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The University of Southampton
Southampton Education School

Research project: 21st Century Science: evaluation of teaching for scientific enquiry - Dormant - Dormant

Currently Active:

January 2004 - August 2006

21st Century Science GCSE was piloted in 80 schools in England from 2003. This evaluation study is one of three projects which the funders commissioned to inform further development of the course.

Research Aims

The research had the following objectives. To explore:

  • how effectively the two components of the 21st Century Science course – science explanations and ‘ideas-about-science’ - are interrelated and recognised in the teaching of the course
  • the extent to which teachers are successful in handling ‘ideas-about-science’ and science-related issues which may involve a range of social, economic, political and ethical ideas
  • the views of students about 21st Century Science, particularly with respect to their experience of ‘ideas-about-science’ and open-ended issues in terms of their learning and motivation and the nature of teaching they experienced.

Design & Scope

The following methods were used to collect appropriate data.

For the first and second objective:

  • a questionnaire from a sample of teachers from all participating schools (achieving 121 questionnaires from 84% of schools);
  • observation of teachers’ practice in nine schools (28 lesson observations);
  • interviews with the same teachers over the course of two years of the pilot (22 interviews in total).

For the third objective:

  • a questionnaire to year 11 students in participating schools for comparison between those doing Twenty First Century Science GCSE (381 responses from 48% of schools) and ‘traditional’ GCSE (where applicable) (225 responses from 26 schools)
  • focus group discussions with students from the observed classes (8 groups from 6 schools).

Some data from questionnaires were analysed quantitatively by summarising responses in tables, using statistical analysis where appropriate.

Qualitative data were analysed using a grounded theory approach, assisted by use of NVivo in the mechanics of coding.


The study found that most teachers enjoyed teaching the course more than the standard double award but found it harder and more demanding. For instance, teachers had difficulty organising and managing pupil discussion. They found understanding what it meant to teach about science challenging and evidence that their practice improved only emerged in observations of lessons towards the end of two years of teaching the course. It normally takes a complete cycle of teaching to understand fully the aims and goals of a new course, so this is to be expected.

Students judged the course to be significantly more topical and relevant than did a similar sample of Double Award Students. They also found the course to be easier and expressed moderately greater enthusiasm for coursework than did non-C21 students. Whilst 21st Century students were more positive about further study of science, the difference was not significant.

Funding body: The Nuffield Foundation .

Related research groups

Mathematics and Science Education (MaSE) Research Centre
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