Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME)

ACME Welcomes Piloting of Pair of Mathematics GCSEs

12 December 2008

The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME), responding to today's announcement from the government that a pair of GCSEs in mathematics would be piloted from 2010, welcomes the news as a positive step.

However, the announcement raises questions over the government's long-term commitment to a pair of GCSEs, with the news that the pair will not be ready for first teaching until 2015, and the additional announcement that a new single GCSE will be introduced from 2010.

Commenting on the announcement, Chair of ACME Professor Dame Julia Higgins FRS said:

"The government have finally recognised one of the long-standing demands of the mathematics community - the desire for a second GCSE. We welcome the government's decision to pilot the pair, as we believe they will deliver a better mathematically equipped generation of students".

The pair of GCSEs - devised after intense work between ACME and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) - will fulfil one of the outstanding recommendations of Professor Adrian Smith's 2004 report Making Mathematics Count. In the four years since the report was published, thorough and exhaustive effort by the mathematics community has gone in to devising two mathematics GCSEs which satisfied the government's criteria. Previous efforts have met policy-related obstacles and as such reaching this position must be recognised as a major achievement by the mathematics community and its partners. However, ACME also firmly believes that critical lessons need to be learnt from the failures of previous pilots.

The pair of GCSEs is designed to address the long-standing drawbacks of the single mathematics GCSE. It has long been felt that a single GCSE does not reward the level of difficulty and the workload compared to other subjects, and that a pair will help address this. As a result, ACME believes the pair will better challenge those at the upper end of the ability range, while more fairly rewarding those at the lower end, and appeal to students with different interests. In addition, the introduction of a second GCSE will allow far more focus on mathematics in context, with a deeper understanding of processes and applications than is currently the case.

However, Dame Julia, commenting on the 2015 timescale, said:

 "We are puzzled at the proposed timescales for rolling out the pair - to wait until 2015 for first teaching, with first awards being 9 years from now is simply too protracted. Efforts must focus on bringing forward the date for rollout of the pair".

Commenting on the impact of this timescale, Dame Julia said:

"The UK economy will face the consequences of millions of students over the next 9 years sitting a single GCSE which will not deliver the deeper understanding of mathematics and its applications that is desperately required"

ACME believes there may be ways of shortening the process, and is committed to working with relevant stakeholders to discuss how it might be achieved.

ACME also questions the decision by the government to push ahead with a new single GCSE in 2010. We believe the new single GCSE will undermine the success of the pair, and it remains uncertain whether the single GCSE will be retained should the piloting of the pair be successful.

Commenting on the new proposed single GCSE, Dame Julia said:

"Any structure where a single GCSE in mathematics competes with the pair is unacceptable. A single GCSE will not deliver the benefits of the pair, and we will be pressing the government to support only the pair should the piloting be successful. Government would be foolish to retain a single GCSE longer than is absolutely necessary"

ACME also believes that the future of mathematics - not just GCSE - is critically important to both higher education and the nation's future skills base. Therefore we welcome the involvement of DIUS alongside the traditional partners of QCA, Ofqual and DCSF.



  • 1. The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) is an independent committee, based at the Royal Society and operating under its auspices, which acts as a single voice for the mathematical community on mathematics education issues, seeking to improve the quality of such education in schools and colleges. It advises Government on issues such as the curriculum, assessment and the supply and training of mathematics teachers. ACME was established by the Joint Mathematical Council of the UK and the Royal Society, with the explicit support of all major mathematics organisations, and is funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. The current chair is Professor Dame Julia Higgins FRS FREng.
  • 2. The pair of GCSEs was drawn up by a sub-group of ACME members working closely with colleagues in QCA. The pair is broadly "Formal Mathematics" (which focuses on the rigorous and coherent nature of mathematics) and "Contextual Mathematics" (which focuses on the application of mathematics). The pair is designed to emphasise process skills in the application of mathematics in one of the pair, and to emphasise process skills of reasoning in mathematics in the other.
  • 3. Both GCSEs are intended to be a qualification in its own right and neither of them should be regarded as a lesser qualification. It is intended the majority of students will study for both GCSEs, and that students who obtain both qualifications will be well equipped for further study at Level 3 or above.

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