The ‘new’ chemistry GCSE

I use the term ‘new’ loosely as we all know it won’t be new for long. Indeed in the chemistry shared area at school we have folders labelled ‘new A level’, ‘newer A level’, ‘old A level’ and ‘old, old, A level’.

So what’s causing all the commotion in the new chemistry GCSE? What is all this new equipment you’ll be needing? And the new text books?

In June 2015 Ofqual published its required subject content for science and I’ll use this to analyse what could cause issues for some teachers and schools. For chemistry this is p.20-31 of

The final drafts of syllabuses haven’t yet been rubber stamped by Ofqual so the devil in the detail isn’t possible to predict what fine tuning may occur by individual exam boards but the content is the same, it would be perfectly possible for experienced teachers to write a scheme of work just from the Ofqual outline.


  • Atomic structure, the model of the atom – nothing new and exciting. Slightly odd requirement to be able to recall the relative sizes of atoms and small molecules. Could potentially mean discussion of atomic radii but many teachers have always done this if for example they have been discussing the trend in reactivity of the alkali metals with water.
  • Modern Periodic Table – again nothing exciting. Many specifications have had the history of the development of the Periodic Table on them in the most recent GCSE incarnation.
  • Properties of transition metals – looks quite new but has been knocking around some specifications as the odd sentence in the learning here and there. For example the use of an iron catalyst in the Haber process. The difference between main group metals and transition metals is on the current L1/2 AQA certificate if you’re curious about how it may be assessed. In reality it hasn’t come up much, I can’t find it in Jun 2014 or Jun 2013. The ideas about coloured ions are new to GCSE although this is recall only so no calculations with Planck’s constant are required! The transition metal content has reduced in the new A level (having been widely derided because students got a lot of marks for rote learning of colours and formulae), including it in the GCSE must be keeping some metallurgists happy somewhere.
  • States of matter – same old, same old.
  • Different kinds of chemical bond – ditto
  • Structure and bonding of carbon – ditto
  • Bulk and surface properties of matter including nano particles – nano stuff has been knocking around for quite a while on a number of specifications. We seem to have gained what I remember vividly from biology, surface are to volume ratio.
  • Chemical symbols and formulae – mostly standard stuff although some recent specs haven’t had half equations so that could feel like a shift of AS content into GCSE, again I would advise looking at the certificat iGCSE for examples of assessment.
  • Identification of gases – standard stuff
  • Chemistry of acids – the basics of this remain the same but some advanced content has been brought in, this looks to be an attempt to ramp up the mathematics requirement. The difference between strong and weak acids compared to concentrated and dilute is always a tricky and seems to be absent from the current home specifications. I always find it best to tackle this after the equilibrium topic (equilibrium is on most current home specs in its usual elderly context of the Haber process). The additional maths is a bit yuk and almost unnecessary (why not just wait until they can do -log[H+]?) but might also serve to make the idea of extent of ionisation more tangible.
  • The reactivity series as a tendency of a metal to form its ion – reactivity series is nothing new, the more theoretical emphasis is but let’s face it, it’s not like they’re going to be calculating electrode potentials.
  • Electrolysis – this isn’t on most of the home GCSE specs and I will conced it is a difficult topic, even for able students. A case study of electrolysis in the form of aluminium extraction or products from salt is much more commonly found in the current specifications. More theory is now required and it is difficult (competing ions in aqueous solution especially so). I recommend an iGCSE textbook like Longman for non specialists or anyone who hasn’t taught the topic/is a bit rusty.

    iGCSE textbook for reference
  • Redox – again this has been encountered in the context of aluminium extraction and the acronym ‘OIL RIG’ thrown around. Students have often previously been required to rote learn the anode and cathode equations in this context, even in specifications which didn’t include understanding of electrolysis of a requirement for half-equations.
  • Energy changes including reaction profiles – similar to current home GCSEs, q = mcdT and calculations using bond energies.
  • Carbon compounds as feedstock and fuels – nothing revolutionary
  • Chemical cells and fuel cells – a new addition and on first glance looks like something has been catapulted out of A2 chemistry straight down to GCSE. In reality it looks like a few facts to learn and no doubt exam boards will dream up some imaginative how science works/thinking scientifically questions on it. It isn’t a feature of iGCSE specs either so I suggest an OCR A level textbook for reference,they have always had a greater emphasis on the hydrogen economy than the other boards. It needn’t be a recent book, it’s been there in various versions for a while so a cheaply eBay reference book for the department would be fine.


