QLD-syllabus change

A teacher’s guide to the new Queensland senior science syllabus

Hear insights from three expert teachers in Queensland who are working closely with the new QCAA syllabus documents.

Key things to note

  • New Queensland Certificate of Education Chemistry syllabus has been approved (April 2017) for implementation of Units 1&2 in 2019.

  • New Queensland Certificate of Education Physics and Biology syllabuses are expected in June 2017 for implementation of Units 1&2 in 2019.

  • Read more on the Science draft senior syllabus.

  • Contact Kim Mitchener to see how Pearson will fully support Queensland Schools

What are the key changes?

1. New subject matter.

There is new content knowledge as well as an increased focus on science inquiry skills.


2. Mandatory practical investigations.

Will be assessed in some form and must be covered during the course of study.


3. Teachers need to have summative assessments endorsed by the QCAA before they are set for students.

“This means that all of year 12 content taught will be assessable,” says Mark Baker, a Physics and Mathematics Teacher. “This is a huge change to the current system. Previously, students only had to learn a term’s work before their exam, and now it’s the whole year.” 


4. An external exam worth 50 percent of a student’s mark.

The high stakes external assessment is set by the QCAA. It is therefore critical that all syllabus content and skills are covered during the course of study.

What do the changes mean for teachers?

Extensive syllabus change

Working towards an external exam with such a heavy weighting means that teachers will need to cover a lot of content.

“The main challenge will be the breadth of content and the pacing to get through it all, as there is no room to leave out anything in the new syllabus,” says Baker. Remember, if you don’t cover all of the content, the external assessment can’t be changed.

The QCAA syllabus takes great care to provide the necessary level of detail without being excessively prescriptive. It will be important that teachers ensure that all the subject matter and skills are covered, without going beyond the expectations of the QCAA. Students may benefit from background knowledge and activation of prior learning throughout the course, but there will not be time to explore topics in great depth beyond the syllabus. 

Extensive syllabus change

The percentage change is based on comparison between the current course learning outcomes and the (new) draft 3 course.

“Teachers will need to interpret the syllabus very effectively in order to satisfy the requirements of both internal and external assessments,” says Andrew Landroth, a Biology Coordinator and Science and Mathematics Teacher.

“With a strong influence from Marzano and Kendall's taxonomy The New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, a good understanding will be required when interpreting the syllabuses.” he adds. “We will need to identify the key components of the syllabus and how they relate to the new framework. Marzano and Kendall’s four levels of assessment form the basis of the new assessment and, as such, need to be very well understood.”

New assessment criteria – Instrument-specific marking guides (ISMG)

“There are a few additions to the physics course that some teachers (including myself) will have to brush up on,” says Baker. This also applies to the Biology and Chemistry courses where new topics and approaches are taken.

The planning is critical. Educators need to ensure that all summative assessments have been endorsed before use. Initially, this will be tricky as the internal assessments are all new, or slightly different from the current assessments. While the instrument specific marking guides (ISMGs) still use standards that are framed by qualifiers and cognition words, similar to the current practice, they need to be understood and unpacked clearly for the students as the structure and framework is different. This includes the awarding of marks once the ISMG has been ticked. 

Furthermore, some advice is provided about the use of formative assessment but these will not be endorsed. So in order to best prepare students for Units 3&4 (and the external assessment) educators will need to introduce them to the techniques and ISMGs in the formative time. Therefore, teachers should consider developing assessments for Units 1&2 that mirror the techniques in Units 3&4, in order to allow students to explore the ISMGs so they know how their assessments will be marked. Practicing assessments on their own will provide exemplars that demonstrate the qualities of the standards.

A new focus

“A significant change for teachers in Queensland will be the role of the teacher. Currently, teachers and subject areas are quite autonomous in operation,” says Landroth. “Teachers and subject coordinators plan and modify their work programs, interpreting the syllabus guidelines, planning and implementing units and writing assessment, only being moderated by panel feedback once per year." The focus of planning would shift to developing teaching and learning approaches rather than designing assessment.


What do the changes mean for students?

