Principles and Purpose of Science Curriculum

BCCS aims to provide students with a powerful knowledge-rich curriculum which takes our students beyond their own experience and acts as a true lever for social equality. As a team of passionate scientists we believe that there is no more powerful knowledge than that which a science education provides. Through the BCCS science curriculum we aim to enrich students' lives by teaching them some of the greatest ideas that human minds have ever thought. We believe that a science education can open a student’s mind to the incredible complexity of nature and fundamentally alter how they see themselves in the world.


Our curriculum is rooted in an understanding of how students' ideas about science develop, and it is also reflective of our diverse and able student body. We aim to improve the life chances of all students, but particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, by engaging them in the development of subject knowledge through quality classroom teaching. Our curriculum sets a high level of challenge for all students and develops their understanding of scientific concepts by using every lesson to reflect on prior knowledge and to help students strengthen their retention of scientific knowledge. We believe in the value of practical work and our curriculum is designed to develop students' substantive, disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge throughout their Science learning pathway. 


Through developing interdisciplinary knowledge, the science curriculum at BCCS contributes to young people's holistic development. We deliver our curriculum in lessons where everyone is expected to treat one another with kindness, where we present a hopeful vision of the future and where we support students to be courageous learners who challenge themselves to improve.

Why this, why now?

Students accumulate an enormous wealth of substantive knowledge throughout the KS3, 4 and 5 science curricula. Opportunities to develop disciplinary knowledge are interleaved throughout the course as new content is introduced and existing knowledge is revisited and extended. Our curriculum has evolved to allow students to benefit from vast opportunities to realise interdisciplinary knowledge. We have sought to align the introduction of new substantive knowledge across Biology, Chemistry and Physics and we have collaborated with the Maths department with the aim of sharing common language and approaches to problem solving. 


Science is a knowledge-rich subject that relies upon learning facts that have been agreed to be true as a result of scientists asking and answering questions about the world around us. Throughout their studies of Science, as well as developing a huge breadth and depth of knowledge, our students will build a solid understanding of scientific methods so that they can create objective plans to answer questions about observations they have made of the world around them.  


Our students begin to develop their disciplinary knowledge at the start of year 7. They will learn about the systematic approach to finding evidence that supports a theory and become confident in identifying variables, safely following methods, recording and presenting results, discussing what results mean and evaluating the validity of their work. As they continue through their Science studies, the topics in Science provide students opportunities to deepen this disciplinary knowledge through participation in a broad range of more complex methods and techniques. These opportunities are interwoven with new substantive knowledge related to that topic. They will develop independence in the planning and execution of practical work as they progress through the key stages, and their use of tier 2 and 3 vocabulary to discuss and evaluate their work will allow them to demonstrate their deep understanding of the scientific method.  


There are a number of threshold concepts in Science. These are topics relying on powerful knowledge that unlock a student’s potential to make links and understand ever-more complex theories across the whole of Science. Students are introduced to these threshold concepts early in KS3, and they are revisited in more depth as their Science education progresses. This revisiting and layering of substantive knowledge gives students the foundations to understand the relevance of all the topics that they are learning, and to make links to improve the depth of their understanding. Biology, Chemistry and Physics topics are taught discretely, but teachers skillfully reference other relevant topics to help students to understand that common rules across the sciences can unlock the answers to their questions. Our curriculum considers the 10 Big Ideas of Science (as outlined by the ASE) and gives students opportunities to develop and revisit these as they progress through their Science education. Discussion amongst science educators as to which are the most important Big Ideas is lively and opinions and ideas are dynamic. 


The commentary below is by no means exhaustive but provides an introductory idea of the threads that students are following through a very broad and knowledge-rich curriculum. Teachers of Science at BCCS regularly review the order with which components are introduced, and indeed the mode of teaching. The curriculum map provides an overview of topic ordering across the years as students progress through Science at BCCS.      

  • Particles: In KS3, students learn that everything is made up of small units, or particles. They are introduced to the idea that the properties of these units affect the properties of the material, and how these can be separated from each other. As they progress into KS4 in year 9, students’ understanding of matter is extended through their learning of the structure of the atom. With a solid understanding of atomic structure they are able to understand key concepts in Chemistry, for example, the organisation of the periodic table, chemical reactions and the practical, everyday uses of chemical reactions, energy changes and products. 


