C1. Are triple science GCSEs (i.e. separate physics, chemistry and biology) available for all students? What proportion of students take them?

Why this is important

  • Allowing students the option to study each science subject separately gives them the opportunity to study the subjects in greater depth than with single and additional science.
  • There is a strong correlation between taking triple science at GCSE and studying science at A level. However, it is important to recognise that science and additional science can be an appropriate preparation for A level.
  • Offering triple science at GCSE can be a way of attracting specialist science teachers to apply for jobs at your school, and of retaining them.
  • It can be beneficial to offer triple science to weaker students, even if they won’t achieve the highest grades.
  • Learning physics, chemistry and biology as separate subjects makes clear the separate identity of each – important when students come to make A level choices.


In 2012, DfE data indicated that 84% of schools offered triple science GCSE, and around 23% of students took triple science exams. A report from the Open Public Services Network showed that the availability of triple science varies across local education authorities. The most deprived areas of the country are more likely to have schools where fewer students taking triple science.

Students at state schools must study all of biology, physics and chemistry up until the end of Key Stage 4, although there are different options for doing this. Students can either study biology, chemistry and physics or a combination of science, additional science and further additional science.

Ideas for improvement

  • School leaders will undoubtedly have considered the advantages and disadvantages of offering triple science, but for more advice, the DfE-funded Triple Science Support Programme aims to provide information and support for schools developing and delivering triple science.
  • For more information on gender differences in the uptake of science and maths see C4.

It is important to recognise that triple science has more content than ‘double award’ combined science, and therefore needs more time to teach.  It can be counterproductive to try to squeeze triple science into the same amount of time as double award.  The Ofsted report from December 2013, ‘Maintaining Curiosity’, stated that one way to improve achievement in science is to allow more time for triple science, for example, by starting it in year nine.

Last updated May 2014

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