Latest on reforms to maths GCSE and A-levels

From Independent Chair’s report on the review of current GCE ‘specification content’ within subject criteria, published 6th September 2013.

Do aims and objectives [of A level mathematics] need to change? If so, what change is needed?
Only minor changes are required to strengthen the sense that mathematics is a subject that supports other subjects and that it builds on the aims and objectives of GCSE mathematics.

Does subject content need to change? If so, what change is needed?
a. the core content would need to be reviewed in respect of which topics went into the new standalone AS and of whether the total amount should be reduced to accommodate HE’s request for more problem solving
b. there should be a consideration of identifying core content for Further Mathematics.

Why are significant changes needed to move to a linear form and allow progression to HE?
The view of the mathematics community in general is that the issue is not with the content but with the proposed change to move to linear qualifications. This would have a huge impact on the structures of the two A levels and, most importantly, on the uptake of the two qualifications. The issues are as follows:

  • Specifications might be constructed so that there are not options – there would be either no applied content or fixed applied content; either way, learners would not be able to choose the applied content that they required for their intended progression or that they needed to support other A levels.
  • If the rule of having only three components was imposed on Mathematics, it would be difficult to accommodate assessments of an appropriate size for the non-calculator assessment, calculator assessment and suitable applied assessments.
  • If the rule of having only three components was imposed on Further Mathematics the number of options possible would be reduced, the suitability of the options available for students’ career choices would be diminished, and it would be difficult to include internal assessment which may be the most valid form of assessment for some options.
  • If the rule of having only three components for Further Mathematics was relaxed, the above issues would be addressed but the assessment for those taking both A level Mathematics and A level Further Mathematics would be particularly burdensome.
  • A combination of factors might result in much reduced take up of both AS and A level Further Mathematics (i) the creation of a stand-alone AS and (ii) the influence of linearisation. As ACME suggests in its position paper “Students may have started an AS level in Year 12 with the intention of dropping the subject, but have enjoyed it and taken it to a full A level. These students may no longer commence AS, or may no longer transfer onto the A level.”
  • Fewer centres may offer Further Mathematics because of the loss of the facility of co-teaching part of the course with Mathematics and because of reductions in funding.

The view of the mathematics community is these two subjects already have high demand. The qualifications compare well with international benchmarks and Ofqual noted in its international comparisons report that “A level Further Mathematics was the broadest and deepest qualification reviewed. Its inclusion of abstract and technically difficult mathematics also makes it extremely demanding.”

If the unitised structure is retained for Mathematics and Further Mathematics, some minor amendments could be made for 2015 to meet the requirements of HE, including strengthening the assessment of proof, problem solving and modeling.

From Glenys Stacey, Chief Regulator at Ofqual, in a letter to Michael Gove, dated 6th September 2013.

The report concludes that … mathematics and further mathematics [A levels] require more fundamental work.

The GCSE reform programme is more fundamental than that for A-levels.

New GCSEs are necessary to address the concerns effectively…We have therefore decided that we should focus the GCSE reform programme initially on English Language, English Literature and mathematics, which are the subjects where there are the biggest concerns.

From Michael Gove’s response to the above letter from Glenys Stacey, dated 6th September 2013.

I agree with delaying changes to mathematics and further mathematics given their fundamental importance and the need to learn from Professor Hyland’s 16-18 project at Cambridge University.

We must replace the modular GCSE treadmill with exams that encourage skills universities and employers want, such as essay writing and mathematical problem-solving. That is why I wanted new GCSEs in core academic subjects to be in place for teaching in 2015. However, I accept that much more rigorous regulatory demands should be put in place and that Ofqual needs more time to develop them.

We have agreed that the development of reformed GCSEs should be re-phased, with English and Mathematics GCSEs brought in for first teaching from 2015.

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