Exclusive: tougher GCSE risks driving pupils away from maths

Difficulty of new test may have unintended negative effect on numbers continuing at A level, experts warn

Experts are warning that the government’s tougher new maths GCSE is so difficult that it risks driving pupils away from the subject.

TES understands that one exam board has told teachers the higher-tier version of the GCSE will be so demanding that pupils could achieve a grade 4 – the equivalent of today’s C grade – with just 12 per cent of the marks.

Sue Pope, the chair of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics’ general council, said: “This is going to put children off wanting to carry on studying maths and we really want children to study maths post-16. Pupils will think, ‘I may have got a C but I couldn’t do most of the exam’.”

The new qualification, which will be sat from next summer, is deliberately designed to be more stretching. But there are growing fears that the GCSE will be counterproductive and jeopardise the past decade’s rise in A-level maths entries.

Charlie Stripp, director of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics, said: “We applaud the aspiration [to raise standards in maths] but worry about whether schools and teachers will have the support they need to meet it and, if not, whether the changes might have the opposite effect of what was intended, by putting people off if they don’t have access to what they need to be able to succeed.

“Students that are well prepared for the new GCSE should be more likely to choose maths A-level, but for students who are less well-prepared it may have a negative effect on wanting to carry on with maths.”

A report from Mathematics in Education and Industry – an education charity headed by Mr Stripp – published this month, highlights a “serious shortage of specialist mathematics teachers” that has been “exacerbated” by the increased demands of the reformed maths GCSE. It calls for Ofsted checks on how schools are handling the new GCSE.

The warnings are only the latest controversy relating to the new qualification. Last year, sample papers for the GCSE – already approved by the exams regulator Ofqual – had to be torn up because they had been pitched at the wrong standard.

An Ofqual spokesman said: “It may be that the boundaries are lower than currently, but until the first new exams are sat in summer 2017, we cannot know for sure what the mark distributions will be.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are providing enough resources for maths education and have also reformed the maths GCSE to bring it into line with the academic standard expected in the highest performing countries around the world.

“We continue to offer generous bursaries and scholarships for trainee maths teachers. We are also actively supporting schools to encourage former experienced teachers to return to the classroom.”


This is an [edited] article from the 24 June edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week’s TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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