18% for 'good' GCSE chemistry pass

06 February 2009

Last year some GCSE chemistry pupils got the equivalent of a "good" GCSE with a mark of just 18% in one particular paper, a document published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has revealed. 

All other papers, said RSC chief executive Richard Pike, had a higher grade C threshold, but one "rogue" paper, affecting thousands of pupils, nevertheless suggests a major flaw within the educational system.

Dr Pike added: "This finding raises important quality assurance issues on the links between the curriculum, how it is taught, how pupils learn and are motivated, and how they are assessed.

"There is the major risk of mixed messages. Some hardworking pupils with good teachers are disillusioned through being able to answer correctly less than one-fifth of the questions, but are being told they have done well. 

"Employers query, justifiably, the value of a nationally significant qualification when it may imply competence in only a small part of the curriculum."

The summary document analyses the results from chemistry GCSE papers set in summer 2008 under a revised syllabus, and covers a range of awarding bodies.

Richard Pike added: "The best pupils are world-class, but a number of 16-year-olds are not served well by the overall system. These results challenge the goal of a technically literate society, driving towards the knowledge economy.

"Rather, they highlight the need to cut through the hubris and tackle the practicalities of science education in the classroom. There has been recent feedback from the wider educational sector that this, indeed, is the way ahead, and we look forward to working collaboratively on this."

The finding should provide added impetus to the Government's initiative to strengthen the examination system through the setting up of Ofqual.

"The solution is better-designed examination papers and better-constructed examinations that test the complete range of skills, enable pupils to show what they can do rather than can't, and stretch the most able. 

"We need to raise our game: more investment in school facilities, increasing the number qualified scientists in teaching and supporting those that are working hard with young people in schools. And on top of this we must raise the quality of our examination system. 

"We stand ready to help Government in any way we can."

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