Views across the higher education threshold: an
Transcript Views across the higher education threshold: an
Views across the higher education
threshold: an initiative from
Dr Jane Saffell
Division of Cell & Molecular Biology
Department of Life Sciences
What on earth should we expect our students to
know, and be able to do, when they come to us?
We can’t assume we know. It’s been a long time
since we were in the sixth form! We are
increasingly out of touch.
How can we find out?
Conference for Imperial Biochemistry lecturers &
Biology, Chemistry & Maths teachers (both A-level
and IB) from different types of school.
Aim: to foster discussion between lecturers and
teachers on our respective curricula and the schooluniversity transition, to inform our teaching and
enhance student learning.
Funded by a ~3K Imperial College Teaching Development
Grant awarded to Jane Saffell & John Tippins (DUGS):
“Biochemistry curriculum development: fostering dialogue
between school & university teachers.”
[Collaborators Dr Mahendra Deonarain (Biochemistry Admissions Tutor),
Dr Linda Giorgi (Life Sciences Examinations Officer), James Andrewes
(Life Sciences Teaching Office Manager), Marcus Henegan (Admissions].
•47 schools –
(Personal contact, Admissions contact, Outreach)
•47 Biochemistry academic staff
•Few others from Imperial –
Lecturers from other disciplines, CED, Outreach
Aiming for 30-40 people in total
Small enough for meaningful discussion.
Focus: Biochemistry degree
Biology, Chemistry, Maths A-level and IB
Breakdown of attendees (42)
ICT Learning support)
(Institute of Education)
Darford Boys’ Grammar School (speakers)
Edmonton County School
Greenford High School
Greenshaw High School, Surrey (speaker)
Maidstone Girls’ Grammar School (speaker)
Newstead Wood School for Girls
North London Collegiate School for Girls (speakers)
Richmond-upon-Thames College (speaker)
Seven Kings High School, Ilford
Slough Grammar School
Large Common Room on 7th floor of Biochemistry building
M & S lunch, lots of tea and coffee, end with drinks reception
Reimbursed teachers’ travel expenses
Packs – contained
•Attendance list (with e-mail)
•Sheet on “IB to UG Biochemistry transition” by 3rd year UG
•Admissions info sheet on Biology, Biochemistry & Biotech
•Admissions flyers on “Life Sciences Taster Day” & “Diagnosis
of an unknown disease” one-day course for school pupils.
•Imperial College bag
Programme Scaffold of talks as a stimulus
Overview of Biochemistry degree first year curriculum (DUGS)
Transition from sixth-form to university (Teacher)
Overview of A-level and IB structure (2 teachers)
GCSE Science curriculum – impact of changes (teacher)
Biology A-level (teacher)
Biology IB (teacher)
Maths A-level (teacher)
Maths IB (teacher)
Chemistry A-level (teacher)
Chemistry IB (teacher)
Biochemistry admissions perspective (Admissions Tutor)
Guide for what teachers might like to
include in their curriculum talks:
•Brief background and intro to your school
•Curriculum content of each module
•An indication of which are core and which optional
•How learning is assessed (e.g. typical exam
question, coursework-exam weighting)
•How much practical work is done*
•How much biochemistry is included*
•Variation between exam boards
•Your perspective/opinion in the context of your
school or experience
How did it go?!
Lots of very animated discussion – everyone highly engaged –
ran out of time
Students’ perspective was very helpful
We all learned a great deal and found it very useful
Full and frank exchange of views
Strong sense of shared purpose – unity – sense of professional
engagement between teachers & lecturers
“…we share a lot of the same
DUGS perspective started the ball rolling
(provoked animated discussion!)
•Spoon-feeding at school does not prepare students for self-reliance
expected at university
•Students seem to be here to pass exams rather than to learn
•Students come expecting a fast-food diet, want to be continually
•We want to understand what it is about school teaching that illequips students for university
Summary of themes
1. Government targets affect the way subjects are taught
•Schools are assessed on exam passes, not how well-prepared
students are for university (e.g. strategic on double vs
triple science options)
•Independent school teachers put under intense pressure
•Teachers feel they are not trusted
•Seems to be little dialogue between schools, universities and
government on school curricula
•How much influence do universities have on school science curriculum
content???? (We don’t know).
2. Student expectation of teaching mismatched with
•Independent learning expected at university
•Students are allowed to fail – no continual assessment safety net.
3. The new GCSE science curriculum is problematic
[***Important as we don’t require A-level Biology***]
•Core (first tier) too general and superficial
(gene therapy, GMOs, stem cells, climate change, recycling,
cloning, designer babies.)
•Designed to attract more into science, but ‘turns off’ interested
pupils – students bored by repetition
•Too little time for the extension topics (third tier)
•Human biology/physiology missing (no heart, kidney, liver,
•Pupils not as well prepared for A-level or university bioscience.
•Teachers expecting it to change back in 2011!
4. Content of A-level & IB Biology is enormous
*Overlaps with our first year (IB Biology)
*Surface understanding only
*Little time to teach wider skills/application
*Practicals less challenging/useful?
*Assessments at A-level and IB give little incentive for
acquiring/practising essay-writing skills, essential for our
*IB extended essay helps.