QLD-quote -rigour

The syllabus draws on far more assumed knowledge and science inquiry skills from the F-10 Australian Curriculum, than the current system. Students in Year 7-9 can be prepared for the new system right now, especially in terms of how they are assessed and the length of exams, style of questioning and the content they are taught.

The rigour of the course will set students up extremely well,” says Baker. “Students will learn to be more mature and plan their revision around external exams.” They need to take charge of their learning and make sure they don’t fall behind. 

It also means they will have fewer assessments in their final year. That said, there may be more stress going into the external exam worth 50 percent. The focus on skills and improvement with practice mean that students who apply themselves will finish with much greater high-order thinking ability. They will also be able to apply the skills with a more hands-on approach.


How can teachers be prepared?

Students must also take care when choosing their senior subjects, as changing later will be more difficult as Units 3&4 build upon the Unit 1&2 knowledge and skills.

Though it’s new, our learners will take it all in their stride.

“The net result of all these changes promises to be one of a better understanding of the big picture for students. They will understand more clearly what they need to know, how they will be assessed and where they are currently” says Landroth. “Ultimately, it is possible that students will have a better understanding of their subjects as well.”

QLD Quote exams

Planning is the key here. There are a few things that teachers can do to prepare themselves for the changes. Firstly, you should become familiar with the syllabus document. Pay particular attention to the following:

    • As the changes are happening quickly, it’s crucial that teachers get on top of the subject matter now.

    • You should introduce students to the techniques and ISMGs as soon as possible. This means developing assessments for Units 1&2 that mirror the techniques in Units 3&4. Begin integrating aspects of the new material and complete some of the mandatory practical investigations.

    • This is a great time for teachers to work together in Professional Learning Communities, and not just within their own schools. Getting together with teachers at other schools and talking about the syllabus and ISMGs will be the best way forward.

    • For schools with Laboratory Technicians, science faculties should work closely with them to support mandatory prac delivery.

    • “I suggest going to as many workshops on the new courses as possible,” says Baker. “Get a copy of the syllabus and start to plan out for when content needs to be taught and find dates for the assessment.” Visit the QCAA senior syllabus revision page to access syllabus and supporting documents.

    • “Grab copies of previous exams from NSW or Victoria or even the International Baccalaureate to see what style and breadth of content is covered in external question,” he adds.

  • “If you can, put your name down to be a marker of external exams so you get a feel of what is expected,” says Baker.

Some schools are gearing up to start teaching Unit 1 in term 4 of Year 10 (from 2018) across Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and Unit 3 in term 4 of Year 11 in late 2018. This is to save some time at the end of Unit 4 for revision and exam preparation.
“We will be starting year 11 in 2019, which means that this year’s Year 9 students will be the first cohort to face the new system,” says Baker. “We are already putting the rigour into place – especially in data analysis and mathematical skills. We will continue to add more rigour and more content-heavy exams this year and next year for these students.”


How can schools support their teachers?

Every school’s implementation plan needs to provide special support for the teachers affected by these changes. The teachers and administrators can contact the Senior Education Officers at QCAA for support and guidance, and visit the school portal. Here, they can access the syllabus and supporting documents, and register to receive email alerts of the memorandums.

Schools will need to facilitate collaboration and give all teachers ample time to master the implementation of ISMGs. They also should prepare for timetable changes, which will depend on when the courses will be implemented. “Schools need to be flexible with timetables, especially in year 12,” says Baker.

“The identification of resource requirements and allocation is important, too. Staff in key planning roles will need adequate time to plan new programs. Parents will need to be well informed of the changes and how they will impact their children, and students will need access to resources, particularly in order to reinforce areas where they may be weak,” says Landroth.

Pearson will fully support Queensland Schools

  1. Pearson is publishing a new senior science series in Biology, Chemistry and Physics to coincide with the implementation of Units 1&2 in 2019 and Units 3&4 in 2020.

  2. Pearson is preparing current, relevant and high quality science content developed specifically for the new QCAA syllabus and we guarantee to have our materials ready when you are!

  3. We will have the following teaching and learning resources available to fully support all school requirements for the new courses: Student Book with an eBook, Activity Book and Teacher Support

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