The Learned Societies

GCSE Science timetable models

The brief

Shift Learning were commissioned by the learned societies, a group of scientific organisations consisting of the Association of Science Education, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Biology and the Royal Society of Chemistry. The learned societies were seeking to understand the variety of timetable models used to teach the sciences at KS4 in schools based in England. Robust representation was sought, as well as insight into the decision-making that leads to the adoption of particular timetable models. The key aims of this research were:

• To identify and describe the common models for timetabling the sciences at GCSE.

• To determine how many schools use each of these models.

• To investigate how common it is for schools to follow curriculum models that are potentially problematic in the sciences.

Our approach and methodology

We proposed a multi-methodological approach to this research.

Stage 1: An initial quantitative survey was sent via the learned societies’ communications channels and targeted at those with a strong understanding of KS4 timetabling, such as Heads of Department, teachers and SLT.

Stage 2: This was followed by CATI-style telephone interviews with teachers from state schools with poor Ofsted ratings, as these were found to be under-represented in the initial data collection.

Stage 3: The quantitative data was supplemented with 10 in-depth, qualitative interviews with schools of interest, which each lasted an hour.  A mixture of common and uncommon timetabling methods were used in the chosen schools. The interviews supplied a deeper understanding of the context and decision-making process that led to the adoption of a particular model.

Delivering results and value to our clients

We conducted a thorough analysis of the data received. A full report was delivered, in which we identified 82 ‘unique’ timetable models, using time and teacher-allocation variables. Overarching model descriptors were provided to allow for better understanding of the common themes, as well as development of a decision-tree to help map the routes leading to adoption of each model. A full dataset of all school responses was also provided to allow the learned societies to further delve into the data. The learned societies used the research as the basis of a debate held at the 2019 ASE conference, and plan to use the research as a basis for policy messages and further report publications.