  • Interactions between and within organisms: In KS3, students learn about the importance of interactions within and between living things in the context of cells, feeding relationships, reproduction and genetics. They are introduced to the concepts of photosynthesis and respiration, which they will go on to link to energy transfers and chemical reactions as they revisit this in more depth in KS4. As they progress through KS4, students will revisit all of these topics in more depth. For example, they will learn more about the impact of interactions of cells within the body through their topics on hormones, and how the combination of DNA at fertilisation can lead to offspring with a variety of characteristics that can help a species adapt to a changing environment over many generations. Through their learning about interactions between different organisms and the environment, and their learning of the Earth’s atmosphere in Chemistry, students will develop a strong understanding of the impact of humans on the environment. 

Energy: Though students will encounter learning about energy and energy transfers in Biology and Chemistry, their understanding of the fundamentals will mostly be developed through their Physics topics. In KS3, the concept of types of energy will be encountered in topics such as forces, gravity, electrical circuits, forces and pressure, heating and cooling. The first Physics topic that students will encounter in KS4 allows them to understand the energy resources that we rely on to meet the demands and allow us to live our lives as we do. As students progress through KS4, they will extend and deepen their understanding by revisiting their knowledge through the topics on energy transfers, electricity and electromagnets, molecules and matter and energy transfers through waves.  


Science Curriculum 

Teaching the Science Curriculum

In ‘Maintaining Curiosity’ (2013), OFSTEDs survey of science education, the authors state; “The best science teachers, seen as part of this survey, set out to ‘first maintain curiosity’ in their pupils.” All children are naturally curious about the world around them and keen to understand why things happen. We value curiosity and start every science lesson with an open lesson question. These take on a variety of forms but ensure that each lesson starts with an opportunity for all students, including SEND and AIM, to make predictions, to speculate and to have their voice heard and respected. The lesson question is also an opportunity for teachers to gauge students pre-conceptions and to address any misconceptions they might have.


In ‘Maintaining Curiosity’ OFSTED also state that; “science achievement in the schools visited was highest when individual pupils were involved in fully planning, carrying out and evaluating investigations that they had, in some part, suggested themselves.” In light of this we have planned for every topic in KS3 to have an extended investigation that provides students with opportunities to use their creativity and take an active role in their learning by planning, conducting and reflecting on their experiments at length. Carefully scaffolded planning templates are used where appropriate to allow students of all abilities, including SEND, to access these tasks by reducing the load on their working memory.  


By rewriting our assessments at KS3 to give disciplinary knowledge equal importance to substantive, we have ensured that teachers allocate appropriate time and importance to students’ development as scientists and that students see that this is rewarded alongside the accumulation of knowledge and ideas.


The BCCS Science department value both written and verbal communication. Communication is promoted through: high standards of academic oracy, focus on tier 2 and 3 vocabulary in lessons, increased focus on extended writing in assessments and explicit teaching and assessment of command words at GCSE. Oracy and collaboration are promoted through frequent use of think, pair share and investigative group-work. 


Alongside these opportunities for using ideas and creative thinking to develop interdisciplinary knowledge, the Science department at BCCS increasingly appreciate the use of explicit instruction to deliver substantive knowledge. The Science department meet regularly to partake in co-planning. This is an important opportunity for teachers to discuss starting points and misconceptions based on both their subject expertise and their knowledge of individual students that they have also taught during their Science learning pathway at BCCS.  


BCCS benefits from a city centre location opposite Bristol’s science museum ‘We the Curious’. The science department takes students on regular visits to the museum, with a particular focus on PP students. This is intended to develop scientific capital amongst those students who might have the least experience of science in their everyday lives. In addition we will use the Bristol museum where appropriate to enrich the study of fossilisation and evolution and to learn about the contribution that the South West has made to the history of science, particularly palaeontology. We work frequently with the University or Bristol through a variety of links. This enriches the experience of students at BCCS by seeing how significant contributions to science are being made just up the road from the school. BCCS is lacking in green space on site. This is of particular consequence in Biology field work. As such we use Brandon Hill park to enrich students Biology field studies, particularly at KS5 and 4 but also 3 where appropriate.

