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Topic Title: A virtually worthless GCSE?
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Created On: 19 November 2011 11:47 AM
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 19 November 2011 11:47 AM
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jencam

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Are the electronics and systems and control GCSEs virtually worthless from the point of view of higher education and employment? Information gleaned from various sources over the years can be summarised as follows.

1. They are not seen as important GCSEs in secondary schools by both the staff and the students. The number of schools offering them is falling because of the perceived low importance of the subject and the way that schools are specialising, so only those which specialise in science and technology tend to offer such courses.

2. They are not valued by employers in engineering and are seen as minor subjects. This also applies for technician level jobs that do not require degrees.

3. Higher education generally does not consider them to be a substitute for physics or science GCSEs when it comes to accessing electronics courses.
 20 November 2011 10:39 AM
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jencam

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Does the IET support electronics and systems and control GCSE courses in schools or does it believe in going down more traditional routes?

Several years ago I discussed GCSE courses with two teachers from two schools. The first was from a state secondary school with strengths in science and technology . The philosophy of this school was to gear education towards the real world. It offered both the ICT and electronics GCSEs, in addition to resistant materials and business studies, but other than that, it followed the National Curriculum. The second was from a fee paying independent school. The philosophy of this school was towards a solid traditional academic education. It did not offer ICT, electronics, business studies, or any 'technology' GCSEs, but it did offer separate physics, chemistry, and biology GCSEs rather than the combined science GCSE, and also GCSEs in Latin and Greek. The two schools contrasted sharply but which (if any) would produce the better engineers?
 21 November 2011 10:44 AM
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apackwood

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Hi, as someone who did the Systems and Control GCSE through an electronics A level and then a masters in electronics I found it was a good taster subject, but really just a hodge podge of small things.

Unlike other technical GCSEs it appeared to not really have any focal issues, it dealt with bit of electronics and mechanical, unfortunately it didn't really deal with control in the way I think of it now in any meaningfull way.

From my point of view as a course I can see how it may help lead less academic people down a technical route but can completely understand schools not focusing on it at the expense of core subjects like physics and maths.

-------------------------
Andrew Packwood MEng
 21 November 2011 06:20 PM
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jencam

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Electronics and systems and control GCSEs are not a substitute for the maths GCSE any more than history or drama GCSEs are. State schools generally do not offer physics GCSEs. They offer science GCSEs instead.
 22 November 2011 10:20 PM
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eswnl

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Originally posted by: jencam

Electronics and systems and control GCSEs are not a substitute for the maths GCSE any more than history or drama GCSEs are. State schools generally do not offer physics GCSEs. They offer science GCSEs instead.


I did GCSE Chemistry, Physics, Biology as three separate subjects. But this was in 1997.
 23 November 2011 08:15 AM
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jencam

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Originally posted by: eswnlI did GCSE Chemistry, Physics, Biology as three separate subjects. But this was in 1997.


What type of secondary school did you attend?
 23 November 2011 08:55 AM
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Gruff

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I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that most state secondary schools do offer individual physics/chemistry/biology GCSE's nowadays, as well as the (less demanding) joint science GCSE.

I understand though that a lot of schools have been accused of steering students towards the easier to pass joint science, to help the schools position in league tables etc. This doesn't always seem in the best interest of the student and their future plans, as the good quality universities don't regard that qualification as very worthwhile.

I don't have any particular knowledge of the syllabus but I'd probably feel the same about the electronics and systems and control GCSE's the OP has asked about - and would likely advise students seeking the best education to avoid them.

There is just no need for that kind of specialisation at that young age. Regular GCSE students won't be able to absorb anything other than the most rudimentary aspects of, for example, electronic or control engineering, and I think their time and effort would be far better spent improving their grasp of vital core subjects like maths and physics. Leave the specialisation until later.

Young students who want to be engineers should concentrate on:

Maths, maths, physics, maths, chemistry and maths.

And then a bit more maths.
 23 November 2011 01:52 PM
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apackwood

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Originally posted by: jencam

Electronics and systems and control GCSEs are not a substitute for the maths GCSE any more than history or drama GCSEs are. State schools generally do not offer physics GCSEs. They offer science GCSEs instead.


As mentioned above, most state schools now offer the sciences indivisudually to more academic students and double award to less gifted. I did double award because at the time my school did not offer individual ones, my little brother on the other hand had the oppertunity.

I think the main problem with regards to the OP is that really electronics and control systems as we understand them require a basic grasp of maths. Teaching them at GCSE level means students studying them potentially don't even have a grasp of basic quadratics, with regards to further education it would be difficult for a university say to really see any weight in an electronics GCSE when it can't have had any real maths in it.

From my point of view, my drama gcse which taught me how to project to an audience has been much more valuable than my systems and control gcse

-------------------------
Andrew Packwood MEng
 23 November 2011 06:02 PM
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amillar

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Originally posted by: apackwood
As mentioned above, most state schools now offer the sciences indivisudually to more academic students and double award to less gifted.


