Mending GCSE Maths

Mending GCSE Maths

Maths education insight by Roger Porkess

In the article below – taken from our autumn 2013 issue of Achieve – guest columnist Roger Porkess, Chief Executive of Mathematics in Education and Industry, shares his views on a better maths education. 

Every year an estimated 300,000 young people in the UK complete 11 years of compulsory school maths unable to use it and destined to fear it throughout their lives. Is that really the best we can do? 

The focus of their school experience is GCSE and so that is a good place to make changes. A common complaint from these students is that they don’t see the point of the maths they are taught. Go back 50 years and CSE syllabuses were being designed to overcome just this problem; much of the maths they covered looked very different from that in O level. 

So when the two were combined into GCSE, effectively two different types of maths came together, producing a very big syllabus that tries to cover different skills. But it is manifestly unsuccessful. So it makes absolute sense to make GCSE into two different qualifications covering the different skills required for: 

  • use in other subjects and everyday life; 
  • progression to more advanced maths. 
The techniques to support the skill of using maths are mostly more elementary than those for progression. So the content of these two syllabuses would be largely sequential. However, acquiring these skills involves more than learning the supporting techniques, and it often occurs in parallel. 
Everyone would be a winner from this change. While most people would do both GCSEs and acquire more of both skills, many of those who currently achieve very little would take only one, leading to a realistic, relevant and valuable qualification.
The discussion paper below gives more detail on these ideas.

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