Creating Applied Science in Schools

The GCSE in Applied Science, which was examined for the first time in 2004, is a key vehicle connecting the science curriculum to the governmental policy of broadening the curriculum post-14, and making it more relevant to pupils' needs. The aim of this 3-year research project, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is to evaluate the meaning, impact and significance of this new course, which is one of the new suite of GCSEs in vocational (or 'applied') subjects. The Project involves a wide range of participants, including members of public bodies, politicians, teachers, pupils, parents, employers, members of scientific organisations and representatives of higher education. An advisory group of teachers ensures that it retains close contact with the realities of schools' experiences. The key issues which schools face (notably in devising new methods of teaching and learning and interpreting specifications) are central to the work of the Project.

Research Methods

A range of methods will be employed, including:

  • a study of the policy documents and specifications associated with the reform
  • interviews with key figures in the creation and implementation process within the regulatory and assessment bodies;
  • rolling longitudinal case studies of the implementation of the course in a sample of schools over the first and second assessment cycles, based on interviews with senior staff, teachers of applied science and pupils, and some observations of lessons;
  • questionnaires: a national questionnaire will be used to validate the findings.
  • a statistical analysis of the examination results in the first two cycles of the course, using the National Pupil Dataset for England, and with a particular focus on changes in performance from age 14 relative to other science courses.
  • It is also our intention to identify schools which are being particularly successful in the implementation of GCSE Applied Science, for further study.

Research Outcomes

The Project will address a range of questions, including:

  • what are the aims and teaching methods of Applied Science?
  • what interpretations of 'vocational' and 'applied' are involved?
  • in which ways is Applied Science different from existing science courses?
  • which pupils are being targeted for, and taking up, Applied Science?
  • what is the long-term impact of Applied Science, and how does it relate to other key initiatives in science curriculum reform?
  • how does the process contribute to our understanding of curricular change?

The research findings will be important to policy makers and practitioners interested in reform of the science curriculum and the wider post-14 curriculum.

An invited Conference is being organized under the auspices of the project at the National Centre for Science Learning. The Conference has the working title: Creating New Routes to Science. It will take place Tuesday 26th September 2006. The Conference will focus on the emerging vocational/applied strand within the science curriculum, including the new A-level in Applied Science.


For further information please contact Prof. Jim Donnelly (0113 3434608;, or write to: CSSME School of Education University of Leeds Leeds, LS2 9JT