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At this seminar Dr Chris Harrison and Dr Catarina Correia at KCL will discuss a recent research project conducted with 1,400 Year 10 science students across 18 schools.


The nature and purpose of practical work, and how to undertake valid assessment of practical skills, has been the focus of much debate in school science. This is especially the case when debating assessment of practical skills for certification purposes such as those in national high-stakes examinations. In England, the assessment of practical skills at the end of secondary education relies now on written examination questions alone. Our study explores the validity of this approach by identifying the features of written examination questions that can discriminate between those students who have had substantial hands-on experience of practical work and those who have not. The impact of this new approach in schools is also studied. This study is a joint project between University of York Science Education Group and King’s College London, CRESTEM group funded by Wellcome-Gatsby.

Research methods

The research involved 1400 Year 10 students from 18 schools spread across London and Yorkshire regions, in England. We have designed four types of classroom interventions - hands-on practical work/teacher demonstration/video/written description. Groups of students are randomly assigned to an intervention activity for six topics in science. After each intervention they completed a set of examination-style written questions. The answers were marked and scores were analysed using one-way ANOVA and Tukey HSD post-hoc tests searching for correlations between score distribution and the type of intervention. A sample of intervention lessons were observed, and post-lesson interviews were analysed to inform how teachers facilitated the activity and how they perceived students responded to it.


Preliminary findings suggest that students’ mean scores for demonstration and hands-on practical are significantly better than video interventions. There is no significant difference between the mean scores for demonstration and hands-on practical interventions. Lesson observations and interviews with teachers suggest that the way teachers facilitate the interventions has an effect on how students perform in exam questions. Teachers report that frequency of hands-on practical work has not changed with reforms, and that whenever possible required practicals are facilitated as hands-on practical work. Teachers have a range of views on the usefulness of required practicals to support students in answering exam questions. Implications of these findings will be discussed in the presentation.

About the speakers

Chris Harrison researches classroom assessment and professional learning and has a particular interest in the ways teachers conceptualise and enact assessment. Find out more.

Catarina Correia is a chemistry educator with a strong interest in classroom talk and student agency in STEM classrooms. 

Event details

1/16, Waterloo Bridge Wing
Franklin-Wilkins Building
150 Stamford Street London, SE1 9NH