Double the fun for future high-flyers

All pupils who reach level 6 or above in key stage 3 maths should be guaranteed the chance to take two GCSEs in the subject from 2010, an influential committee is proposing. The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (Acme), representing the maths community in discussions with ministers, is pushing for the right of pupils to take both exams amid concerns about the proposed 2010 changes.

Within three years, a second GCSE in maths is to be introduced. But, as The TES warned two weeks ago, the committee is concerned about how ministers propose to implement it. The second exam will cover more theoretical and conceptual aspects of the subject, but the Government is refusing to say that all pupils must study it if they want to take maths A-level.

The committee and others are worried that many schools will therefore not offer the second exam, leaving their pupils with just a conventional version to sit.

With more basic functional skills tests to be introduced into the standard GCSE from 2010, they believe that pupils on this track could be left with a dumbed down exam, which will be no foundation for A-level.

The committee's proposal to entitle all those with high KS3 scores to study the second exam is an attempt to ensure that the mathematically talented, at least, are able to study the two GCSEs.

It mirrors a similar guarantee in science. The Treasury said last year that all pupils achieving level 6 or above in that subject would be entitled to study three separate science GCSEs from 2008.

Sir Peter Williams, chairman of the maths advisory committee, told a London conference that the second exam would be "the bedrock from which future mathematicians, scientists and investment bankers would come". He said that Department for Education and Skills ministers and officials had agreed in principle that high-attaining key stage 3 pupils would take both GCSEs.

However, the "devil was in the detail".

Ministers are understood to be concerned about being able to guarantee that schools have the staff to teach both exams, given that maths has been beset by teacher shortages. At Acme's conference, teachers complained about the number of changes in the offing for secondary schools.

These include a new coursework-free GCSE this year, only a year after the last exam change, the introduction of the second exam and functional skills, changes at key stage 3 and to A-levels and the advent of specialised diplomas.

Yet another change was unveiled: coursework could eventually return to the GCSE, teachers were told, but under strict exam-style conditions. It is unclear when this might happen.


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