At my children's cheap and cheerful state comprehensive school all do the double award first, in years 9 and 10, and then they can do the individual sciences in year 11 if they wish. So my daughter now has 5 GCSE science passes, which I suppose someone will say is excessive but is standing her in very good stead in the sixth form (she's now studying the three sciences and maths at A level).

Re Systems and Control GCSE, as Andrew says, it's just a taster, as are all GCSEs. My daugther did GCSE Astronomy (in year 8 - who says state schools aren't ambitious!) - she's probably never going to be an astrophysisist but it gave her a good appreciation of what the subject is about, and what's wrong with that? At least she can make an informed choice. I do get frustated with this idea that you should only study for a qualification "if it's of value to employers". How about because it's widening your understanding of the world?

Anyway, as I said elsewhere, I wasn't going to post on these forums again as it does nasty things to my blood pressure, so I'd better stop!

(Note for those of my age without children: Year 8 is the old 2nd year, 9 is 3rd, 10 is 4th, and 11 is 5th.)

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

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"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 24 November 2011 08:32 AM
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jencam

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You are all half right about the individual sciences. The Triple Award Science GCSE results in an exam certificate with separate physics, chemistry, and biology GCSEs. This is a course that was introduced only a few years ago and currently less than half of all secondary schools offer it, and those that do are generally those which specialise in science and technology. State schools still rarely offer the separate science GCSEs separately.

Cynics say that it really is a name changing exercise with the triple award science being the replacement for the double science and the (now dumbed down) double science being a replacement for the discontinued single science.

Originally posted by: Gruff
There is just no need for that kind of specialisation at that young age. Regular GCSE students won't be able to absorb anything other than the most rudimentary aspects of, for example, electronic or control engineering, and I think their time and effort would be far better spent improving their grasp of vital core subjects like maths and physics. Leave the specialisation until later.

Young students who want to be engineers should concentrate on:

Maths, maths, physics, maths, chemistry and maths.

And then a bit more maths.


This is quite a debatable subject. Some educationalists and employers believe in a back to the fundamentals approach where schools teach and children learn the basic fundamental subjects because it's material that will not go out of date and is of a high academic standard. This means that schools teach only traditional subjects like maths, English, pure sciences, history, foreign languages, and probably classics as well, but do not teach any real world or applied subjects nor anything deemed to be weak academically. Other educationalists and employers believe that children should learn more about the real world because that is where most of them will end up as adults. They also think that a traditional academic syllabus leads to much disaffection (and truancy) at school and fails millions who have useful talents elsewhere. They often cite Eastern Europe as an example of a place that strongly subscribed to the traditional academic education model where millions of people with an A Level standard education in hard subjects work as taxi drivers and cleaners whilst there is a serious shortage of people with creative or entrepreneural skills who are needed to drive the economy forwards.

I don't quite get what you are trying to say about specialisation.

My son found out at college that mathematicians are not necessarily the sharpest people when it comes to understanding the workings of electrical and mechanical machines. In his A Level class was a Pimms sipping son of a bank manager aiming for a career in stockbroking who was probably better at maths than my son was, but he didn't know one terminal of a battery from another or which way to turn a screwdriver.

Originally posted by: apackwood
I think the main problem with regards to the OP is that really electronics and control systems as we understand them require a basic grasp of maths. Teaching them at GCSE level means students studying them potentially don't even have a grasp of basic quadratics, with regards to further education it would be difficult for a university say to really see any weight in an electronics GCSE when it can't have had any real maths in it.


This is the sort comment you could expect from my son, but then he was solving quadratic equations at the age of 7 and tried to venture into the realm of complex numbers. If the electronics and systems and control GCSEs were revised with a mathematical level comparable to that of a physics GCSE then would they be worth approximately the same?
 24 November 2011 04:50 PM
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apackwood

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I think the whole double/triple award thing is reasonably redundant towards the original post anyway. I think we'd all agree a basic grasp of the 3 science strains is helpfull to all students regardless of the number of gcse's they've got in them. I only had double award but between my maths/further maths and electronics a levels no-one has really cared.

Again specialisation is a funny one and I find myself leaning towards Andy's point. If were saying engineering kids should just concentrate on maths and physics then that flies in the face of the GCSE arms race going on when kids are emerging from school with more and more of them where I think the diversity of education offered results in young people being able to make more informed life choices then before. Does a young person who's good at maths know that he wants to be an engineer without ever trying his hand at it?

Finally Jencam, I think if the two gcse's were on a comparable mathmatical level to physics than they would probably be viewed in a better light. But given the nature of technology based learning where you need grounding in several subjects to be able to fully understand basic concepts of the next (pyramid-esc) is a GCSE grasp of physics not also extremelly helpfull to the building blocks of electronics? The current impression I have of the two is that they are very practical based subjects that deal with the building of small circuits etc, my electronics A level was me with 15 other students who had done the electronics GCSE ( I hadn't), by the end of the year I was the only person left on the course.

I think with some serious re-writing of the course material they could be viewed in a similar light to say physics. But currently I can see why they are not.

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Andrew Packwood MEng
 01 December 2011 01:06 AM
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eswnl

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I think GCSEs should stick to academic subjects and the specialisation later. You still need to use Maths in an engineering degree and English to be able to write engineering reports. If an engineer has to travel overseas one day, then some knowledge of French or German maybe required. I'd say Physics is required if your future engineering job starts to become multidisciplinary.

