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Ofqual science reforms will mean more classroom freedom

Ofqual reforms to GCSE and A-Level science curriculums will encourage combining theoretical and practical lessons in the lab

Posted by Dave Higgitt | March 03, 2015 | Interiors

Despite criticism suggesting these changes could signal the end of practical science lessons, Glenys Stacey, Chief Executive of Ofqual, the exam and qualification regulatory board, has reiterated that these changes are being implemented to reignite a love of practical science within GCSE and A-Level students. The reform is intended to offer students access to an increased variety of different practical science lessons, and develop their own pursuits of knowledge.

Ofqual has grown concerned that the limited number of science experiments which are repeatedly taught throughout high school and college science lessons could be deterring students from independent thinking and genuine understanding of the science behind the results. The regulatory body hopes these changes to the curriculum will prepare students who are considering pursuing science into further education to adapt more quickly to undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

Practical and theoretical learning

Just a year ago, Ofqual implemented another radical change to A-Level science lessons with the inclusion of a written assessment of practical science knowledge. This combination of practical and theoretical learning methods can help students achieve a more comprehensive knowledge of scientific principles. The success of the first year of the A-Level written assessment has led to Ofqual proposing similar changes come into effect for GCSE curriculums.

This theoretical learning is not being introduced at the expense of practical experiments, with Ofqual proposing an increase in the total number of practical lessons across GCSE and A-Level classes. The body is looking to double the number of practical experiments carried out by A-Level students while increasing the number of GCSE science experiments from an average of six to 16.

This demonstrates a desire for a closer, more harmonious relationship between practical and theoretical learning in the science laboratory.

Supportive learning environment

The increased emphasis on combining practical and theoretical learning in GCSE and A-Level science laboratories can benefit significantly from an intelligently-designed learning environment which supports both disciplines. Adapting school laboratories to support the Ofqual changes to the high school and college curriculum can help students increase their understanding of scientific practicals and apply this knowledge to other areas of science.

Utilising the available space efficiently is vital for schools; the modern school science laboratory should be effectively used for both practical and theoretical learning – rather than creating separate learning environments for each.

Creating a classroom that can adapt easily from a space for practical experimentation to a theoretical learning environment can help students combine elements of understanding from both disciplines. Commercial interiors specialist Innova Design Solutions explain: “Ultimately, science laboratories should be designed in a manner that allows teachers to experiment with different teaching practises as we see a steady progression to more participatory learning methods.”

The intelligent school science laboratory makes it possible to complete both practical and theoretical learning within the same one-hour lesson.

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