We all know the new maths GCSE is harder, but it’s interesting to look at HOW they are harder. There is some new content, but not particularly a massive amount (although I think the functions content will be harder for many pupils than it looks). The reason most people are pointing to the new GCSE being harder is to do with they new way it is being examined.
There are a lot of lot of new questions around interpreting. I think this is fair. It’s trivial to solve most equations (Wolfram alpha will solve a quadratic for you), the difficult bit is interpreting the problem mathematically. That is, reading it and deciding what to do.
To be clear, I think this is a step in the right direction, and a correct approach (although I think the idea that pupils should memorise trig ratios is crazy).
However, let’s be honest and admit to ourselves that this will mean a significant amount of pupils will fail. Those who have poor literacy skills, or SEN needs around comprehension. It is fair that they should fail this test. They should not pass it. But they should be offered the chance to pass SOME test that shows their basic mathematical ability.
This is why I’m proposing a new qualification: Numeracy.
The qualification would be pass or fail, and all questions would be set with as little text as possible. A typical question might read
586 * 5 =
With no text to support the question.
This will give students who have comprehension issues something to work towards that they can achieve (my SEN experience has told me that often the raw calculations aren’t the issue).
We should aim to make exams difficult. I don’t disagree with that. But we should also offer courses that allow students to achieve. If we let a large number of people leave school with no qualifications than we have failed them, and their negative experiences of school will get passed to next generation. The key is not just making exams harder, but matching students with the appropriate qualification.