If It Were Simple This Would Not Happen


How much time and money was wasted to achieve 43,500 remarks? This is because the complexity of the multi-board exam system makes standardisation nigh on impossible; let alone marking. If there were a single examining body for each subject and at GCSE Level at least just a single set of papers for each subject this would never happen.

The system has evolved into an outdated behemoth. It needs to be swept away route and branch.


For those who think I am exaggerating when I say the GCSE system in this country is absolutely ridiculous in its complexity and inconsistency I thought I would try and give a brief flavour. I chose GCSE Biology. Even I was surprised.

I looked at some Specifications from the three major examination Boards, AQA, Edexcel and OCR. You can’t say syllabus anymore because that would imply definitive content. I should emphasise that the situation is not their fault; they are simply doing what the political parties do – creating difference for the sake of difference. A selling job; do mine please – there’s money in it. I have only reproduced a tiny part to give an idea and prevent people from leaping from high buildings. Read it if you dare.


Overview from the Biology Specification (4401)

GCSE Biology is one of five related GCSE specifications that allow biology, chemistry and physics to be taught separately with a pure science approach. We also offer two GCSE specifications that are integrated and which put the scientific content into everyday contexts. Our GCSE suite is:

  • Science A
  • Science B
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Additional Science
  • Additional Applied Science.

Each qualification is a single GCSE award, and progression routes are flexible. Science A could be followed by Additional Science, or equally by Additional Applied Science. Similarly, Science B could lead to either Additional Science or Additional Applied Science. Our separate science GCSEs have common units with Science A and Additional Science, enabling co-teaching following single, double or triple science routes. This also facilitates a compressed KS3, followed by the teaching of separate science GCSEs over three years.


Please check the current version of Entry Procedures and Codes for up-to-date entry procedures. You should use the following entry codes for the units and for certification.

  • Unit 1 – BL1FP or BL1HP
  • Unit 2 – BL2FP or BL2HP
  • Unit 3 – BL3FP or BL3HP
  • Unit 4 – BL4P
  • GCSE certification – 4401

Candidates have to enter all the assessment units at the end of the course, at the same time as they enter for the subject award. Please note that entries are not allowed in the same examination series for the following combination of GCSE certifications:

  • GCSE Science A (Route 1) and GCSE Biology
  • GCSE Additional Science and GCSE Biology.


It was so complicated that I gave up trying to find a GCSE Biology Specification – I lost my will to live. Below is a GCSE summary from the website to give you a flavour.

GCSEs (General Certificates of Secondary Education) are usually taken at school-leaving age after two years’ study, but are available to students of any age. They are normally assessed by a mixture of internal assessment (coursework) and exams.

In 2009, a new suite of GCSEs for the non-core subjects was developed.

In 2010, there were new specifications for the core subjects of English, maths and ICTwhen functional skills was incorporated.

In 2011, Science was revised.

In September 2012, all GCSEs were revised and made linear. Find out more here.

In September 2013 there were new GCSE specifications for Computer ScienceHistory A and History B.

In September 2015, there are new GCSE specifications for English LanguageEnglish Literature and Mathematics.


The OCR Biology options are:

  • Gateway Science Suite – Biology B – J263 (from 2011)
  • Gateway Science Suite – Biology B – J263 (from 2012)
  • Twenty First Century Science Suite – Biology A – J243 (from 2011)
  • Twenty First Century Science Suite – Biology A – J243 (from 2012)

I picked – Twenty First Century Science Suite – Biology A – J243 (from 2012)

The associated documents for this single Specification are below

  • (3) Key documents
    • Controlled Assessment re-sit opportunities
    • GCSE science – The move to linear specifications (PDF, 619KB)
    • Specification (PDF, 2MB)
  • (9) Assessment materials
    • Unit A161/01 – Biology modules B1, B2, B3 – Foundation – Accredited (PDF, 472KB)
    • Unit A161/02 – Biology modules B1, B2, B3 – Higher – Accredited (PDF, 452KB)
    • Unit A162/01 – Biology modules B4, B5, B6 – Foundation – Accredited (PDF, 146KB)
    • Unit A162/02 – Biology modules B4, B5, B6 – Higher – Accredited (PDF, 432KB)
    • Unit A163/01 – Biology modules B7 – Foundation – Accredited (PDF, 325KB)
    • Unit A163/02 – Biology modules B7 – Higher – Accredited (PDF, 320KB)
    • Unit A164 and A154 – Biology controlled assessment – Information for candidates 1 – Accredited (PDF, 30KB)
    • Unit A164 and A154 – Biology controlled assessment – Information for candidates 2 – Accredited (PDF, 37KB)
    • Unit A164 and A154 – Biology controlled assessment – Information for teachers – Accredited (PDF, 36KB)

An excerpt from the Specification – it is 112 pages long – I particularly like the final two sentences of this summary (in bold italic below)

Science suite

The Twenty First Century Science suite comprises five specifications which share a similar approach to teaching and learning, utilise common materials, use a consistent style of examination questions and have a common approach to skills assessment.

