to 18,184.

The numbers taking the Intermediate GNVQ, which counts as four GCSEs, rose 58% to 10,995 even though that qualification is being phased out.

Almost all of those were in England. In fact entries in Northern Ireland halved - from 62 to 31.

But overall gains outweighed losses, and almost 3,500 more studied for science qualifications.

Making space

The general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, detected a "horses for courses" pattern.

The current system allows schools to ramp up their five A*-C GCSEs in a way which is not necessarily in the interests of the students or this country
David Hart
National Association of Head Teachers
"The reduction in double science suggests more of the brighter students are doing the single subjects - biology, chemistry and physics - but they tend to do them in about the same amount of time in the week.

"More of the less academically able students are moving to the single science award, usually to make space for more vocational studies."

The UK's science academy, the Royal Society, said a number of different scenarios might be be going on with the figures.

"We would be concerned if the decline in numbers taking double award science meant that fewer, able 14 to 16-year-olds were taking the equivalent of two GCSEs," a spokesman said.

"GCSEs are the feedstock into A-levels and further education. We cannot afford to be losing the potential of these students or shutting down their options to choose a career in science so early."

The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, David Hart, said the inclusion of Applied GCSEs in the league tables must be reviewed.

"The current system allows schools to ramp up their five A*-C GCSEs in a way which is not necessarily in the interests of the students or this country," he said.

GNVQs are important qualifications, but the current system encourages some schools to push children into them in order to achieve government targets
David Cameron
Conservative education spokesman
"The whole system by which GNVQs or Applied GCSEs are given a boost when it comes to the number of full GCSEs at grades A*-C needs to be reviewed."

Conservative education spokesman David Cameron said there was a need to ensure people could have confidence in league tables by ending "the bizarre situation" whereby one GNVQ counts as four GCSEs.

"GNVQs are important qualifications, but the current system encourages some schools to push children into them in order to achieve government targets. This is wrong."

Schools have found the science GNVQ appeals to lower-achieving students who are not attracted by more academic syllabuses.

3E's Enterprises, the commercial arm of Kingshurst City Technology College in Birmingham, runs an online GNVQ science course for other schools.

The top feature in its marketing is that it is equivalent to four GCSEs at A*-C grades - yet offers "quick, easy assessment".

SCIENCE OPTIONS
Entries last year change % +/-
DOUBLE AWARD
England 455,381 486,377 -30,996 -6
Wales 26,346 27,437 -1,091 -4
NI 12,723 13,203 -480 -4
total 494,450 527,017 -32,567 -6
SINGLE AWARD
England 74,834 59,418 15,416 26
Wales 5,246 5,016 230 5
NI 9,268 9,661 -393 -4
total 89,348 74,095 15,253 21
BIOLOGY
England 50,917 47,739 3,178 7
Wales 3,594 3,693 -99 -3
NI 2,011 1,957 54 3
total 56,522 53,389 3,133 6
CHEMISTRY
England 47,979 45,816 2,163 5
Wales 3,482 3,514 -32 -1
NI 1,967 1,895 72 4
total 53,428 51,225 2,203 4
PHYSICS
England 47,175 44,941 2,234 5
Wales 3,475 3,559 -84 -2
NI 1,918 1,904 14 1
total 52,568 50,404 2,164 4
APPLIED SCIENCE
England 17,394 8,692 8,702 100
Wales 739 186 553 297
NI 51 38 13 34
total 18,184 8,916 9,268 104
INTERMEDIATE GNVQ
England 10,931 6,859 4,072 59
Wales 33 30 3 10
NI 31 62 -31 -50
total 10,995 6,951 4,044 58
Source: Joint Council for Qualifications




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