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The Education Minister John O'Dowd from the Department for Education in Northern Ireland announced on Monday 8th September their intention to retain the link between practical work in science subjects and the overall A level grade.

The Minister said "I have since taken advice from a wide range of experts in the field and it is clear there is much support for the continuation of practical assessments as a critical part of the enjoyment of learning and applying science. Practical work and techniques are an integral part of science and as well as tasking CCEA to improve how science experiments are assessed, I have decided that they should continue to contribute to the overall mark in A levels."

The Minister states that he had based the decision on advice from the Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) review of GCSE and A levels along with other experts in the field. This move shows that in Northern Ireland practical work is deemed to be an integral part of science A levels.

In April 2014, Ofqual announced the implementation of a pass/fail grade for practical work in England and Wales, separate to the final A level grade. SCORE, of which the Society of Biology is a core member, publically stated concerns that by separating the practical assessment in science A levels it is downgrading its status. Science is inherently a practical discipline and students must be able to demonstrate practical skills.

In the new specifications within England and Wales there will be 12 core practicals which students must complete. The concern is that these will be the only pieces of practical work that will be completed and further investigative opportunities will be limited.

Professor Julia Buckingham the Chair of SCORE states "With schools having a very narrow accountability framework, another unintended but serious consequence of this reform is that schools may reduce the opportunities for students to do practical work if the separate mark for practical work is viewed as less important than the A level grade used on UCAS forms"

Students will receive a pass or fail for their practical skills and the practical theory is assessed within the final exam, it is yet to be established how the pass/fail grade will be used going forward onto university. The Society of Biology are fully in support of the decision to continue to have the assessment of practical work contributing to the final A level grade in Northern Ireland as we believe that practical work is an integral part of all science A levels.