What is the 20%? It’s the key concepts in science: fundamental ideas like force and interdependence, and scientific models like particles and waves. We’ve worked out there are about 110 key concepts for Combined Science GCSE. It also includes key skills – about 15 of them. The first law says that the 20% key content could contribute 80% of students’ marks.
What does the law mean for your curriculum? It means, shock horror, that the practice of working through the 1001 statements in the specification (like the textbooks do), is not the best strategy to maximise achievement. The first law says you should prioritise your limited curriculum time for understanding the key concepts. Here’s a calculation: ‘coverage’ students on average get 30% of the questions right at GCSE. Using the ‘understanding’ strategy, they might get 70% of what they learned correct. Then, they would only have to know half the syllabus to do better than ‘coverage’ students.
You’re not serious, are you? Look at the GCSE assessment objectives and you’ll see that all content is not equal. Facts count for 15% in AO1. 25% in AO1 is for connected understanding of concepts. In AO2, 40% is for applying concepts and in AO3, 20% if for analysing concepts with information. I’m not saying ignore the syllabus, I’m suggesting that there is a smarter way to teach it.
Why is the first law true? It’s based on the well-known 80:20 principle. In many areas of life, 80% of the effects comes from only 20% of the causes. For instance, 80% of the world’s wealth is owned by only 20% of the people.
So how do I adapt my curriculum? As you might have guessed, we’ve been using the first law to create our Mastery Curriculum framework. It’s organised around key concepts and skills, and is a blueprint to help schools create a better 5-year curriculum. It can be customised to whatever specification you follow and it will be launched early in 2018.
The best way to help students develop key concepts – and be able to apply them – is to follow the second law of mastery.