I must confess, when I first heard about the changes to the maths curriculum, I was not overly concerned. I still have vivid memories of the last so-called “major” change to GCSEs a few years ago. This was supposed to see a significant increase in challenge, with a greater emphasis on problem solving and quality of written communication. Having spent many long hours adapting our schemes of learning accordingly, the “new” GCSE papers looked suspiciously similar to the old ones, save the addition of a few asterisks and a couple more far-fetched questions about electricity bills and mixing tins of paint.
But when I sat down with my head of department to look at the new changes in detail, we realised that this was indeed significant.
The Programmes of Study for Key Stage 3 were announced in September 2013 with stated aims of developing fluency, mathematical reasoning and problem solving. These do indeed seem like good foundations upon which to build a new curriculum, but they are abstract words and phrases that we have all heard before. It was only when we saw the content changes for the GCSE, that we realised we would need to make substantial changes.
At the time of writing, the exam boards are yet to announce their specifications, but there are some things were do know for certain. Perhaps most importantly, the new GCSE will have considerably more content than before. For the Higher Tier, we will see the introduction of topics such as iteration, quadratic inequalities, geometric sequences, interpreting financial graphs, and even some form of introduction to calculus in the guise of instantaneous rates of change. In addition, some challenging topics are moving from Higher to Foundation, including standard form, solving quadratics by factorising and deriving and solving simultaneous equations. On top of this, we have a new grading system that goes from 1 to 9, a significantly reduced formula sheet, and a clear indication that 25% of the Higher and 30% of the Foundation paper will be dedicated to the A03 assessment objective with a far greater emphasis on non-routine problems than previously seen.
So, how will we prepare for this? Well, after we had had a large gulp of wine, we concluded the following.
In the first instance, this will mean the need for greater teaching time, and as a result the number of Key Stage 3 (50 minute) maths lessons per week has been increased from four to five from September, to bring it in line with Key Stage 4.
The first year group to sit the new GCSE are current Year 8s, and hence a three year plan needs to be in place for Years 9 to 11 in time for September. Content will be divided up over these three years, with the topics requiring greater maturity being held back until Year 11. The new grading system will also probably mean that more students will be put in for the Foundation tier, and I have great hope that we will finally have a system where students are not asked to sit an exam where they cannot access the majority of the content as it is their best chance of securing a grade C.
We will also encompass a key element from our brand new Year 7 and 8 schemes of learning – compulsory rich tasks. Between two topic units (for example, fractions and circle theorems), all students across the year group will take on a carefully chosen rich activity for a couple of lessons., which may be nothing to do with the two topic units it is sandwiched between and may instead call on something they studied months ago. These activities have been selected and adapted from excellent sources such as NRICH, Median and the Shell Centre. As we have found with our Year 7 and 8 students, we hope that they will help consolidate key skills and understanding, engage our students and help them develop into the non-routine problems solvers that they will undoubtedly need to be.
Finally, I think the days of assessing our Year 9s with old SATs papers have gone. Partly, this is due to levels no longer being recognised, but more importantly we have found the style of the SATs questions are so different to the GCSE that crucial teaching time can be lost preparing students for them.
All in all, I am both excited and nervous about the changes. I am excited to have a more rigorous qualification that promotes the values of fluency and problem solving, but nervous that we have to get it right.