The new A-level maths core has been finalised and the rules for the new AS and A-levels are with the examinations boards. We must now ensure that the proposed assessment enhances the teaching and learning of the subject. Asking, as Colin Goldsmith does, (TES, February 14) for tiered papers is unhelpful. The system of AS, A, further AS and further A-level will provide a sound progression for students from the different levels. A student with a C at intermediate level GCSE would aspire first to AS and could then go on to a full A-level. A student with an A at GCSE should be encouraged to work through AS and A-level to further AS and beyond.
As far as the standard of questions in examinations, two factors have been in play here. First a decision by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the exam boards some years ago to make all A-levels of equal difficulty led to an easing of maths A-levels by around half a grade. Second, it was decided that students should be able to show what they could do. This meant that rather than all questions being of full A-level standard and the pass mark being around 25 per cent, some questions would be set at a lower level, but the pass mark would be raised to around 50 per cent to take account of this. The number of complex questions was thus reduced. However the most able students were still challenged by some of the questions While it is possible that the pendulum might have swung a little too far, it is vital for the motivation of our students that we do not return to the days when none of the questions were accessible and the D and E grade student could show very little of what they had achieved.
ANN KITCHEN Research fellow School of Education University of Manchester TES March 7 1997