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.

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.

Academy regulation ‘too weak’


Unfortunately this is what can happen when you give these schools free reign with their budgets and accounting. The system for non academies where local authorities award funds after consultation creates checks and balances. That system is not perfect, but at least it is fair. In a local authority containing a mixture of academies and local authority run schools funding is not balanced, with academies getting greater sums of money. This system leads to the elitism that the original ethos of academies – to help struggling schools – was designed to prevent.

Top GCSE grade to be given to just 3% in English and maths


Just read the table below and wonder at how this is going to pan out. Everybody will be totally confused from students through to employers and universities. Why can’t the government just admit that terrible mistakes have been made and rectify them. A* always was an idiotic idea – basically an admission that exams are too easy. And exams ARE too easy. Does anyone at the D of E understand what the terms ‘Examination’ and ‘Testing’ literally mean? Go back to A-E grades that everybody understands and make the exams hard. Surprise, surprise, only the top students will get top marks.

“The new approach will also mean:

  • Broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a Grade 7 or above as currently achieve an A and A*
  • For each examination, the top 20% of those who get Grade 7 or above will get a Grade 9
  • The bottom of Grade 1 will be aligned with the bottom of Grade G”

Ofsted warning over provision for school leavers


We need PROPER vocational skills taught in schools alongside core subjects. Help the less academic gain vocational skills whilst still having the opportunity to study mainstream academic subjects.

Improve Compulsory Education for Future Generations

We are being left behind by the rest of the world because our compulsory secondary education system is confused, complicated and not testing enough.

Standards have been dropping year upon year for decades, reflected in higher and higher ‘pass’ rates and a greater quantity of ‘top’ marks. Look at the attached Graph. O Level & GCSE Achievement 1953 -2009

(Source: House of Commons Library – Standard Note SN/SG/4252 – Social & General Statistics)

This lowering of standards has fed right through to Higher Education. Top Universities are finding that freshers do not possess the knowledge which their high marks should reflect. Mathematically heavy subjects are particularly badly effected. Engineering Undergraduates at top Universities often have to have extra lessons in Mathematics because their assumed and necessary knowledge of Mathematics is just not there.

This is because we have dumbed down our examinations.

There needs to be a revolution in the examination system and it needs to happen NOW.

Through Kensington & Chelsea Tutors I come across students from all over the world. I have been consistently shocked by how we are being left behind by other nations, particularly in the 11 – 16 age range. The difference is particularly noticable in Mathematics and Science where students abroad are tackling far more testing material than students of the same age in the UK.

Unless this changes the future looks bleak; we need reform to keep the UK competitive.