The Science Department at The Downs School is the largest and one of the most successful departments in the school. The department has been teaching in a new, self-contained Science centre consisting of 12 purpose built laboratories, two preparation areas and three breakout zones of eight computers.

All Science staff at The Downs School are committed to providing a balanced science education to students of all abilities, from age 11 years to age 18 years. Every student receives a thorough and rounded education in Science and is given encouragement to succeed to his or her potential. The department comprises 11 teaching staff and four technicians. The staff work as a team and carry out responsibilities across the department.

Physics topics are covered throughout the school as part of Key Stage 3 Science, based on the QCA Schemes of Work. The highest achievers at Key Stage 3 are offered the opportunity to study the separate sciences, Biology, Chemistry and Physics, at GCSE (Key Stage 4).


Key Stage 4

The Science Department adopted a new and exciting course for Physics study at GCSE (9-1). This is based on the AQA Physics syllabus 8463.

Course Aims:

  • Encourage students to be inspired, motivated and challenged by following a broad, coherent, practical, satisfying and worthwhile course of study.

  • Encourage students to develop their curiosity about the physical world, and provide insight into and experience of how science works.

  • Enable students to engage with physics in their everyday lives and to make informed choices about further study in physics and related disciplines and about career choices.

Course Content

Subject content

Students will study a variety of Physics subjects from the smallest scale (particle model of matter) right up to the largest scale (space physics). The specification is split into 8 topics

  1. Energy

  2. Electricity

  3. Particle model of matter

  4. Atomic structure

  5. Forces

  6. Waves

  7. Magnetism and electromagnetism

  8. Space physics


The qualification is linear which means that students will sit all their exams at the end of the course. There are two papers that students must sit, one covering topic 1-5 and the other topics 6 – 10, with each contributing 50% of the marks towards the final GCSE qualification.

Both papers are 1 hour 45 minutes, with 100 marks available in the form of multiple choice, structured and closed questions with at least one open response question.

There is no coursework element with this qualification.

A Level

Students can study any of the separate sciences at A-level, described separately, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, or Psychology or Applied Science at BTEC.

If studying Physics separately, students at The Downs follow the OCR Physics B course (H557). The course is also known as 'Advancing Physics' and was initially developed by OCR in partnership with the Institute of Physics to give a thorough grounding in contemporary Physics.

The Advancing Physics course offers a glimpse of the beauty and order from which the world around us is made. The course is up to date, varied and is presented in a way to convey the excitement of the subject. It presents Physics in a wide range of real life situations, linking well to research that is currently being carried out within the Physics community. The course rewards creative thinkers, particularly with the coursework elements where students receive credit for producing work and reports on areas of their own interest.

Physics is a challenging subject that will definitely make students think. It requires a step up from GCSE in terms of working methods but if students have determination, together with a curious nature and a positive attitude, then they will be well suited to the course.

Entry Requirements

Grade B in Physics at GCSE or BB in Science and Grade 6 in Mathematics at GCSE.

In Physics we use numbers and mathematics to help interpret the world around us. Good mathematical skills are essential and we strongly (as much as we possibly can) suggest that A-level mathematics would be a good complementary subject to take alongside Physics. Students often comment about the strong link between the two subjects and the mutually beneficial nature of the two subjects.

Course Content

Course Structure and Assessment

Physics is a linearly assessed A-level with 3 exam papers being sat at the end of year 13.

A2 Physics - Unit title – The three exams draw from all 6 modules Method of assessment Weighting When assessed
A-level – Paper 1 – Fundamentals of Physics (110 marks) Exam – 2hr 15mins 41% of A-level June Year 13
A-level – Paper 2 – Scientific literacy in Physics (100 marks) Exam – 2hr 15mins 37% of A-level June Year 13
A-level – Paper 3 – Practical skills in Physics (60 marks) Exam – 1hr 30mins 22% of A-level June Year 13
Practical endorsement in Physics Reported separately   Throughout the course

There is no coursework element with the 2015 A level science courses however students completing the A level qualification (not AS) will be awarded the practical endorsement certificate for successful completion of 12 key practicals which are delivered throughout the two year course.

Module 1 (Year 12/13) – Development of practical skills in Physics

This module lays the foundations for students to be able to do good quality practical work in Physics by helping them to learn how to plan, implement, analyse and then evaluate practical work. They learn about the correct use of a range of different apparatus and techniques. This module is embedded throughout the content of the specification and is developed as we move through the full A-level course.

Module 2 (Year 12/13) – Fundamental data analysis

This module teaches the students how to process and analyse the data that they may obtain from practical sessions. Students are taught a range of skills that will enable them to process data correctly, such as how to write numbers in standard form as well as how prefixes are used within Physics. Added to this, students consider how uncertainties arise within data and also how they can be minimised. Added to this, students consider how a range of factors such as accuracy, precision, resolution, sensitivity, response time, systematic error and zero error might affect the quality of data obtained. This module is embedded throughout the content of the specification and is developed as we move through the full A-level course.

Module 3 (Year 12) - Physics in Action

The module is broadly split into two sections, focussing on ‘Communications’ and the ‘Mechanical properties of materials’. Communications is about electrical circuits and sensors, waves as signals and imaging. The mechanical properties of materials introduces students to material properties and how these depend on the structure of the material. Students also consider how they help determine the choice of material for a given purpose.

Module 4 (Year 12) - Understanding Processes

The unit is split into two halves, with one half focussing on ‘Mechanics’ and the other considering ‘Waves and Quantum Behaviour’. The Mechanics aspect focuses on vectors and calculations involving space and time. Waves and Quantum Behaviour focuses mainly on the understanding of superposition phenomena of waves with a brief account of quantum behaviour of photons and electrons.

Module 5 (Year 13) - Rise and Fall of the Clockwork Universe

This develops the grand conception of the world as a mathematical machine. ‘Models and Rules’ covers the core Physics of random decay and the charge on a capacitor, energy and momentum, the harmonist oscillator and circular orbits. ‘Matter in Extremes’ shows how theories of matter and atoms explain behaviour.

Module 6 (Year 13) - Field and Particle Physics

This introduces the modern picture of fields and particle interactions as fundamental mechanisms of nature. ‘Fields’ covers ideas about electromagnetism, electric field and potential. ‘Fundamental particles’ describes atomic, nuclear and sub-nuclear structure.

Career and Higher Education Opportunities

Physics is one of the most highly regarded A-level courses by employers and universities and, as such, the course supports students in a diverse range of destinations post sixth form.

At University level, Physics opens the door towards Science, Maths and Engineering courses as well as supporting students who may wish to progress to a Humanities based subject. Students wishing to study Physics at degree level should note that many Universities would expect students to arrive with A-levels in both Maths and Physics.

Employers also recognise the importance of A-level Physics and actively seek to recruit students who have completed Physics as a result of the way that students are trained and encouraged to think in a logical manner.

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