I was amazed to discover today that there is actually such a thing as a PE (physical education) GCSE in the UK. When I was at school (and admittedly, it was a long time ago) ‘studying for a PE GCSE’ would have been some bright sparks’ explanation for what they were doing out on the playing field when they should have been in double Maths. But now it’s a legitimate academic subject.
Much of the PE GCSE curriculum seems to cover things that in my day would have come under good old Biology – for instance the circulatory system, or the mechanics of breathing – but it did make me think about the proliferation of terms we now have for scientific education, and what the differences are.
According to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which helps develop the UK’s National Curriculum, there are almost 40 different science subjects that students can study at school, ranging from Entry Level Science, to Environmental and Land-based Science and Science in Society. (PE doesn’t feature, however, which strikes me as odd, when Human Physiology and Health does.)
The trend over recent years seems to have been towards the study of combined sciences, rather than individual subjects, with a wide range of – often confusing – names and teaching objectives. Just a few short minutes on the internet yields such gems as ‘core’ and ‘additional’ science, applied science, advanced science, ‘double award’ science and – my personal favourite on the confusing stakes – ‘Triple Science’, also known as ‘Separate Sciences’.
This appears to be a single course, drawing elements from basic Science, which all students are required to take, and from the Additional Science course which is optional, then adding in further modules specific to Biology, Physics and Chemistry, to come out with three full GCSEs (plus, presumably, the mandatory Science one).
Debate continues to rage over whether or not this system adequately prepares students who want to go on to specialize in one of the sciences at higher education (or, I would have thought, whether it even provides enough of an introduction for them to make up their minds!), but it strikes me that you need a PhD in Education, just work out which science subjects your child should be taking at school!