What happens if GCSEs start to offer subjects in Control. It could lead to an infinite number of subjects replacing the ordinary academic ones.
 01 December 2011 06:00 PM
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jencam

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GCSEs are available in at least 50 subjects. There have been debates whether the subjects should be rationalised down to a number and selection similar to that offered as O Levels back in the 1970s. IGCSEs are available in fewer subjects than GCSEs are available in.
 14 May 2012 02:30 PM
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Nick2

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Firstly I should declare an interest since I teach DT Systems & Control. As a former marine engineer I have also taught Physics (and PE but that is less relevant!).

I appreciate the necessity of a solid Maths and Physics background but it should not stop there. The question of the value of ANY subject depends upon how you value learning. Only a small minority of my students will go on to become engineers or technicians but is it a bad thing that they have some idea of the technologies behind things that are a valued part of their everyday lives? Is it of less value to, say, a geographer than Geography is to an engineer? For many, their only inkling that some things exist at all is from hearing of them in the classroom. They may not have relatives or friends who work in particular areas and, with the severe cut-backs in the careers service,young people have a hard enough time making life-choices but a broad education goes some way to offset this.

Of course we are bound by the exam syllabus that we teach but the basic spark of interest in the very broad world that is "engineering" has to come from somewhere. Students also learn about wider issues including deadlines, time management, planning, budget constraints and being resonsible for their own work. To experience the abilities of many of the 14-16 year olds that I teach would make anyone weep at times but the vast majority do mature into competent individuals.

Take the view of Sir John Jervis (Earl St. Vincent) and plant as many acorns as you can find room for - many will fail but a few will develop into mighty oaks.

Nick
 15 May 2012 10:29 AM
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amillar

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Very nicely put Nick.

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Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

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"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 16 May 2012 10:04 PM
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jencam

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Originally posted by: amillar
Systems and Control GCSE, as Andrew says, it's just a taster, as are all GCSEs.


If that is true (and I am sceptical) then it generates more questions than it answers.

Originally posted by: Nick2
I appreciate the necessity of a solid Maths and Physics background but it should not stop there. The question of the value of ANY subject depends upon how you value learning. Only a small minority of my students will go on to become engineers or technicians but is it a bad thing that they have some idea of the technologies behind things that are a valued part of their everyday lives? Is it of less value to, say, a geographer than Geography is to an engineer? For many, their only inkling that some things exist at all is from hearing of them in the classroom. They may not have relatives or friends who work in particular areas and, with the severe cut-backs in the careers service,young people have a hard enough time making life-choices but a broad education goes some way to offset this.


You make a very good point but it doesn't really answer the original question. There is anecdotal evidence that some GCSEs are valued more than others either generally or by higher education courses and industries that they are specific to. This is regardless of the subject material or knowledge obtained from the course. For example, maths is a highly valued GCSE by employers and higher education even in situations where only knowledge of basic arithmetic is sufficient but GCSE law is hardly even taken into account by university law departments and the legal profession. Other GCSEs like geography and foreign languages are middling in that hardly anybody asks for them in situations where the knowledge isn't required but they are requested in situations where the knowledge is required.
 17 May 2012 02:43 PM
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gkenyon

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Surely the key to systems is managing complexity, and, when control is added in, managing a system's response to its environment? It could be said that these are not simple issues to grasp.

When compared with electronics alone, which can, at the level I would expect to be taught at GCSE, be dealt with using simplified models and relatively straightforward mathematics, I'm interested to understand exactly what the systems and control elements can address, without more complex mathematics that does not appear to be otherwise part of the "arsenal" of a typical GCSE student studying at 13-16 years old?

I suppose I could see, therefore, that those in industry, without seeing the syllabus in more detail, could assert that there is little value in the Control and Systems elements, and that, even if well taught, without a more detailed mathematical understanding, the ability of the student to assimilate the understanding of what they are observing in the course.


Having siad that, this belies the fact that some people have an innate grasp of such subjects, and do not need the "language of mathematics", or pages of calculations, for them to be able to predict how a system will react, or indeed maintain, repair and modify such systems.
For example:

- there are a lot of "petrol heads" out there with no Maths O-Levels and GCSEs, who can well manage and tinker with their complex Systems and Controls that form their vehicles, without a formal understanding of the maths behind it all.

- there are a lot of people without formal qualifications who have a reasonable understanding of the complex systems that are our PCs, Internet, and Home Networks.



Maybe this is what we should be looking for in our Technicians. Maybe it's also what we should be looking for in our Engineers too (CEng and IEng)!

And surely supporting courses such as these is a way of enabling some of those with "natural engineering ability" to stand out, and provide experiences to talk to their future employers, mentors and educational advisors, and protray their understanding better ?

I hope these courses contain good practical experiments with examples of how systems and control systems behave, with parameters that the students can vary and experiment with to see what works predictably, and what doesn't - because that is a very, very important skill for the budding CEng.

-------------------------
Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
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