  • Rate of reaction – not much changes, woo, a cursory treatment of the action of enzymes is back!
  • Equilibrium – present on many current home GCSE specs although I agree, not a nice topic to teach at GCSE when students can lack the ability to join up ideas and struggle with the maturity of language required to be successful in assessments. There isn’t even the nice maths to look forward to like in AS. Contexts, Haber process, Contact Process…. The usual!
  • Alkanes, alkenes, alcohols – standard stuff
  • Synthetic and natural polymers – depth increased here, previously GCSE has focused only on addition polymers and now there are condensation polymers to consider as well. Can be tricky and it will be interesting to see at what level the exam boards pitch the assessment of this. At least you can truthfully do the nylon rope trick experiment now though instead of fudging over the fact that it isn’t addition polymerisation. A bit of DNA, proteins etc but looks like mainly recall for those.
  • Purity and separations – standard stuff except interpretation of melting point data has been snuck in on the sly.
  • Conservation of mass and balanced chemical equations – conservation of mass hasn’t been explicitly there before but given the KS3 changes and emphasis of big ideas this doesn’t surprise me. I am currently hammering this point home with my Year 8 (see the magical lesson blog). Balancing chemical equations, focus on the basics.
  • Amount of substance (moles) – now things are getting serious…. Avogadro’s constant has moved from AS to GCSE and the effect of limiting reagents has now been specifically outlined in the subject content requirement so this will no longer be the type of extension question for the very top and become much more run of the mill.
  • Moles and gases – another AS topic moved to GCSE but personally I don’t think this is too much of a problem. They’re sticking to using the approximation of 1 mole = 24dm3 of gas. This used to be the standard calculation in OCR A A-level (actually I think it still is..?) so again one of their textbooks will be helpful for non specialists. It is also common on iGCSE specs, so look at Edexcel iGCSE for examples of questions.
  • Determining concentrations of solutions (titration) – same as current GCSE
  • Analysis – chemical and spectroscopic – the usual cation and anion tests and flame tests, cagey on the detail for what they mean with spectroscopy. If I were to take a wild guess I would suggest that exam boards may bring in some infra-red spectroscopy from AS, the interpretation of these using a data table is trivial.
  • Life cycle assessment and recycling – oh joy, this again! Some current specs have this, I last taught it on the widely criticised ‘pub science’ version of OCR 21stC science.
  • Fractional distillation and cracking – standard stuff
  • Extracting metals by reference to the reactivity series – on the surface could be the same and it is explicit in the emphasis being on oxides so no roasting of sulfide ores etc. Biological methods are included, coverage in the current GCSE home specs is patchy but it is definitely in the AQA L1/2 certificate spec so resources are out there. (I hate phytomining and bioleaching!)
  • Equilibrium position vs rate – hello again Mr Haber….
  • Fertilisers – nothing tricky here
  • Yield and atom economy – yield is standard stuff, atom economy has been fluctuating in and out of various GCSE specs for the last few years. I certainly taught it in OCR 21stC in the late 2000s so again, resources exist.
  • Development of the atmosphere – again something that has been fluctuating around in the specs for a while.
  • Greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane and air pollution-  standard stuff although methane is often glossed over in current specs. Potentially lots of how science works here, the old 21stC science C1, air quality had lots of this.
  • Water – looks like a context to tie a number of different concepts together eg, separation techniques, chlorination, precipitation. The chemistry is simple, getting students to see the links may not be.

So, what do teachers and schools need to be fully prepared?

Firstly, don’t panic, there is more than enough standard stuff to teach to Year 9 for a whole year and at least half of Year 10 before you start to panic about what the assessment looks like.

I can’t see much that will need extra practical equipment, I’ll look at that in more detail later.

  • A stock of reference textbooks to help teacher subject knowledge would help, something like Longman iGCSE chemistry and an old OCR A AS level textbook.
  • Have a look at the current iGCSE specs as coverage of the more ‘difficult’ topics is greater there. There is a reason that the AQA L1/2 certificate is on its way out, the home GCSE is becoming too similar and it doesn’t make sense to run two similar qualifications.








































Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s