Aolok Kanwar Written evidence (EDU0069)


Introduction: Qualified as a science teacher through the Teach First route in 2012. I have worked in Yorkshire and Humber predominantly including Bradford, Rotherham, Doncaster, Scunthorpe, Worksop, Chesterfield and Sheffield. All of the schools that I have worked in, have high levels of PP, FSM and low levels of aspiration (many of the schools that I work in currently serve are ex-mining town communities).

Place of work: I currently work/teach for Outwood Grange Academies Trust (since 2015) as a Regional Director of Science and have oversight of 11 secondary science departments.

My reason for submitting evidence, is that I am firm believer in progression pathways for pupils from 11 to 18 and beyond and enabling through the science curriculum a variety of local employment opportunities in deficit careers (i.e., high vacancies). It is our civic duty in establishing schools at the centre of our ‘local labour workforce’ issues and building curriculums that enable this. However, in science the course content and dual GCSE options of separate and combined science does not empower young people to make an informed career choices into STEM. The reform of post-16 qualifications and the introduction of T Levels has been a positive step forward and I would welcome positively a reform of science curriculum.


The range and breadth of subjects covered in the 11-16 curriculum

How the school accountability system affects the 11-16 curriculum

  1. The breadth of subjects available within the 11-16 curriculum is substantial and has been simplified with the introduction of the 9-1 GCSE curriculum reforms[1].
  2. However, the simplification has led to a reduction in depth within certain subject areas due to the nature of the accountability measures at KS4 and the vigour of the governments EBacc policy[2].
  3. The impact of the KS4 accountability measures[3], has a direct consequence for the curriculum at KS3, whereby those subjects that have GCSE endpoint have a greater proportion of foundational KS3 curriculum time to enable pupils to be successful in their subsequent GCSE options.
  4. Government policy regarding numeracy and literacy[4] although agreeable as being the bedrock for the educational system in terms of accessibility to the curriculum and future employment has had drastic consequences for the breath of curriculum studied; the practical implications within schools is that it has become overemphasised within curriculum at both KS3 and KS4 and is compounded with the KS4 accountability measures.
  5. It is my view that it is absolutely unnecessary to double weight maths and English within the Attainment 8 and Progress 8 measures, as there is already an attainment in English and maths measure at grade 4+ and grade 5+. By removing the double weighting of maths and English in the Attainment 8 and Progress 8 measures it will redistribute the balance towards rewarding those schools that have a broader range and greater depth of curriculum, which is the raison d’etre for those measures.
  6. Yet even with this change, both Attainment 8 and Progress 8 accountability measures have not only narrowed the suite of subjects that schools are willing to allow pupils to study but also perversely limited the range and breadth of subjects that could be potentially studied by those pupils[5].
  7. Particularly, this is borne out of the EBacc policy being the main driver towards reducing the substantial breath of subjects available for pupils to study. Of the 8 subjects included within this measure, 6 of them automatically come from the ‘core EBacc pathway’, those being; English Language, English Literature (both must be studied and examined to ‘count’), Maths, 2 Sciences, 1 Humanity and 1 MFL. If pupils do not study these 6, they effectively penalise the school in any of the following performance measures, Attainment 8, Progress 8 and EBacc APS (this last measure being particularly important for MATs in their own league tables)[6].
  8. There is much to be championed in regards to both the EBacc drive and Progress 8 measure, yet a further improvement to the measure would be to extend the open bucket (only) to 5 subjects/slots, therefore creating an Attainment 10 and Progress 10 measure.
  9. The benefits of and Attainment 10 and Progress 10 measure would be an increased emphasis on enabling a pupil to have a broad and balanced curriculum and subsequently being rewarded. This measure would still emphasise the EBacc subjects still holding the greatest weight but less so at the detriment of non-EBacc subjects. This is possible due to the GLH of a standard GCSE course which is 120 hours[7].
  10. Excluding examinations in Y11, pupils from the start of Y10 (as a minimum) would have 65 weeks of schooling to ensure all GCSE content was being covered. This equates to at least 1625 hours of learning. In its entirely 10, Level 2 – GCSE equivalent subjects would require a minimum 1200 hours of learning, which would allow still allow between 6-7 hours per week of flexibility within curriculum time to ensure, delivering of statutory non-examined curriculum (including RSE, PSHCE and PE for example).
  11. To further enable curriculum flexibility, non-EBacc subjects (i.e., those now in the Open bucket of 5 slots) should not be penalised or discounted if entered early[8]. As there is no stipulation of when KS3 should end and when KS4 should begin, bar that KS3 should be covered adequately, schools should have the flexibility to adapt their curriculum pathways to ensure pupils have a broad and balanced that captures their interests and to be given motivational milestones (which early entry does allow).
  12. By enabling an Attainment 10 and Progress 10 to have early entry, pupils are able to have greater range of qualifications that would seek to broaden their options for Post 16 education.


