Frequently Asked Questions – GCSE Science

Since Welsh Government announced the new Curriculum for Wales, which aims to give learners more opportunities to succeed through a broad and balanced education, we knew we had to start a wider conversation on how qualifications for 14 to 16-year-olds should now look.

We wanted to speak to everyone who would be impacted by this – learners, teachers, parents and carers, employers, universities and the public. In our consultation, we set out our vision for future qualifications and asked what should happen to GCSEs, such as science, and the Skills Challenge Certificate.

After examining the feedback to our consultation and initial conversations with teachers and subject experts in science, we decided to create a new GCSE Science Double Award.

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, or you have a question not on the list below, please get in touch by emailing 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:

  • The new combined science GCSE will allow learners to progress in further study or employment in this field 
  • A single route for science at GCSE level for all learners in Wales provides more choice and opportunity to explore future opportunities  
  • The content for the qualification will be updated to reflect scientific issues of today
  • The new qualification will give learners a strong foundation in the individual disciplines of Biology, Chemistry and Physics. It will also require them to apply scientific thinking to the major challenges of our times such as climate change, sustainability and the rise of artificial intelligence.

Learners can be assured that the new combined science GCSE will be shaped by educational professionals and subject experts in this field, who will ultimately finalise what the new qualification will look like.

What is the evidence behind the decision?

According to data from 2018/19*, around two-thirds of all learners in Wales take the GCSE Science Double Award, rather than three separate science GCSEs, so we already know the majority of pupils in Wales study this type of qualification, progress onto A-level and become the medics, scientists, engineers, and environmentalists of the future.

Additionally, the same data* shows that a fifth of secondary schools in Wales do not offer three separate science GCSEs so pupils in Wales do not have equal opportunities to take the same type of science qualifications. Research was also conducted in England by the University College of London which showed that learners from more disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to take separate science GCSEs.

By offering different science GCSEs 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.

In addition, colleges, sixth forms and centres delivering level 3 qualifications in the sciences (e.g. A Levels in Biology, Chemistry and Physics) find that their cohorts are made up of learners who have completed different GCSE qualifications. This creates challenges in post-16 teaching which can result in poor learning experiences for students. This also has an impact on the attainment achieved by learners by the end of their level 3 courses.To summarise, data and evidence show that a new combined science GCSE can allow for equality among our learners in Wales and it won’t hinder them if they are to go on to further study or employment.

* Source: internal Qualifications Wales analysis of WEDPLASC data from 2018/19

What do science experts think about this decision?

When we introduced the idea of a combined GCSE in our formal consultation, we had a mixed response from a range of respondents, including those who are experts in science. Although 18% of respondents said they neither agreed nor disagreed with our decision or didn’t know, more respondents narrowly agreed with the decision than disagreed (42% to 40%).

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 going on to study science at a higher level.

We know that this decision has split opinions. This is why we are giving teachers, employers, universities and subject experts in science the opportunity to shape the content and assessment of this GCSE Science Double Award. By working collaboratively, the GCSE will give all learners a firm grasp of scientific knowledge and skills, making science more accessible, more relevant and more exciting for all learners.

Will learners be able to apply for certain degrees which 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, Oxford University specifies that there are no formal GCSE requirements for Medicine according to their admissions page. However, universities differ when it comes to A level subject requirements for certain degrees related to science.

So, by engaging with sector experts and teaching professionals on the new GCSE Science Double Award, we will work towards designing and developing a qualification which provides learners with the same - or better - progression opportunities than they do now.

Won’t employers in this sector 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 the rise in artificial intelligence), 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.

If the GCSE Science Double Award is created, which pupils will be the first to study this new qualification?

Those who are now in their last year of primary school (year 6) will be the first learners to experience the new curriculum. We recently announced the GCSE subjects that will be available to them when they turn 14.

So, although this may seem a long way away for learners in year 6 to think about GCSE subjects, it’s important for us to talk to those who are impacted by these changes so they can help shape their future education.

By consulting on these changes and finalising the qualification content sooner than later, teachers and centres have time to embed this as part of the curriculum and lesson planning.

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

While we said in our recent decisions report that the new GCSE Science qualification will be around the size of two GCSEs, the final size will be determined by what content and assessment is needed to ensure learners have the same -or better - progression opportunities to further and higher education as they do now.

We will keep you updated on the size of the new GCSE when this has been finalised.

Will the new GCSE Science Double Award be the only qualification for learners to take in science?

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.

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.

Will you be going out to further consultation about this?

We are currently talking to learners, teachers, sector experts, universities and employers about what the new GCSE Science Double Award will look like, drafting the content for the qualification as well as deciding how this will be assessed.

In Autumn 2022 we will carry out a public consultation on the look of this qualification, along with all the other qualifications we are currently designing, to give everyone the opportunity to provide feedback for consideration.

How will you keep people updated about GCSE science?

We will update this webpage with the most current information on GCSE science, as well as share timely updates on our social media channels. If you have a question specifically about GCSE science, please get in touch by emailing reform@qualificationswales.org