Schools used to pick the brightest pupils in the year and allow them to take their GCSE maths exam early. This was called early entry and the pass rate was very good. These students could then take on an additional maths GCSE like statistics. Nowadays, the majority of pupils are sitting early entry GCSE maths whether they have a good chance of passing or not.
This article by the BBC and this paper by the department for education summarise the consequences of this practice. But I want to tell you my story….
Last week, all the students who sat their GCSE Maths in November 2010, got their results. Last week, I had many calls from panicking parents whose year 11’s failed to get that grade C. These now have to re-take their exam in March or in May this year. They will have to revise everything again but this time they will have other subjects to revise as well so the pressure will be much greater.
Having assessed these students, I’ve come to 2 conclusions:
that they should never have been entered for the exam in November in the first place. I assessed a student who got a “U” (ungraded) in the higher paper suggesting that at best he was a low “D” grade at the time of the exam and that he could have done worse because of exam day nerves. The grades possible in the higher paper are “A*” to “D”. If a student gets lower than the pass mark for a “D” then they fail.
that the students have already forgotten some of the maths they studied for the exam. In the majority of cases, the students who told me they got a “D” in the exam for example, got an “E” in my assessment. The student who got a “C” in the exam got a “D” in my assessment.
These students are cramming for exams and are being taught to pass exams and not to learn skills which can be applied to real life or in further education. A good friend of mine who teaches A level Maths at College says that the students who pass the early entry exam, struggle with A level Maths because they have forgotten everything they learnt by the time they start college. He has to spend the first 2 weeks of the A level course going through basic maths skills to make sure that the children are able to cope with A level standard work. I teach A level Chemistry which needs a good foundation in maths. I find that I have to teach skills like being able to work out ratios, re-arranging an algebraic formula and using a calculator. And the same goes for english skills, like comprehension and being able to answer a question so that it makes sense.
It’s an old argument and one that will always exist as long as exams exist. Students take pride in getting their GCSE’s early and they pride themselves in getting more GCSE’s. Schools have a reputation to keep, and league to tables to worry about. Many teachers view pass rates as a reflection of their own teaching. We all have our own agenda. I just wish that parents didn’t have to get dragged into all this!