Salters Nuffield ‘A’-level Biology (SNAB) is a ground breaking course based on a strong belief that studying biological principles in contexts of real life applications of biology makes content appear more relevant to students. Schools following SNAB report improved student motivation, uptake and retention. However, is there evidence that teaching biology through contexts at ‘A’-level produces higher achievement? If there is, what are contributing factors? A team of researchers from CIRSE led by Professor Judith Bennett and Dr Martin Braund are conducting a year-long project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, to answer these questions.
Students studying SNAB and through more ‘conventional’ (content based) routes have, previously, taken different examinations but the different examination cohorts have very different starting intakes.While SNAB candidates seem to get a lower proportion of top grades (A/B) in A2 examinations than do students studying through content routes if GCSE points scores of student recruits are taken into account, SNAB students do comparatively well. As well as these differences in intake, the different courses have been examined separately, questioning the validity of previous comparisons of results.
Since 2008 there has been just one examination specification providing the option for schools to teach the same content following either context-led (SNAB) or concept-led (non-SNAB) routes. A common set of examinations assess all specification learning outcomes for candidates following both routes. The same coursework is completed by all candidates. This makes direct and valid comparison of the effect of the two approaches possible for the first time.
Our research uses statistical analysis of examination results backed by survey and interview data from schools to answer four questions:
1. Is there a difference in attainment in Edexcel ‘A’-level examinations result of Biology students who follow context (SNAB) and concept (non-SNAB) routes of study?
2. What are value added attainments at AS and A2 level (i.e. taking account of GCSE average points scores) of Biology students who follow context (SNAB) and concept (non-SNAB) routes of study in Edexcel A -level Biology?
3. In centres (schools) where there are differences, what factors help explain these differences?
4. Are uptake rates into ‘- level (AS) and stay on rates (from AS to A2) affected by choice of study routes (context-SNAB or concept)?
The project will produce a research report for the Nuffield Foundation and will disseminate findings through a special invitation conference, research papers and conference presentations. The project will be completed in July 2012.
Enquiries about the project should be directed in the first instance to the project’s administrator, Yvonne Mason (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Professor Judith Bennett: Principal Investigator, email@example.com
Dr Martin Braund: Principal researcher and project leader, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Gillian Hampden-Thompson: Principal adviser on statistical analysis, email@example.com
Gill Main: Analysis, firstname.lastname@example.org
Yvonne Mason: Project administrator, email@example.com
For information about the Nuffield Foundation please go to: www.nuffieldfoundation.org