Should we divide GCSE maths into functional maths and advanced maths?

Roger Titcombe's picture


This is a consultation run by TES. This is the blurb.

Nearly a third of students who took the new-look GCSE maths failed to secure a standard pass or better last summer, condemning them to resit the same exam as they move into sixth form, college or training. Increasingly, educationists argue that the maths GCSE is not fit for purpose, and that it would be better if it were divided into functional maths – for those who wish to prove their practical numeracy before moving onto other disciplines, and advanced maths – for those who want to continue with the subject or the sciences. This could be loosely modelled on the division between English language and English literature.

This suggests that the standard needed to obtain grade 4 on the new GCSE scale is too high. This was my response.

The implication is that the standard needed to obtain grade 4 on the new GCSE scale is too high.

The current GCSE scale has grades 1 - 9. The current grade 4 is therefore the 6th level down from the top of the 9 point scale. The fundamental problem here is grade inflation. Before the introduction of A*, the longstanding GCSE grade scale was A - G, a 7 point scale on which grade C was the third level from the top. When the CSE and GCE were combined to produce the GCSE in 1988, 'limited grade' maths courses designed to certify practical numeracy were available to schools. The maximum GCSE grade on such courses was E, the 5th level from the top of the scale. This suggests that the current grade 4 is already below the standard of the former grade E.

I have researched the teaching methods used by schools and colleges to maximise GCSE maths re-sit success. These include intensively teaching only the least demanding parts of the maths syllabus through cramming, practise and revision and ignoring the rest. This surely strongly suggests that the current grade 4 is already unsuitable as a passport for further study in maths or science, or degree courses for life and death vocations like nursing and midwifery for which far more than practical numeracy is surely required. I write about this here.

This TES consultation is therefore of the utmost importance requiring serious examination of how our examination system has been so massively devalued and the implications for standards in further and higher education as well as issues of patient safety in our NHS. I am not holding my breath that the government is willing to face up to the failures caused by its dogmatic pursuit of marketisation and Academisation and admit that this has caused huge grade inflation, right up to 1st Class degree level, and a serious decline in real standards of deep learning throughout the education system.

I don't accept the analogy between English Language and English Literature. In my headship school the latter always got better GCSE grades than the former.

My solution is to abandon the ugly and widely misunderstood 1 - 9 GCSE scale and re-instate A - G. The selection of a single benchmark grade to evaluate schools and simultaneously act as a general gatekeeper to all post-16 further study and vocational training is hopelessly unfit for purpose. As far as maths is concerned we need at least three benchmark grades.

 G - indicating a significant degree of numeracy.

 E - indicating competence in practical numeracy.

 C - indicating significant understanding of abstract algebra-based mathematics.

 The standard for the new grade C would be far higher than the current grades 4 and 5.



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