A totally radical division

28th February 2003 at 00:00

I am interested in your opinion of splitting maths into two separate GCSEs. I taught retake classes in a sixth-form college for some years. I asked students who did extremely well at other subjects why they did badly in maths. The answer made me think: "Because for English we get two GCSEs and for maths we get one, so I did twice as much work for English." Some students pass GCSE language with much higher grades than literature. Many students who have excellent numerical skills but poor algebra and are poor in other abstract concepts get poor GCSE grades in the all-in-one maths. In this respect, we should embrace the same philosophy for maths as for English. Let's have two maths GCSEs to help all students.

I have posted the above on the maths forum section of The TES website.



I wonder how many readers are in sympathy with the students (of subjects other than maths), especially as in the past it has been possible to gain grade C from higher tier with just 20 per cent. I have been watching this discussion on The TES maths forum with interest. To take part, visit www.tes.co.uk staffroom and look for the header: "Should we split GCSE maths into 2 GCSE's numeracy and maths".

There are many reasons why Year 9 pupils might opt out of maths, particularly with the shortage of maths teachers. A very negative image of maths pervades the national media. Parents who couldn't do maths are often unable to help and may harbour the incorrect belief that if they "couldn't do maths" then neither will their offspring.

Part of the problem arises, perhaps, because there is a not enough time devoted to maths in the school curriculum and classes are generally too large to provide the more individualised attention that nurtures confidence. In the real world, numeracy is part is of our survival kit, both in the world of work and in our lives at home.

My opinion of splitting maths into two separate GCSEs is that we should be totally radical. First, I would like to see a concentrated effort on numeracy in the early years of secondary education, leading to national qualifications at the age of 14 in numeracy. This would be of great benefit to those pupils who decide on a vocational route at 14. Alongside this would be a briefer maths curriculum, offering "delightful tasters" for KS4.

Then GCSE maths would be a "titbit", especially for KS4, but with a very big difference: we would split this into 4 GCSEs - number, shape and space, algebra, and statistics, with the using and applying strand straddling all four.

There would of course be fuzzy boundaries as in A-level maths. Each GCSE would have strong cross-curricular elements with the application strand reflecting this. The exam boards providing a pro forma list of occupations in which that particular GCSE would be useful, for instance shape and space in graphic design and so on.

The coursework would be undertaken in the spring term of Year 11 when pupils have sufficient grounding in the maths required to make the experience of investigation and reporting beneficial. The coursework would allow pupils to demonstrate the application of the relevant skills for their chosen area of maths in contexts relevant to their future interests.

While studying for GCSE in statistics they may know that in Years 12 and 13 they would like to take business studies; their coursework would then have a business focus. The exam would have no tiered system, so that all students would have a chance to achieve a GCSE in maths.

The level of study for each of the maths GCSEs would be much deeper than is currently the case, but with a cross-curricular element. The extra timetabling should make the experience much more enjoyable for pupils and teachers. The increased depth would reduce the gap between GCSE and A-level maths.

Pupils would take one (compulsory) or more maths GCSEs, and a prerequisite for A-level maths would be success in all four. There would be an opportunity for students to be entered for the different GCSEs post-16.

Employers and universities would then know where a student's strengths and interests within maths lie.

Approaching maths GCSE in this manner would teach pupils at an early age that they don't have to be brilliant at every part of maths or even love every topic to enjoy the subject. In universities, mathematicians pursue the area that most interests them; at higher levels they learn the maths that helps them to delve even deeper into their chosen pursuit.

Wendy Fortescue-Hubbard is a teacher and game inventor. She has been awarded a three-year fellowship by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to spread maths to the masses. Email your questions to Mathagony Aunt at teacher@tes.co.ukOr write to TES Teacher, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX

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