Revamped GCSEs, designed to be “more challenging, ambitious and rigorous”, will demand that pupils spend more time studying maths and read at least 15 poems, details released today show.
The exam, which will be introduced in England from September 2015, are the government’s bid to raise standards and ensure pupils have the literacy and numeracy skills for university, training or employment.
Teaching unions warned implementing the qualifications would be a “significant challenge” to schools and teachers.
According to the Department for Education, the new maths GCSE will be “bigger in content” and more challenging and demanding than the existing paper, with more complex problem-solving questions.
It is also anticipated that schools will have to increase the time they invest in teaching the subject on the curriculum. Schools will be encouraged to offer at least one extra maths lesson a week to put England on a par with other countries like Australia and Singapore, the DfE said.
Pupils will now have to learn about vectors and conditional probability, and instead of being given key formulae in exam paper they will have to learn them by heart.
The new English language GCSE will provide pupils with a “robust foundation” in reading and good written English, according to the government, with accurate use of spelling, punctuation and grammar accounting for 20 per cent of the marks, up from 12 per cent currently.
For the new English literature GCSE, pupils will have to study whole texts in detail, covering a greater range of literature including Shakespeare, nineteenth-century novels, Romantic poetry and other “high-quality” fiction and drama.
Education secretary Michael Gove said reform of the key subjects was "a matter of pressing urgency."
"The new GCSEs in English and mathematics set higher expectations; they demand more from all students and provide further challenge for those aiming to achieve top grades," he said.
But professor Stephen Sparks, chair of the Advisory Council on Mathematics Education (ACME), said adding more content to GCSEs was not the best way to raise standards.
“Higher grades in mathematics shouldn’t be awarded solely for covering extra content, but instead should be awarded to those who show greater understanding and skills in solving unfamiliar problems or applying mathematical reasoning in context,” he said.
“Students should be able to use and enjoy mathematics which is relevant to their lives and which will allow them to be well-equipped either to continue learning mathematics post-16 or to move into the world of work.”
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said making the qualifications more “narrowly focused and challenging” would not benefit the majority of pupils.
“We believe pupils need a greater breadth of content and a blend of theoretical and applied knowledge and skills which the new look GCSEs lack," she said.
“We fear the new GCSEs will not give young people the skills employers need, particularly in communicating, collaborating, innovating, research and design.”
Ms Bousted said ATL was also “extremely worried” about introducing new GCSEs when teachers are also implementing a new national curriculum.
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of head’s union ASCL, said the reforms were a "significant amount of change for schools and students", and to avoid mass confusion, they should be communicated clearly well before they come into effect.