The first “big, fat” maths exams have knocked the confidence of even able students as they prepare to sit two more papers, teachers have warned.
Yesterday was the first time students have sat one of the government’s tougher, reformed maths exam papers.
One maths teacher who took the test with her pupils yesterday told Tes it included some “ridiculously difficult” questions, and she thought she had dropped at least eight marks.
Now, it has emerged that a secondary in Stafford yesterday sent home a letter of reassurance to parents and carers of young people who might have felt that they "failed maths".
In the message, Blessed William Howard Catholic High School said: “We believe that on the higher paper those gaining a grade 7 (approximately the equivalent of an A grade under the old system) will have been unable to answer up to half of the paper.
“It will also be similar on the foundation for those gaining a grade 4 (approximately the equivalent to a C grade under the old system).
“This shows that even though your child will be coming home saying that they found the paper difficult, or that they have ‘failed maths’, they will only have found the paper as much of a challenge as similar ability pupils nationally.”
The school warned that “a negative mindset can have a major impact on subsequent performance”, and said it was important that pupils did not give up ahead of the last two papers.
It came as Peter Hyman, executive headteacher of the top-rated School 21 in east London, warned that the harder exams made pupils “feel like they’re failures”.
He tweeted: “[Whose] clever idea was it to set a maths GCSE so hard that even the most able come out depressed they can't answer 1/3 of the questions?
“And don't tell me it's all fine because they'll adjust the grade boundaries - it still makes pupils feel they're failures.”
Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said: “I have a lot of reports from teachers that it’s really proving to destroy the confidence of young people, even those who are good at maths”.
She added that the problem was exacerbated by a shortage of maths teachers, which meant the harder curriculum was sometimes being taught by non-specialists.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: "The new GCSEs will provide more rigorous content and the new grading system provides greater stretch for the highest performers, by showing greater distinction between the top marks. These changes will help young people to compete with the best in the world and deliver the skills that employers tell us they need."
See this week's Tes for an investigation into the crisis in maths.