The qualifications available as part of this suite are:

  • • GCSE Science A
  • • GCSE Additional Science A
  • • GCSE Biology A
  • • GCSE Chemistry A
  • • GCSE Physics A.

GCSE Science A (J241) which emphasises scientific literacy – the knowledge and understanding which candidates need to engage, as informed citizens, with sciencebased issues. As with other courses in the suite, this qualification uses contemporary, relevant contexts of interest to candidates, which can be approached through a range of teaching and learning activities.

GCSE Additional Science A (J242)

which is a concept-led course developed to meet the needs of candidates seeking a deeper understanding of basic scientific ideas. The course focuses on scientific explanations and models, and gives candidates an insight into how scientists develop scientific understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit.

GCSE Biology A (J243) each of which provides an opportunity for further developing an understanding of science explanations, how science works and the study of elements of applied science, with particular relevance to professional scientists.

GCSE Chemistry A(J244)

GCSE Physics A (J245)

The suite emphasises explanations, theories and modelling in science along with the implications of science for society. Strong emphasis is placed on the active involvement of candidates in the learning process and each specification encourages a wide range of teaching and learning activities. The suite is supported by the Nuffield Foundation Curriculum Programme and The University of York Science Education Group, and by resources published by Oxford University Press. In addition, an Additional Applied Science course (J251) is available. This can be used in conjunction with Science A as an alternative route to two science GCSEs, for candidates not following GCSE Additional Science A.

Teachers v’s Firemen. Darts or Snooker?

Fireman beware, the teachers are coming. David Cameron’s new National Teaching Service plans to, “…create a central pool of talented teachers, with support and training, who could be deployed where they were most needed.” Teachers really could brush up their skills while waiting to be ‘deployed’.


What political nonsense; as ever in the run up to an election. What the system needs is simplification and robust organisation, not new short-termist gimmicks. If we spent less money on complex, witch-hunting inspectorates there would be more to spend on quality teacher training. If we were to slash the endless bureaucracy associated with the profession we could pay teachers a proper wage, encourage good quality new recruits and leave teachers to actually teach. That quality would filter down and the system would improve root and branch.

Just not Politic enough.

Schools ‘must do more’ to help disadvantaged pupils – Are they presently not trying??


Schools and teachers are not to blame for social immobility, disadvantage and poverty. This is a grass roots social problem, so blame can really only be apportioned in one direction – towards the Government; past, present and future.

There is an implication here that schools and teachers carry a bias. Teachers want to teach and they want ALL their pupils to succeed regardless of their social status. The suggestion that they can and should ‘do more’ for those with less is insulting to the profession.

The government needs to cut the red tape, unify the system and support teachers better instead of always making them the scapegoats for problems which are totally unconnected to the classroom.

GCSEs should be overhauled – AT LAST SOME SENSE!


Has somebody with the power to change our uselsess Secondary Examination system finally come to their senses?

Sir Michael Wilshaw is talking sense. But let’s not just overhaul useless GCSEs, let’s scrap them completely and install a challenging, relevant examination regime with a single qualification for each subject. Let’s do away with the nonsense of multiple exam boards at the same time – PLEASE.

We need to do this NOW so that we have a stable system moving forwards. Perpetual change is also very damaging to students and teachers alike.

Delimiting University Numbers is Madness


Why does the government want to fill the nation with undergraduates? Nonsense politicising AGAIN. “removing the cap on aspiration”. What utter nonsense from the Department of Education and Skills in the run up to an election.

Who’s going to pay? We’ll be creating a graduate population with crippling debt and questionable qualifications. Let’s not forget that students don’t feature on unemployment figures. The government knows that private providers can already smell the money. Very convenient that it makes them look good and costs them little.

Short-termist nonsense from government as ever.

Does nobody in these departments ever start a meeting by considering what would be best for these human beings who they are pushing to becoming undergraduates? Vocational training perhaps? Employment?

Finding a Tradesman that knows their Trade

Following some minor building works at our offices in London it became clear to me just how difficult it is to find decent tradespeople. We were repeatedly let down and we also encountered some extremely poor quality workmanship. Apologies for the stereotyping but the best tradesman / builders (by far) were Polish.

I have had a very similar experience domestically over the past few years, as have friends and family.

Why are we not producing good tradespeople and how do we know if somebody knows what they’re doing? After all, you need no formal qualification to describe yourself as a ‘builder’.

What we need is proper training in schools leading to an actual qualification that demonstrates competence. Students could leave school at 18 with a provable skill which could be checked. This should begin in compulsory education and would help people into work where they could gain further experience on the tools.

Let’s stop pretending everybody is an academic and start properly training people in the trades. We are getting left behind.