As if 2016 wasn’t bad enough, prepare yourself for 2017 as it sets to bring in drastic changes to secondary school examinations in England and Wales. The most talked about is arguably GCSE mathematics that comes into effect this summer.
There have been many conflicting reports about what these changes will look like, with some teachers relaying out-dated information to students, and parents not knowing how it will impact their children’s future.
Below are some important changes we would like to share with you, according to reliable sources such as exam boards, government, and from experienced school teachers. So let’s get stuck in!
GCSE Exams are getting harder
This has been the main driving force for bringing in these reforms. Accusations that GCSE exams have become “too easy” or “not fit for purpose” have been a major political issue. If you remember, Michael Gove, the former Education Secretary, initially wanted to scrap GCSEs entirely in favour of an English Baccalaureate, but he ultimately abandoned the idea after stiff opposition from political parties and teachers. Regardless of its name, the actual content of the reforms have nonetheless been implemented in the current GCSEs.
But how hard is it going to be?
New topics are being brought in
For starters, new maths topics have been introduced, such as “areas under a curve” and “probabilities in Venn diagrams”, as well as using the “iterative process”. According to the exam board AQA1, below are the list of new topics that are new to both Foundation and Higher papers.
There is greater emphasis on problem solving
According to AQA2, there will be a renewed focus on problem solving questions. Students now will be required to answer scenario-based questions which will likely utilise more Algebra, as well as the skillful use of it. Furthermore, according to the exam board Edexcel3, students will be required to think critically, and their answers with a methodical approach. As such, students will no longer receive marks for giving the correct answer that do not accompany “working-out”. Here is an example from AQA4 of a problem solving question:
There is no coursework
Coursework have been completely scrapped from the New GCSE Maths, as it had long been held students receive help from family members, and that it may not properly demonstrate attainment.
Exams are linear
Exams will no longer be modular, meaning there will not be smaller exams taking place throughout the year. Exams are now linear, meaning it will take place at the end of the entire GCSE course, the first of which to take place in May/June of 2017.
Major change to grading system
A-G grading will be replaced with a numerical system of 9-1, where level 9 is the highest and 1 being the lowest. These numbers will be awarded as integers, such as 9, 8, 7, and not 8.5 or 7.8 as had been suggested in some circles.
It’s official, Grade C = Level 4
After conflicting reports, Ofqual5, the Government body that regulates exams, finally clarified that a Level 4 will equal to a lower C grade. With this, they predict proportion of students expected to achieve Level 4 will be the same for the attainment of C in previous years. Below is an explanation of their official position.
There’s more overlap between Foundation and Higher tiers
There will now be greater overlapping of topics between Foundation and Higher. For example, those taking the higher test will have questions that range from level 4-9, and those taking the foundation will have questions ranging from level 1-5. This means Foundation students will have the opportunity to achieve a high C grade; but this also means that the Foundation paper will include topic areas uncommon in previous years.
It’s three exams now, not two
Perhaps due to the removal of coursework, there will now be 3 exams for maths6. Paper 1 is non-calculator with 80 marks, both Paper 2 and 3 will be calculator and will also be 80 marks. Each paper is weighted equally, representing 33.33% (recurring) of the final mark. According to Edexcel, the following is the structure for each paper:
A couple of things to ponder
No past papers
Since these exams are unprecedented, we do not have any past papers to work from. This is hugely problematic, as past papers are the cornerstone for students’ revision strategy. Whilst there are tonnes of specimen papers available to download, as well as hundreds of questions available from official textbooks, it really isn’t the same as working from from actual past papers.
But there is some familiarity
The good news is, at least for those sitting the Edexcel’s exams7, much of the topics that are commonly found in previous examinations will also appear in the new tests, but in lesser proportions. This means there may be some familiarity in the new exams. However, we think the new changes to the assessment criteria are so numerous that students are probably better off devising revision strategies that heavily rely on officially published materials post-2015 from all exam boards.
Exam boards may get it wrong
Make no mistake, these exams will take some years of getting used to. Even exam boards have shown to have not correctly calibrated their assessments, as demonstrated in a 2015 analysis by Ofqual8, where it found that tests were generally too hard or too easy.
Teachers weren’t given a chance to prepare
Teachers are human beings and require some practical experience to fully grasp the changes, as well as adapt to a new teaching regime. Although the current year 11s will be sitting the tests, the changes were first known to teachers when that cohort were in year 9. Edexcel’s official textbooks had not even been published when the new changes came in to effect – they were published following year. It may be argued therefore that teachers were not as ideally prepared to teach the new content when the current year 11s were in year 9.
Should have started with the year 7s
It is also worth mentioning that schools have Schemes of Learning (detailed learning plans) that aims to develop students’ knowledge from year 7 through to year 9, prior to their GCSEs. When the new GCSE become effective for the 9s, students will have followed a learning regime intended for the old system. This is one of the many criticisms levied on Michael Gove, who wanted to speedily push through the changes. People have argued that the new system should have been made effective for the year 7s, and not the year 9s, which in our view would have been a better way.
It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that pass-rates for the current GCSE students may potentially fall for this year’s students. Even the most recent 2016 exam grades have shown that students are already suffering from “conflicting government policies”, which a dramatic fall in A*-C9.
No doubt, the changes that Michael Gove had brought in will take much getting used to; there will be teething problems. It is also unfortunate that the current year 11s may bear the brunt of the failure of government to implement a coherent strategy in these reforms.
Many current year 11s have spoken to us about the perceive unfairness towards these changes and feel it may negatively impact their lives for years to come. The good news is that there are now substantial resources available from exam boards for downloading, and schools are now providing more resources for students to better prepare themselves for the exams.
If you live in London and wish to receive a private maths tutor to help you or your child in GCSE maths, please get in touch.
- Better Maths: AQA https://bettermaths.aqa.org.uk/2014/06/28/gcse-maths-topic-changes/
- All About Maths, AQA: http://allaboutmaths.aqa.org.uk/newspec8300
- Pearsons Secondary UK, New Maths GCSE, New Challenges: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PS8HnnxOOc0
- 90 Maths Problems, AQA, Page 55, http://allaboutmaths.aqa.org.uk/attachments/5592.pdf
- Grading New GCSEs From 2017, page 2: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/537147/Postcard_-_Grading_New_GCSEs.pdf
- Pearsons Edexcel: http://qualifications.pearson.com/content/dam/pdf/GCSE/mathematics/2015/specification-and-sample-assesment/gcse-maths-2015-specification.pdf
- Edexcel GCSE (9-1) Maths: specimen paper trial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7zlOpzTEF0
- New maths GCSEs too hard, says exams regulator: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-32831905
- Biggest drop in GCSE pass rate for 30 years due to exam changes: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/aug/25/biggest-drop-in-gcse-pass-rate-for-30-years-due-to-exam-changes