The Science of Science

November 17, 2017
By: Emma Maltby, Data Consultant

Confused about Science? There’s a strong chance you are not alone! I’ve had many discussions with schools recently in relation to the reformed Science qualifications, which affect all current cohorts.

What’s changed?

As part of the Government’s introduction of tougher and more challenging linear GCSEs, new specifications for Science came into effect in September 2016. As the content is dictated by the Government there will, to a certain extent, be a lot of similarity between exam boards and indeed specifications from the same board.
There is no longer a single combined science option now – farewell Core and Additional Science! They are replaced by a Combined Science qualification worth two GCSEs (double award). Separate sciences continue to be an option as always, with 9-1 grades.

It doesn’t help that the most common course for the new Combined Science qualification is AQA’s ‘Trilogy’ (QN 601/8758/X). As Trilogy means ‘a group of three things’, you could be quite easily forgiven for thinking this may comprise of three sciences. AQA also offers ‘Synergy’ (QN 601/8760/8), OCR offers ‘Gateway A’ (601/8687/2) and ‘21st Century B’ (601/8690/2), whilst Edexcel keeps it simple (hooray!) with ‘Combined Science’ (601/8765/7)!
Further details for each exam board can be found here:

But what happens to the grading system?

As Combined Science is now a double award, a 17 point grading system has been introduced. These grades will never be more than a grade apart and (we understand) the first grade will always be the higher of the two. For example:


Grades of 1-1 to 5-5 can be awarded in foundation tier, with higher tier offering grades from 4-4 to 9-9. A fail grade would simply be a U but worth two entries.
I haven’t been able to find an official explanation of the grading system, other than this document:

Exam boards, such as AQA, also offer (limited) information on their websites.

What does this mean for the headline figures?

Combined Science can take up to two slots in either the EBacc or Open elements of Progress 8 where this represents the highest relevant grades achieved. One grade from this qualification can fill one slot if higher grades are achieved in other qualifications.

However the points awarded to Combined Science are averaged – because of this it is crucial that you set this qualification up correctly in any data analysis tool. For example, grades of 6 and 5 would be averaged to two 5.5 points to fill either one or two slots as appropriate (a maximum of 11 points across two slots). Let’s take a look at how this will work for a current Year 11 student:

Drama does not contribute towards the student’s P8 score

How do I ensure my set up is correct in SISRA Analytics?

Firstly, you will need to set up a 9-1 Double grade method in CONFIG > KS3/4 Grade Methods. Here’s an example (sub grades are optional):

A top tip when naming your grade methods, is to look at the order in which they appear in the Config area – their names and order appear in the reports, so do use appropriate grade method names (BTEC rather than D*DMP) and think about the order in which you would like them to appear (most common at the top, for example).
Secondly, when setting up an EAP, ensure that the Combined Science EAP uses the 9-1 Double grade method:

The EAP determines which grade method Analytics will use when calculating your grades data – this is equally as important for all other subjects! Another top tip for naming your EAPs is to use references to their baselines and end point e.g. ‘Avg KS2 to 9-1 Double’ if using KS2 as baselines:

Or ‘Combined Science 9-1 Double’ if using FFT estimates:

Including the grade method in either example has the advantage of not only helping you when cloning EAPs, but also ensuring the ‘KS4 MEASURE’ column on the matching page is accurate:

Finally, to the matching page! KS3/4 EAP allows you to correctly set up Combined Science as ONE qualification (but as a double award). You should have just one (green) row using an EAP that uses the 9-1 Double grade method. It will also need to be nominated as ‘Science’ in the Special column if it is an approved qualification that counts towards the Science specific measures, such as EBacc (all the QN codes above do).

If your Science staff only award single grades (common in Year 10), then these grades are effectively doubled by Analytics e.g. if a single grade of 5 is uploaded, then it will be treated as a 5 5 (providing the 9-1 Double grade method is used). This will save you time by not having to ‘double up’ the grades.

We do occasionally see Combined Science set up on two rows – as Combined Science 1 and Combined Science 2 for example.

Whilst this will not affect your Attainment 8 headlines and entries, it will have an effect on your Attainment 8 & Progress 8 elements – there’s an example further below.

How do I know my headlines are correct?

Once you’ve followed all of the above steps, take a look at your Reports. There’s potentially 3 different set ups for Combined Science. The first uses the correct set-up (one row for a double award qualification), the second has Combined Science set up as two different qualifications (like the old Core and Additional), with the third as one qualification using the 9-1 Single grade method.

This example school has a cohort of 210 and one student has a grade which could affect the Attainment 8/Progress 8 EBacc and Open elements. When looking at the EBacc and Open Attainment 8/Progress 8 elements below, we can see slight differences between the two. Only slight, but bear in mind this is in relation to just one student and will mean your figures do not match the DfEs – imagine if the grades of half your cohort affected these figures!

We can see a huge difference for the Ebacc Attainment 8/Progress 8 element when we look at the figures where the 9-1 single grade method has been used – it’s now negative!

Your overall Attainment 8 and Progress 8 figures should not be affected unless you use the 9-1 single method. Checking this table in the Headlines Summary Report will give you an indication of whether you are using the correct grade method:

We’ve seen how this affects our headlines, so let’s take a look at how this would affect an individual student. In this example using the Student Headlines Report, we can see this student’s Combined Science qualifications have been averaged from his total Combined Science points of 9 and 4.5 points fall into both the EBacc and Open baskets.

When set up as two separate qualifications, the lower Combined Science grade does not contribute to the Open basket:

Whilst in this example, his Attainment 8 score will remain the same, we can see here the difference it has made to his EBacc and Open Progress 8 scores:

What if my school tracks Biology, Chemistry and Physics grades for Combined Science?

This can still be done. There’s an example in the screenshot below. Just ensure that your Combined Science separate qualifications are set to Unapproved. This way, you will be able to analyse the data for the separate qualifications, classes, and students, without it affecting your headline figures.

For any schools still using Legacy mode, please note it does not cater for 9-1 double grades. Setting Combined Science up as two separate qualifications will ensure the number of entries is correct, however it will count the qualifications separately towards Attainment 8/Progress 8 calculations and the average points will not be used (just like in the example shown above).

Hopefully your own SISRA Analytics set up will be spot on, but it’s always worth checking! Our Live Support team can always assist any SISRA Administrators if help is needed.


Update May 2018

Guidance has today (23/5/18) been published by the DfE: