Andy Brunning, OCR Chemistry and Geology Subject Advisor
We believe practical work in the sciences should be accessible to all students, but we know this can sometimes be challenging for SEND students. Schools and colleges often contact us for guidance on how to adapt practical work in the sciences where required, so in this blog I’ve compiled some of our advice to help you make practical science accessible for all.
The current requirements for science practical work across key stages, and particularly the practical endorsement requirements at A Level, can make it seem challenging for some students to complete practical work independently. However, there are adjustments that can be made and equipment that can be provided to make it possible for the vast majority of students.
Not all students can partake in practical science with the standard equipment available in most school laboratories. However, in some cases there is enabling equipment that can be provided, sometimes at minimal expense, that allows them to use and manipulate particular apparatus.
For students with visual impairments, examples include video screens on light microscopes, light probes that can detect liquid levels in containers, and marking apparatus measurement lines with bold, bright colours. Food colourings can be added to colourless solutions to provide contrast when pouring. Students who use a wheelchair can be provided with height-adjustable workstations, while students with physical difficulties, for example cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, can have stopcocks on burettes extended using aluminium tubing to make them easier to turn.
These and other suggestions are provided in CLEAPSS’s excellent Science for Secondary-aged Pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disability guide, which offers a range of strategies for both teaching and practical work for these students.
It is not a problem if students with SEND are using different equipment to that being used by other students as a result of these adaptions. They can use any equipment a professional scientist with the same condition would use to allow them to do their job independently. This can allow these students to demonstrate competence in practical techniques routinely and consistently like any other student.
Particularly for the practical endorsement at A Level, there are limits to what a practical assistant can do before it impacts upon a student’s ability to demonstrate independent competence. For this reason, students who are not able to perform some or all of the required practical competencies independently would not be able to achieve a pass in the practical endorsement.
In these cases, a practical assistant cannot be used to carry out tasks for the student, as it would compromise the assessment of the endorsement. However, while a student in this scenario would require an exemption, they may still benefit from having a practical assistant to help them experience the practical work and prepare for the written assessments.
Students with SEND can be exempted from practical work, and the practical endorsement at A Level, if it is not possible for them to access it and demonstrate competence in the apparatus and techniques independently. In our experience, exemptions are rarely required – only five students required one for the first series of the A Level Science qualifications in 2017.
If you do require an exemption for a student it’s important to let us know as soon as possible. You can contact our Special Requirements team who will be happy to advise you on next steps and how to arrange an exemption if one is needed. We recommend that students provided with an exemption still complete as much practical work as is possible, as it will help them with the practical-based questions in the examinations.
Have you got any practical adaptions you’ve used successfully with SEND students? Let us know in the comments below. If you need further support you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @OCR_Science. You can also sign up to subject updates to receive information about resources and support.
Andy joined OCR in September 2017 as the subject advisor for A Level Chemistry. He has a Chemistry BSc and a Secondary Science PGCE from the University of Bath. Before joining OCR, he worked as a chemistry teacher in Bournemouth and Cambridge. He also sidelines as a science communicator and has produced infographic projects for the Royal Society of Chemistry and the American Chemical Society.