Assessing the Science Curriculum

The science department at BCCS has given great thought to how we assess students. Having reviewed the literature on assessment alongside our experienced knowledge of how we can support our students at BCCS to progress, we have recently redesigned both our KS3 and KS4 assessments. Our assessments are less frequent, but cover a broader range of knowledge. Furthermore, we are now more able to distinguish between the testing of substantive and disciplinary knowledge. Assessments all have a familiar format to reduce the demand on the cognitive load of our students. They are accessible for all students, including our students with SEND, so every student has the opportunity to succeed using their active learning practices. Students who are working hard on their retrieval skills are rewarded through scoring highly in recall questions, and can be given valuable feedback to allow them to progress their disciplinary skills through assessment of their understanding of the practical components of Science. A quick review of performance in the retrieval component allows the teacher to plan progression through the curriculum that follows. As well as individualised feedback for students, a more in depth review of performance in the practical-based component of the assessment gives Science teachers guidance as to foci for future practical work along the practical pathway. 


Students are introduced to the format of externally examined questions as part of their in-class learning; they receive live individual or whole-class feedback to allow them to learn how to answer these questions. Alongside this, in KS4 assessments, we use past paper questions to test disciplinary knowledge in their routine tests, in their end of year exams and in their mocks. 


The BCCS Science model of assessment teaches students the value of recall from the beginning of their science pathway. This sets them up with effective study habits as well as strong retrieval skills by the time they are working towards their external exams in year 11. The BCCS Science approach to routine retrieval practice homework for all of KS3 and KS4 also supports the development of these learning habits. We encourage our students to develop independence in their learning by analysing their own performance in the routine low-stakes quizzes used for homework to identify topics requiring more work. They are using this to set their own, personalised quizzes to improve their recall across their weaker topics.  

Progression in the Science Curriculum

In 2010 the Association for Science Education published the ‘Principles and Big Ideas of Science Education’ (Harlen, W. 2010). This still provides the best concise summary of the aims of science education.The report states that a science education should, “aim systematically to develop and sustain learners’ curiosity about the world, enjoyment of scientific activity and understanding of how natural phenomena can be explained.”

This principle sums up what we hope for students at BCCS to achieve from their time learning science at the school. The report adds that:  “The goal of science education is not knowledge of a body of facts and theories but a progression towards key ideas which enable understanding of events and phenomena of relevance to students’ lives.” 


Progression through the Science curriculum at BCCS is cyclical, with foundational topics being introduced in KS3, and layered upon in KS4 and even further in KS5. This sequential work on substantive knowledge increases the depth of students’ understanding and ability to apply their knowledge in new situations as they form links between new topics and previous. Likewise, students are introduced to the scientific method in Science from KS3, and this is revisited throughout their curriculum pathway, ultimately leading to the ability to plan, carry out, present and evaluate an investigation. An outline of the knowledge that students will have developed for all of Science by the end of each Key Stage can be found here.


A snapshot of the substantive curriculum for one thread of Science can be seen here:









Our students know that plants make their own ‘food’ by carrying out photosynthesis. This is a chemical reaction where carbon dioxide and water combine to produce glucose and oxygen, using energy from the sun. Carbon dioxide and oxygen are exchanged through holes underneath the leaf. Water moves up the plant from the roots to the leaves via xylem, a bit like sucking a straw. 

Our students know that plants need to make their own glucose for respiration, growth and reproduction. 6CO2 react with 6H2O to create C6H12O6 and 6O2 using energy from the sun. This is an enzyme-controlled reaction, therefore is affected by temperature and pH. The availability of light, chlorophyll and carbon dioxide are limiting factors. Water moves through plants due to transpiration. Water evaporates from the leaves via stomata that are opened and closed based on the turgidity of guard cells. Evaporation causes water to move up through the stem via xylem. Water moves by osmosis from the soil into the root hair cells to replace the water constantly moving up the xylem.  

