The Post-Covid Classroom: Practical work

A series of blogs exploring aspects of teaching and learning in the future post-covid classroom

A series of blogs exploring aspects of teaching and learning in the future post-covid classroom, Amanda Clegg and Karen Collins highlight the key priorities for practical work for Year 12:

Where do we start with Year 12?

Most science teachers agree that practical work is important both for many reasons whether these be engagement, motivation or to help introduce or embed a particular concept. Practical work or ‘Working Scientifically’ is integral to the National Curriculum yet it is likely to be the aspect most disrupted during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now most students have returned to the classroom, working scientifically remains an area that is competing for time against the retrieval of declarative knowledge, diagnosing misconceptions or delivery of new additional material.

What are the key priorities for practical work and where should you focus your attention before Year 12 become Year 13?

Many science departments have increased the use of simulations and written ‘practical’ work using past paper questions as a necessity, but it is just not the same as using the apparatus and learning by ‘doing’. The most recent messaging from the four exam boards recognises that the amount of practical work Year 12 have completed has been impacted. The boards are in discussion with Ofqual and further guidance will be published for those students entering examinations in June 2022; however, the recommendation remains that centres continue to carry out practical work with Year 12 wherever possible.

A simple enzyme practical

For A-level Biology, a simple enzyme practical – may be a good place to start. Students have often met this practical during KS3 and KS4.  A homework could be used to research and design a method for the starch and carbohydrase experiment to see how temperature or pH affects the rate of digestion. This method could be used to carry out a risk assessment using a model template. Students should have a greater understanding of the ‘how to’ do the practical theoretically. A video could be used alternatively with students planning their equipment list, method and risk assessment after viewing. An example from Malmesbury School is linked here.

Understanding of key words

To make arrangements simpler for equipment ordering and managing risk, the teacher may provide the method and risk assessment in the actual practical lesson. After the first attempt at the practical, a class discussion about the results collected can be conducted. This discussion could focus on the students understanding of the key words: accuracy, precision and repeatability. These are terms which students often mix up or interchange. The uncertainty and resolution of instruments can also be taught at this point. Students should be encouraged to consider whether they have collected sufficient, accurate and precise data in order to make a valid conclusion? Students decide if they need to collect more data or use different equipment and are given time to do so before processing the data.

Discussion about the meaning of results

This discussion about the meaning of the results is critical to developing student’s procedural knowledge. It takes time and lots of deep and regular questioning to support students to really make sense of what they are doing rather than simply following a set of instructions like a recipe. Millar (2009) highlighted the importance of practical work involving hands on and minds on.

Practical work: How to use the apparatus and the techniques

Students must be deliberately taught how to use the apparatus and the techniques included in the GCE Subject Level Conditions and Requirements for Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) and Certificate Requirements (2016).

Investigative practical science in the curriculum

Towards the end of Year 12 students could be involved in carrying out an open-ended investigative practical using CREST awards. A comprehensive guidance pack for teachers has been developed by the British Science Association. This supports teachers in how to embed investigative work into curriculum time and highlights the many benefits found as a result of using this type of approach. It also helps students with UCAS applications. The guidance pack can be downloaded here : Investigative Practical Science in the Curriculum (


ASE (2011) The Language of measurement. Hatfield: ASE

Collins, K. and Clegg, A. (2021) Investigative practical science in the curriculum: Making it happen. London: British Science Association Available from: Investigative Practical Science in the Curriculum (

Millar, R. (2009) Analysing practical activities to assess and improve effectiveness: The Practical Activity Analysis Inventory (PAAI). York: Centre for Innovation and Research in Science Education, University of York.

Malmesbury Education (2017) Enzymes – GCSE Science Required Practical. Youtube . Available from:

Ofqual (2016) GCSE Subject Level Conditions and requirements for Science. Coventry: Ofqual Available from: (Apparatus and Techniques can be found in appendix 5c, page 46 onwards)