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Maths coursework may be abolished

Exam authority agrees to axe GCSE projects, if that is what teachers want, reports Warwick Mansell.

Coursework in GCSE maths could be scrapped within 18 months, the TES can reveal.

Maths teachers are to be asked their views on changes to be introduced from September next year, after a study found that two thirds of them disliked maths coursework in its current form.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, has suggested that the change could have dramatic consequences. Axing maths coursework could pave the way for similar changes in other subjects.

Many teachers argue that coursework gives some pupils a better chance of demonstrating their abilities than an exam.

But Dr Boston told a maths conference earlier this month that this view was not universally accepted, and would not be explored in the QCA's consultation on the changes. Instead, teachers would be asked just if there were any areas of maths for which coursework was a "more valid and reliable" assessment method.

Pressed on whether coursework might be scrapped, a QCA spokesman said: "If that was the clearly-expressed view from the consultation, I suppose it would be."

Coursework counts for 20 per cent of maths GCSE. Half of these marks are for an assignment on using and applying maths, while the rest is for a statistical, or "data handling" task.

Data handling, introduced in 2003, has been controversial, with teachers arguing that it can be reduced to teaching children to "jump through hoops". Answers to the exercises are also available on the internet.

The consultation, which starts in the summer, comes after Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, asked the QCA to review the place of coursework in all subjects. In a letter to Dr Boston last November, she said it should only be used where it was the best way to assess subject-specific skills.

Coursework was lambasted by the 2004 Tomlinson report on secondary exams, which said pupils were burdened with routine assessments that were similar in many subjects.

Last year, the QCA sought the views of 1,700 teachers and nearly 500 pupils about coursework.

In most subjects, the response was positive. But in maths, two-thirds criticised coursework. Problems ranged from difficulties authenticating pupils' work as their own to a feeling that often the assessment was more a test of English than maths.

Doug French, of the Maths Association, said: "If they abolished coursework in maths, the whole of the maths teaching profession would be really jubilant. I don't think it has many defenders."

But Sue Johnston-Wilder, chair of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics, said although most members believed coursework did not work well, that did not mean it could not be made to do so.

The QCA spokesman said there could be coursework changes in other subjects, but it was unlikely these would be as early as 2007.

Other changes to maths GCSE include a new further maths exam and separate "functional skills" tests from 2010.


Pointless tasks?

Examples of coursework tasks, from the AQA board: 1. Using and applying maths, (foundation intermediate pupils): Three whole numbers, greater than zero, can be used to form a trio. For example: (1, 2, 2) is a trio whose sum is 1 + 2 + 2 = 5. and (2, 1, 2) is a different trio whose sum is also 5.

How many trios can you find with a sum of 5? Investigate further.

2. Data handling (all pupils) Grandad told Simon that some people have slower reactions than other people.

Simon decided to test the reaction times of some of his friends.

* Write down a hypothesis for him to test.

* Design and carry out an investigation to find out different ways in which reaction times can be affected.

* Investigate further.

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