Chemistry chief challenges Ed Balls over standards using government's own sources

01 September 2010

The chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry has written to Ed Balls, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, challenging the latter's assertion that GCSEs have not become easier, by using evidence provided at tax-payers' expense by the Government's own educational quangos during the periods both before and after the General Election.

Richard Pike draws attention in his letter, to reports and statements issued by the two principal quasi-governmental organisations which engage with examining boards over enhancing science education in schools.

Dr Pike added, 'As a scientific charity serving the public interest, we will continue to challenge robustly statements made by decision-makers and opinion-formers which are not evidence-based, and in the extreme contradict completely the speaker's own independent sources'.




Dear Mr Balls




Following the recent announcement of this summer's national GCSE results for 16 year-olds, much of the media carried a quotation by you saying that 'claims that exams had got easier were complete and utter nonsense'. This contradicts government-funded assessments reported to the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) in 2009, during the period of the last Government, and also the most recent comments by the chief executive of the education regulator Ofqual, which reports to the new Department for Education (DfE).

In particular, last year's report entitled 'GCSE Science 2008 Examinations' by SCORE (Science Community Representing Education), which is funded 49% by the Government and where the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is a non-funding partner, identified papers with no underlying mathematics and questions requiring no knowledge of science, as well as non-compliance with the regulatory framework. This is available on SCORE's website and I attach a hard copy for reference.

Ofqual has declared that the science GCSE papers of both 2009 and 2010 were 'too easy', and has rejected all 36 of the new specifications (syllabuses) proposed by the examining boards to address this deficiency in the future curriculum and assessment system, with first examinations due in 2013. This is creating significant uncertainty in those schools planning to deliver GCSE science over a three-year period beginning this September.

The RSC has offered to help address this issue with relevant bodies but this initiative, drawing on our expertise and networks across the science sector, unfortunately, has not been taken up in any substantive way. 

The RSC has continued to campaign for greater rigour and transparency in school examinations, and addressing both examination standards and the relevance of the curriculum to the needs of universities and employers, remains a core activity for our organisation. We look forward to working with all stakeholders to achieve this for the benefit of the country.


Yours sincerely  


Richard Pike
Chief Executive
Royal Society of Chemistry

Related Links

Link icon SCORE report on science GCSEs
SCORE's report on the quality of 2008's science GCSE examinations

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