Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME)

GCSE Mathematics

What is the issue?

A new GCSE Mathematics was introduced for first teaching in September 2015. This new qualification is larger than the previous qualification.

In the Department for Education subject content specification it is set out that:

GCSE specifications in mathematics should enable students to:develop fluent knowledge, skills and understanding of mathematical methods and concepts; acquire,select and apply mathematical techniques to solve problems; reason mathematically,make deductions and inferences and draw conclusions; comprehend,interpret and communicate mathematical information in a variety of forms appropriate to the information and context.

Teachers will require professional development to teach the new qualification effectively.

New GCSE Mathematics qualifications were accredited in late 2014. In 2015 Ofqual undertook a  GCSE Mathematics research programme to explore features of the sample assessment materials developed by awarding organisations, particularly the perceived level of demand appropriate for a new GCSE Mathematics qualification.


What does ACME think?

ACME recognises a 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 said when the qualifications were announced in November 2013:

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.


What are ACME's principles on Key Stage 4 mathematics?

In ACME's briefing paper drawing together its advice and expertise on GCSE Mathematics, published in June 2013, the Committee outlined some of the aims for key stage 4 mathematics:GCSE Mathematics

  • Learning in key stage 4 should build on the range of mathematics in key stages 1-3 of the National Curriculum, developing fluency in skills and techniques, improving mathematical reasoning and supporting the development of transferable problem solving skills.
  • Throughout key stage 4, students should use and enjoy mathematics which they recognise as relevant and empowering, and should make significant progress in both competence and confidence, so that they are well-equipped to continue learning mathematics post-16.
  • Assessment as 16 should recognise mathematics knowledge, skills and understanding of the range of young people, and should lead to a small range of recognised and valued mathematics pathways in post-16 education, employment or training.

As well as having had in-depth engagement during 2013/2014, which you can read about here, ACME also published a range of documents relating to GCSE development. You may wish to see, for example, ACME's position on early and multiple entry and GCSE Mathematics,  or ACME's views on  qualifications for 14-16 year olds and performance tables. A full list of publications, including position statements, consultation responses and correspondence can be found in ACME's publications list.

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