6. Students compartmentalise learning – basic
*Means are Maths, essays are English or History
*Basic Maths skills from KS3/4 cannot be applied e.g.
7. Differences between IB/A-level & exam boards
•Even teachers were surprised at the differences for A-level,
and interested to hear about IB.
•A-level modular, module exams, retake culture
•IB still have terminal exams.
“…it was very useful to hear more from
the schools perspective [on school-uni
transition]. It does seem that the nub of
the problem is the assessment, not the
Dr John Marks
Dartford Grammar School
IB Curriculum model
Standard & Higher
• 3 subjects at Higher, 3 at group 2
• Higher Level is broadly
similar in standard to A2
• Standard level is rated at
2/3 of A2 by UCAS
• Higher level required to be
taught for 240 hours,
Standard level for 150
1 to 7 scale in each subject HL & SL
24 points pass
42 points possible in subjects + 3
35 points - level usually required by UK universities for Medicine
Top 10 % worldwide achieved 37+
Level 7s are world class
No grade inflation
View of a Biochemistry UG who took IB
“I am currently a third year biochemistry undergraduate, who came to
Imperial from Sevenoaks School having done the IB. I studied Biology,
Chemistry and Economics higher level and English,
Russian and Maths Methods at Standard Level. ”
“With respect to how the Imperial Biochemistry course is structured, the IB
provided a very solid foundation.”
Feedback from attendees
Was the day worthwhile? What were the most and least valuable
aspects for you?
“Yes. Most valuable to make contact
with Imperial College and hopefully
develop more linked activities in
future. Least valuable – maths
(purely because I am a biology
“Yes. Useful to meet
academics to see what they
are looking for. Also to learn
more about IB.”
“Very much so. It was particularly useful to
me to hear (a) what is being taught at GCSE
and A-level and (b) what issues concern
teachers about the transition to universities.”
“Excellent day – great to hear I concur
with the views of other teachers.
Opportunity to sing about the IB.”
“Yes. Admissions. Skills
“Yes. It was useful to have an update
on GCSE changes, and my prior
knowledge of IB was microscopic.
Good to have both ‘sides’ realise that
they both want the same thing and
despair of political interference.”
“The day was very useful. It has
been helpful to get a better idea of
the school syllabus and the issues
they face. Also a good networking
Imperial – science/maths lecturer
Imperial - other
Would you join a teachers-lecturers network if we set one
up? What would you use it for?
“Yes. Sharing problems
-Trying to influence
“Yes. Access for
teachers/students to more
info/experience of what
biochemistry is like at uni.”
“Yes. Keep in touch with
curriculum development in uni
•Develop AS/A2 lessons with
“Yes. Keep updated with specification
-Opportunities for outreach activities.
-In the other direction, useful to let
teachers know what we’re doing so that
they could help students in school prepare
for, e.g. essays.”
not a very good
“Yes. To share ideas.”
Imperial – science/maths lecturer
Imperial - other
If we were to hold another teachers-lecturers conference,
what topics would you like to see discussed?
“What would universities like in new
•Bring school students to discuss
what they would like to be taught
(at school and university).”
“More detail on progression from
A-level → degree content.”
•How do we get more
pupils in science.”
“Biology/BMS specific conference would
•Input from DCSF (I love the way
‘education’ has been removed from the
title of this department) might be useful.
I can provide a stocks and rotten fruit.”
“Specific ways to make
a smoother school-touniversity transition –
both in schools and at
“Ideas for using in the classroom –
related to specification (case studies!)”
“Perhaps bring a
government rep along?”
“Opportunities for smaller group discussions would be helpful”.
Imperial – science/maths lecturer
Imperial - other
New connections/activities generated by the conference
•Contact with AQA regarding possible involvement in GCSE science
curriculum revision (via teacher who attended) :
“The revision of GCSE Sciences is at a very early stage. However AQA
certainly intends to consult widely with teachers and lecturers to ensure that our
revised specifications meet their needs. I anticipate that this will be in the Autumn,
and I’ll get in touch then about how your contacts can feed into this process.” Anne
•Invitation to Chair science teachers/lecturers joint session at FEBS
meeting, Sweden, 2010
•Request to help a school design ‘research skills for biology’ element of
new Extended Project Qualification.
•Plans to start the University Ambassadors Scheme in Biochemistry and
•Teacher came to shadow Imperial biochemistry researchers
•Follow up research “Views across the threshold: perspectives of schooluniversity transition” – discussion with sixth-formers, Biochem UGs,
teachers, lecturers. (JLS)
Where do we go from here?
Follow-up, subject specific teacher-lecturer meetings?
College-wide? Or small, specific, department-based
Reconfigure first-year curriculum
Front-load with 6-8 weeks of skills training & learning to learn?
How do we make space?
Reconsider Admissions requirements
Make A-level Biology a requirement?
Compulsory on-line Maths competency test before registration?
Help teachers design modules to aid school-university transition
Identify key difficulties encountered by students
Write short document to distribute? Meet with teachers?
Use the network
Talks in schools (including with teachers)
Start shadowing exchange scheme?
How can universities become involved with school curriculumsetting/exam boards?