Hints and tips - six minute read
Andy Brunning - Chemistry Subject Advisor
The 2021 changes for A Level science centre around the practical endorsement. We know teachers still have questions about how these changes will work in practice. In this blog, I answer some of the most frequent questions we’ve been receiving from teachers about practical work at A Level this year.
We’re still encouraging schools and colleges to meet the usual requirements of the practical endorsement if they can, including completing a minimum of 12 practical activities. However, there is no longer a specific minimum number of practicals specified for this year.
If circumstances mean that your students can’t complete 12 practical activities, they can still get a pass in the practical endorsement as long as they’ve met the 1.2.1 criteria and the common practical assessment criteria (CPAC) in the practical work that they have completed.
It’s inevitable that some of your students will end up having to self-isolate or spend time off ill at some point during the year. While it’s not a bad idea to catch them up on missed practicals if you can do so, if the other practicals these students have completed still allow them to meet the 1.2.1 criteria and CPAC they can still get a pass in the practical endorsement.
If missing practicals means that students miss out on some of the 1.2.2 apparatus and techniques, you should still make sure you teach them about these as they will still be expected to answer questions on them in the exams.
The practical endorsement criteria across the sciences don’t usually specify particular practicals. For example, in chemistry, 1.2.2(d) specifies ‘use of laboratory apparatus for distillation’, it doesn’t specify a particular distillation that must be carried out. So if the issue is with a particular practical, you could always adjust this practical or use a different one to meet certain criteria.
If you need to substitute out a practical and that means you won’t cover part of the 1.2.2 apparatus and techniques, consider whether this can be covered in a separate practical activity. It’s fine to carry out short practical activities entirely focused on specific apparatus or techniques to help your students cover them all.
Alternatively, if you can’t see any safe way to use a particular piece of apparatus under your current safety measures, you may have to omit it from practical work. However, you should make sure you still teach your students about it so they can answer questions on it during the exams.
If the further practical work you’re completing during this academic year will allow students to cover all of the practical endorsement criteria, then you don’t necessarily need to complete practical work you missed. You may need to schedule in some additional practical work because without it, your students would not cover all of the 1.2.1 criteria and the CPAC.
Additionally, if this missed practical work means that your students won’t have experience of all of the 1.2.2 apparatus and techniques, it would be good to cover these in additional practical activities if time and your situation allows. If this isn’t possible, make sure you teach them about any apparatus and techniques they missed so they can answer question on them in the exams.
Some of the practical endorsement criteria don’t necessarily require a laboratory in order to meet them. For example, the 1.2.1 criteria relating to data recording could be met by recording data from a recorded practical. The criteria relating to independent research and citation also don’t require students to be in a laboratory. Remember, you can use any activity as long as you map it to the practical endorsement criteria it covers, you're not limited to our suggested practicals.
However, at a minimum, students do still need to meet all of the 1.2.1 criteria and the CPAC. If your students carried out practical work pre-lockdown, they should have covered many of these already. You may need to arrange some laboratory access for your students in order to meet any remaining uncovered criteria.
The changes to the practical endorsement for A Level students only apply to students entering in the 2021 examinations. Students who will be entering for the 2022 examinations will still be expected to meet the full requirements of the practical endorsement by the end of the course. If you are having to prioritise practical work for second year A Level students this year, that may mean completing an increased amount of practical work next year with students entering the 2022 exams.
If there are certain elements of the 1.2.2 apparatus and techniques that you’re unable to cover through practical work, it is still a good idea to show your students videos or demonstrations of these so they know about them for the exams. However, these can’t be counted as competence towards the practical endorsement, as students aren’t carrying out the practical work independently.
To support you in carrying out practical work this year we’ve produced practical activity support guides for all A Level sciences. The guides are intended to help you adapt practical activities to meet the practical endorsement criteria under the current circumstances, and also include links to useful videos and resources. They’re available to download on our 2021 support page.
Full guidance on the practical endorsement requirements for this year is available on our positive about practical page. We have also published cross-board guidance on the remote monitoring process, with OCR-specific guidance available shortly.
If you have any further questions about the practical endorsement, you can post them in the comments below, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call on 01223 553998 or tweet @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.