The availability and attractiveness of technical and vocational options in the 11-16 phase

The effectiveness of GCSEs as a means of assessing the achievements of all pupils at the end of the 11-16 phase

Alternative methods of assessment for measuring progress that could be considered either alongside or instead of GCSEs

  1. One of the detrimental features of the new 9-1 GCSE reforms and the lack of options within certain (mainly EBacc) subject areas is that it has created a pupil cohort that experiences perpetual failure, i.e., not achieving a grade 4[9]. There is no availability of any alternative qualification or assessment method within the EBacc suite of subjects.
  2. Current pass rates (grade 4+) in the core subjects of English, maths and science means that at least 30-35% of pupils will not achieve the ‘basic’ educational standard, this sense of failure accentuates pupil’s aspirations. Further the lack of ‘success’ or accomplishment resonates when pupils feel there are no options in education beyond the 11-16 education.
  3. A potential solution, would be the introduction of a vocational, technical or functional skills qualification for those pupils that struggle with the rigour of 9-1 GCSE examinations (especially science, humanities and MFL). These qualifications would be capped at grade 4 as its equivalency, yet the language would be very much that of current technical/vocational qualifications within the open bucket, i.e. pass, merit, distinction and distinction* being the equivalent of grade 1-4 (hence designated Level 1).
  4. The qualifications would not exclude pupils studying the same curriculum content as their GCSE counterparts; however, it would be assessed differently, with controlled assessment, case studies, vocational analysis but would still retain an examined element albeit smaller. This would be very much in line with the vocational/technical qualifications at Level 3 (such as BTEC’s). The qualifications should also be included in all accountability measures, those being Attainment 10, Progress 10 and EBacc APS.


The range and breadth of subjects covered in the 11-16 curriculum

The effectiveness of the 11-16 curriculum in equipping young people with the skills they need to progress into post-16 education and employment in a future digital and green economy

  1. Due to the nature of EBacc, one of the fields that has suffered from a narrowing of its breadth and range is science. The subject area of science is vast and currently pupils have the dichotomous choice to study either separate sciences (3 GCSE’s) or combined sciences (2 GCSE’s)[10]. Although there are also a few non EBacc GCSE choices in Astronomy and Geology.
  2. Due to the importance of science in the economy and future employment, it should be a basic expectation that all pupils study Biology, Chemistry and Physics separately, however the current combined science course is (a) too content heavy to complete as 2 GCSE’s (b) de-emphasises the importance of each of the subjects into a ‘reductionist’ combined science course and (c) creates an unnecessary barrier to pupils that study combined science to those that study separate sciences when choosing potential post-16 educational choices (particularly in science)[11].
  3. Reform of science should be considered to enable progression into the new post-16 education framework, i.e., T Levels, A Levels and apprenticeships but also to re-evaluate the vastness of the science field and to recalibrate the wider subject area.
  4. Future core science GCSEs should enable all pupils to study elementary biology, chemistry and physics that would be awarded the equivalency of 2 GCSE’s much like Combined Science currently. However additionally all entries into the core, must complete an additional unit of science that covers the application of science, to enable gainful progression into post 16 education or employment.
  5. This additional unit (albeit compulsory) becomes a science pathway choice to the equivalency of 1 GCSE. These units could include; Further pure science (Biology, Chemistry and Physics) – much like separate science currently, Astronomy, Earth sciences, Green and environmental sciences, health sciences, technological sciences and natural history sciences.
  6. This flexibility in the additional unit, enables pupils to specialise into an area of science that can lead to distinct post-16 educational pathways or employment, or kindle an interest in the application of their science knowledge. Therefore, every pupil would be awarded 3 GCSEs within science.

30 April 2023








[6] Table 34