Frequently Asked Questions – GCSE Science

We’ve compiled a list of commonly asked questions about our decision to create a new GCSE Science Double Award to replace the existing range of science GCSEs.

If you can’t find the answers you’re looking for please email us: reform@qualificationswales.org.

Why has Qualifications Wales decided to create a new GCSE Science Double Award?

We have decided to create this new qualification for the following reasons:

  • A common path for all learners studying the Sciences at GCSE keeps more options open for more learners for longer. It gives everyone a chance to develop their interest and to excel in this important and exciting area.
  • A new and combined double award GCSE in the Sciences will give all learners a strong foundation in this field and a chance to progress on to further study or employment in related subjects.
  • An integrated qualification will keep a clear focus on the individual disciplines of Biology, Chemistry and Physics, while also helping learners to make connections and apply scientific thinking to some of the major challenges of our times, such as climate change, sustainability and improving our own health and wellbeing.
  • A double award in the Sciences will give more space for learners to study a broader and more balanced range of subjects, for example in Computer Science or Engineering, or in other curriculum areas.

What is the evidence behind the decision?

Early choices can limit options for some learners:

At present, around two-thirds of all learners in Wales take the GCSE Science Double Award, rather than three separate science GCSEs (based on entry data from 2018/19*). Many of these learners successfully progress onto AS and A-level courses and go on to become the medics, scientists, engineers, and environmentalists of the future.

The same data* shows that one in five secondary schools in Wales do not currently offer a choice to study three separate science GCSEs. This means that the choice of science GCSEs available to learners depends at least in part on where they live and which school they attend. 

The current GCSE science suite (which includes separate science GCSEs, a combined science double award, as well as a double award and single award applied science option) means learners must decide at the age of 13 which path to take. Sometimes a learner has a choice, sometimes the choice is made for them. These early decisions can give some learners the false idea that science is not for them.

Research in England by the University College of London shows that learners from more disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to take separate science GCSEs, whether or not their school offers the choice of doing so.

Impact on performance in Level 3 qualifications:

To consider the potential impact of our decision, we looked at outcomes for AS science qualifications using data from 2018/19*. This analysis shows that similar numbers of learners with high GCSE grades went on to achieve a grade A in AS science subjects, irrespective of whether they took the GCSE Science Double Award, or separate science GCSEs.

For example, of those taking WJEC AS Chemistry in schools in 2019, 45.3% of learners who achieved at least two A* grades in separate science GCSEs achieved an A grade in AS chemistry, compared to 60.0% of learners who had previously achieved A*A* in GCSE Science Double Award.

Of those taking WJEC AS Physics in schools in 2019, 53.3% of learners who achieved at least two A* grades in separate science GCSEs achieved an A grade in AS Physics, compared to 50.7% of learners who had previously achieved A*A* in GCSE Science Double Award.

This data suggests that replacing the existing suite of science GCSEs with a new GCSE double award is unlikely to hinder progression opportunities for learners in Wales.

* Source: internal Qualifications Wales analysis of WEDPLASC data from 2018/19. Due to changes to assessment arrangements during the Covid-19 pandemic, this is the most recent data available that enables these comparisons from GCSE to AS level.

What do science experts think?

Organisations such as the Royal Society of Biology, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Institute of Physics, all support a single route for science at GCSE. They argue that the current mix of GCSEs gives an illusion of choice, creates unequal opportunities and stops more learners from choosing to study science at a higher level.

Over the past year, we have continued to work with these organisations, as well as learners, teachers, sector experts, universities and employers to develop the proposed content and assessment arrangements for the new qualification.

We believe the proposals will support all learners to gain a firm grasp of scientific knowledge and skills that will help make the sciences accessible, relevant and exciting. The proposed new qualification would also offer those who go on to study science further a solid foundation for success.

We know our decision to introduce a common GCSE double award for the Sciences has divided opinions. That is why we are giving everyone a chance to comment on the design proposal for the new qualification in our consultation in Autumn 2022.

Do some degree courses require three separate science GCSEs?

It is a common myth that degrees such as Medicine, Pharmacology and Biomedical Sciences require a learner to have studied three separate science GCSEs. For example, the Oxford University admissions page specifies that there are no formal GCSE requirements for Medicine. However, universities differ when it comes to A level subject requirements for certain degrees related to science.

We have engaged with sector experts and teaching professionals on the design proposal for the new GCSE double award in the Sciences. We are confident the proposals for this new qualification will support learners to progress successfully into any science or science related field.

Do employers require three separate science GCSEs from candidates?

Employers not only look for academic qualifications but wider skills such as critical thinking, creativity and interpersonal skills from potential employees.

As the new GCSE Science Double Award allows for scientific thinking and problem solving on current issues employers face today (such as climate change and sustainability) learners can apply these skills, along with their academic credentials, to future employment.

Employers differ by academic qualification requirements, but the GCSE Science Double Award will not hinder learners for future study in science at A level, degree level and beyond.

Will the new GCSE Science Double Award be equivalent to two GCSEs?

In our current consultation, we propose that the specification for this qualification must include content that is deliverable within 240-280 guided learning hours. This is broadly equivalent to the size of two GCSEs. We will confirm the size of the GCSE following this consultation.

Will the new GCSE Science Double Award be the only science qualification available to learners?

As mentioned in our decisions report, we will explore with stakeholders which other smaller science qualifications may be needed for learners in Wales to take, in addition to the new GCSE in science. In early 2023, we will consult on proposals for which other qualifications should be available alongside GCSEs. This will include proposals for Entry Level and Level 1 qualifications in the sciences.

Based on feedback to the consultation on the proposed design of the new GCSE Science Double Award, we will consider the case for creating additional science qualifications at Level 2 that could supplement the new GCSE.

What will happen to the existing science GCSEs offered by schools and centres?

When the new GCSE Science Double Award qualification is introduced into schools in 2025, the current GCSE science qualifications will no longer be available to new learners. Those learners who have started one of these GCSEs will be able to finish their study and have the opportunity to resit units or assessments if needed.