Our students know that plants are autotrophs that carry out photosynthesis to create carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are used in respiration, structural molecules and as the basis of other biological molecules. The equation, 6CO2 + 6H2O → C6H12O6 + 6O2 is used to represent the overall process of photosynthesis, but it is actually a series of complex enzyme-controlled reactions. Photosynthesis is divided into two main sets of reactions, the light dependent and light independent stages. The products of the light dependent reactions become the reactants in the light independent reactions. Photons of light initiate photosynthesis by causing photoexcitation of electrons from chlorophyll, which is part of a complex of proteins known as photosystem 2. A series of redox reactions provide energy and allows chemiosmosis, leading to the production of ATP and NADPH. These products drive the Calvin cycle, which results in the production of hexose sugars via a series of intermediate reactions.    



Our students know that all materials are made of particles. Particles can form solids, liquids or gases, depending on particle vibration. Energy moving into a material makes their particles vibrate faster. Different materials have different melting points and boiling points.This is the temperature at which they change state. Elements are made up of one type of atom and are represented by chemical symbols. Compounds contain more than one type of atom and are represented by chemical formulae 

Our students know that atoms are made up of protons, neutrons and electrons, and the number of these determine the behaviour of the atom. The law of conservation of mass is used to balance chemical equations. Knowledge of atomic structure was developed in ancient Greece, but more recent, formalised discoveries and theories provide evidence for the atomic model. Varying numbers of neutrons produces isotopes, and an uneven number of protons and electrons produces ions. Electrons are arranged in shells around the nucleus of the atom, and these can be involved in ionic and covalent bonding. The periodic table is arranged based on the components of the atom. The properties of atoms can be predicted based on their placement in the periodic table.     

Our students understand that the physical and chemical properties of all substances are due to the nature of the particles that a substance is made up of and the interactions between those particles.  Their knowledge of the structure of the atom extends to the shape of s, p and d orbitals.  Students are able to describe the differences between chemical bonds and intermolecular forces.  Students represent particles and changes in bonding using molecular, structural and displayed formulae and from this predict the mass and number of particles formed in chemical reactions.  The particle model is built up with the concepts of kinetics and thermodynamics.  From this understanding students can predict the feasibility and rate of chemical reactions. 


Electric circuits

Our students know that a cell provides the ‘push’ to make charges move, which is known as potential difference. They can use a voltmeter to measure it. Different components of a circuit have different resistance. They know this is measured in ohms and is used, alongside potential difference, to calculate the current in a circuit. Students can draw and construct basic series and parallel circuits and explain the impact of series and parallel circuits on potential difference and current. 

Our students can use circuit symbols to both draw and produce circuits with switches, bulbs, diodes, ammeters, fixed and variable resistors, fuses, heaters and voltmeters. They understand that current is the rate of flow of charge, and it refers to the number of electrons per second passing through the circuit. They can use the equation, Q=IT to calculate the charge flow, when they are given the current in amps and the time taken in seconds. Students can use and rearrange the equation V = E/Q to calculate the potential difference across a component. They can also use the equation R =  V/I to calculate the resistance of an electrical component. Students are familiar with Ohm’s law and can recognise that a graph of current over a range of potential difference demonstrates their directly proportional relationship. They can calculate the gradient of these lines to determine the resistance of a resistor in the circuit. Students can take measurements of resistance practically to investigate whether the resistance of a component is dependent on the current passing through it. Students know that in a series circuit, the total resistance is equal to the sum of resistance of each component, and can use the equation, R = R1 + R2 to show this. Students know that in parallel circuits, the total current in the circuit is the sum of the current in each of the different branches, and the potential difference across each component is the same. Alongside this, they know that the current passing through each component is dependent on its resistance. Components with higher resistance have a lower current.  

Our students understand Kirchoff's Laws and use them to both predict and justify currents and potential differences throughout both simple and complex circuits. They can use all of the electricity equations from GCSE, as well as the inverse relationship for resistors in parallel. They can define the relationship between resistance and resistivity, and both calculate and determine experimentally the resistivity of a wire. Students have built on their understanding of electrical components from KS4 with a more in-depth understanding of NTC and PTC thermistors and LDRs. They also understand the functions and workings of a capacitor, being able to calculate the charge and energy stored on a capacitor, and use the exponential and logarithmic functions to calculate values based on charging and discharging a capacitor through a fixed resistor. Students can determine the capacitance of a capacitor experimentally, as well as the time constant. They are able to explain the exponential behaviour of a capacitor using their understanding of electric fields.