Tracking progress in GCSE science

Effective tracking of pupils’ progress in Key Stage 4 science can provide pupils, parents, teachers and school leadership teams with an understanding of strengths and weaknesses in attainment to support progress. It also helps to support consistency in assessment procedures across the department, so that there is clarity of expectations for pupils and effective curricular target setting in science.

Pupils make better progress in science when:

  • approaches to planning and teaching are based on progress in the key concepts and processes;
  • pupils’ learning is tracked and assessed systematically, with timely use of intervention to improve attainment;
  • pupils receive feedback that provides clear evaluation of strengths and weaknesses, prompts reflection, and identifies the next steps in their learning.

The tracking of progress informs intervention, so that the effective progress of all pupils is supported as well as the needs of groups at risk of underperforming being addressed. This will support the curriculum team in becoming more evaluative.

The challenges facing subject leaders to support better progress in GCSE science include the following:

  • as there are no more than four assessment units per GCSE course, the frequency at which external assessment data is received is limited;
  • furthermore, as at least 40 per cent of marks are allocated at the end of the course, this evidence is not available to inform tracking during the course;
  • teachers apply grade criteria to evaluate the quality of pupils’ work in terms of likely outcomes and recognise, for example, what a grade C response looks like;
  • tracking data based on pupil performance across all three assessment objectives reflects the processes involved in science and is not entirely based on knowledge and understanding;
  • tracking data limited to the outcomes of objective tests may conceal pupils’ inability to generate extended answers.

Strategies to develop to support better progress:

  • providing a range of internal assessment opportunities which require all pupils to respond in a variety of ways will help to provide regular feedback on their progress
  • supporting departmental staff to develop their awareness of the assessment objectives and grade criteria will enable them to judge progress being made
  • supporting departmental staff to be able to identify specific challenges and opportunities to enable pupils to make the next steps in learning.

Activities which might support effective tracking of progress include:

  • Analysing pupil responses in assessments to identify the strengths and areas for development of individual students. It would be useful to explore whether issues are related to How science works (HSW) (either Developing effective scientific practical and enquiry skills at GCSE or Developing explanations, argument and decisions in science), exam technique including Extended written answers in science examinations, Overcoming weaknesses in GCSE science or Developing extended writing skills for GCSE science. Analysis could be used to identify pupil curricular targets, so that pupils know what they need to do to improve. Consider how these will be shared with pupils, so they know how to improve, and with parents and carers, so that they can offer support.
  • Identified common areas for development can be used to modify existing teaching and learning sequences.
  • Where classes are taught by more than one member of staff the relative progress of the pupil in each of the classes could be analysed. Systems to encourage shared intelligence and a collective accountability for pupils’ overall grades may inform joint planning to address areas of weakness.
  • Effective assessment for learning, including diagnostic analysis of the evidence from day to day assessment, can inform specific interventions for individuals or groups of pupils at risk of underachievement. These might include guided learning or targeted revision support.
  • Whole teaching sequences, topic areas and specific interventions in individual GCSE courses can be evaluated to measure the impact on pupils’ learning. If you carrying out this activity, consideration will need to be given to what data will be collected to evidence this.

Materials which might support effective tracking include: