‘This year’s GCSE maths students are guinea pigs – and they now face the havoc of results day’

The Tes reports that it’s no wonder pupils, parents and teachers are furious – the major reforms to GCSE maths needed understanding developed over many years, but instead reform was rushed through, writes one maths expert.

This year’s cohort of GCSE maths students have been used as guinea pigs in a misguided experiment that has left them underprepared for the new-style, harder exams which, for the higher tier, contain elements previously only seen on the A-level syllabus.

The new maths syllabuses often gained accreditation only a matter of weeks before students were due to start courses. Schemes of work, crucial to effective teaching, were being written as teachers started to deliver the curriculum. And textbooks, crucial to effective teaching of mathematics, were not ready in time. And those that were ready had been rushed through, with resulting errors.

This year’s GCSE cohort have not benefitted from changes in the primary maths curriculum, which are beginning to see real improvements in attainment. In particular, the government’s sponsorship of the maths mastery programme is leading to more confident students at this level, although it has not been running long enough for benefits to have been felt at secondary level.

A more “joined-up” approach, beginning with the introduction of the mastery method at primary level, segueing into a tailored mastery curriculum for secondary students, would have been far better. But successful implementation of the mastery method requires time and patience. In Singapore, maths results were transformed over a generation; the UK, too, should be looking at change over the long-, not the short-, term.

Crucially, teaching for mastery takes time and to implement the model without the right materials will knock the confidence of teachers and further demoralise them at a time when there is already a shortage of specialist maths teachers. Change needs time and shouldn’t be reflected in high-stakes exams too early.

I fervently hope that this year’s GCSE cohort – my son included – are happy with their results. My fear is that the new grading system will lead to havoc and we may see a whitewash by the boards in a bid to avoid the political fallout from yet another ill-thought-through government strategy.

Read more ‘This year’s GCSE maths students are guinea pigs – and they now face the havoc of results day’

Have you taught GCSE maths to this years exam takers? What are your feelings about the exams? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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