Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME)

GCSE Mathematics reforms

01 November 2013

GCSE Mathematics reforms

Both the Department for Education and Ofqual have today (1 November) made announcements about GCSE reform.

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, set out some details of the new GCSE Mathematics, which he hopes will make the examination more rigorous and robust.  ACME recognises the need for change and broadly welcomes the aspiration of the proposals to nurture a world class education system. 

The Government has placed emphasis on demanding deeper and broader mathematical understanding.  It has provided a detailed scope of study which will help to ensure comparability between the qualifications offered by different awarding organisations. Ofqual will need to monitor these new qualifications carefully during their development and introduction. However, making GCSE examinations more challenging and trying to raise standards by adding more advanced content is not the best way forward.

Professor Stephen Sparks, Chair of ACME, says:

GCSE qualifications should allow students to develop a deeper understanding of mathematics. Higher grades in mathematics shouldn't be awarded solely for covering extra content, but instead should be awarded to those who show greater understanding and skills in solving unfamiliar problems or applying mathematical reasoning in context.

Students should be able to use and enjoy mathematics which is relevant to their lives and which will allow them to be well-equipped either to continue learning mathematics post-16 or to move into the world of work.

ACME welcomes the emphasis in the new GCSE Mathematics on problem solving, as well as communication and interpretation of mathematics, and hopes that these will be valued appropriately in assessment by awarding organisations. Examinations based on these assessment objectives have the potential to prepare students well for the forthcoming post-16 Core Mathematics qualifications, which will build on the new GCSE Mathematics and enable students to use mathematics to solve problems in realistic contexts.

Ofqual has today announced a new grading structure and has made a specific decision that there will be an overlapping tiers model for GCSE Mathematics. Ofqual needs to ensure that students awarded the same grades from different tiers have similar experiences and understandings, as this has been one of ACME's key concerns about the current tiering model.

Changes to qualifications impact on the way that mathematics is taught in school. The existing GCSE Mathematics is already larger than other GCSEs but the content in this new scope of study is even larger than the current GCSE. The Government has acknowledged this through the proposed double weighting given to mathematics in accountability measures. The Secretary of State today noted that schools will want to increase the time spent teaching mathematics. This will affect how school leaders allocate teaching time to mathematics throughout secondary school. The new GCSE will examine content taught from Year 7 to Year 11, and it will be important that schools have access to have high quality mathematics teaching in Key Stage 3. Without secure foundations early in secondary school, there is a risk that there will be superficial coverage of content in Key Stage 4. It is important that Ofsted continue to monitor teaching in Key Stage 3 and that school leaders emphasise professional development for those teaching this critical stage.

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