Comparing Draft GCSE Maths Specifications

Like many maths departments around the country, myself and my Head of Department are currently working our way through the new draft Maths GCSE specifications recently released by the exam boards (see post here for links to them) to decide both how best to adapt our existing Years 9 to 11 Schemes of Work / Learning (and tweak our newly written Year 7 and 8 scheme), but also whether it is time to switch boards!

Now, all this may be premature, of course, as all exam boards need to have their specifications, draft papers, etc approved by Ofqual. But there is little doubt that clear differences between main awarding bodies are emerging.=, even in these early stages.

Incidentally, we are currently with Edexcel, but have certainly not ruled out a switch!

Having searched the internet, by far the most comprehensive, useful summary of the main differences came from one of my favourite maths blogs – The View from the Maths Bunker. I hope you find reading it as informative as I did.

After this, there is also some extra information that I gained from attending a workshop delivered by Andrew Taylor from AQA.

I will post more things as we start work on our new schemes, and more information comes to light, so stay tuned 🙂

The New Maths GCSE Specifications – a digested read

Posted: June 7th, 2014 by John Smith

With content uniform across the three big boards, many schools will make their decision based on style of assessment – how has the content been interpreted?


The exam boards have taken a similar approach to their assessment structures. Ofqual has taken a ‘one strike and you’re out’ approach to accreditation, so it is perhaps no surprise that they have gone for the straightforward approach. For those who want something different, WJEC is the place – two lots of 2 hours 15 exams, one calc, one without.

AQA OCR Edexcel
Exams 3 papers,1.5 hrs each

80 marks each

3 papers,1.5 hrs each

100 marks each

3 papers,1.5 hrs each

80 marks each

Content Mixed qn style

Content spread through 3 papers

Mixed qn style

Content spread through 3 papers

Mixed qn style

Content spread through 3 papers

Calculator Paper 1 non-calc Paper 2 non-calc Paper 1 non-calc

Style / Clarity / Accessibility

While the approach to assessment looks the same in this table, there are big differences in the sample assessment materials. Put quite crudely…

AQA (click here) – have focused on clarity of question, less marks per paper and accessibility. They are selling themselves on consistency of paper and a better experience for students. So, fewer words, but more abstract – in the style of Edexcel IGCSE (our school’s current exam board). Papers start with Multiple Choice questions à la Maths Challenge and the difficulty of questions is ‘ramped’ from easy to hard. The questions are also ramped from AO1 to AO3, so the more open questions appear at the end.

OCR (click here) – have focused on more wordy questions. So, less abstract, more real-world. No Multiple Choice. Papers ramped in difficulty.

I have my own views about too much focus on context…


Edexcel (click here) – currently the most popular choice of GCSE, have gone for surprisingly challenging assessment material relative to the other boards. On first scan of the papers, I had to stop to think several times – perhaps no bad thing, but certainly a big shift in style and difficulty. Many questions, even early in the papers, call for a more ‘problem-solving’ approach. Few candidates will ‘see a way in’ immediately. It could be that Edexcel have stuck to the spirit of the brief and the other boards have to tweak the difficulty of their questions.

While the choice of board does not have to be made until March 2017, Maths departments will surely aim for one board from Sept 2015, especially if the exams remain so different in style. However, it is worth remembering that these are draft materials and nothing will be accredited until the Autumn. My major dilemma may well be the choice between our current Edexcel IGCSE (supplemented by AQA Level 2 Cert. in Further Maths) and the new 9-1 GCSEs. I have yet to receive any firm guidance on the future of IGCSEs and FSMQs – if anyone knows anything, let me know (comments welcomed below the line)!


I doubt that this is where schools will make their choice. OCR, AQA and Edexcel all offer route maps, resources, online support etc. Nevertheless, I am sure teachers have their favourites and may be attached to certain boards.

Other notes:

– Ratio, Proportion and Rates of Change is given its own ‘AO’ (20% on higher tier!). So a focus on this area for next year’s Y9s may be advisable.

– ‘Frequency Trees’ appear, seemingly from nowhere. I had to look this topic up… see AQA HT Paper 2

– No coursework 🙂

– Nov Entry only for re-sitting 6th formers

– 4/5 roughly low/high C and 8/9  roughly low/high A* – this is still under discussion. Standards set by the ‘comparable outcomes’ approach – i.e. a student should have to work no harder for the new grade as they would have for the old grade.

grading– Foundation v Higher:

Foundation v Higher

Extra Information from AQA

In addition to this, I discovered the following about AQA’s proposed plan from attending a workshop delivered by the excellent Andrew Taylor, head of mathematics at AQA.

GCSE now split across 5 areas:

1) number (15%)

2) algebra (30%)

3) ratio & proportion (20%)

4) geometry & measure (20%)

5) probability & statistics (15%).

The figures in brackets are national requirements for Higher Tier with exam boards having 3% flexibility either side

In general, with this content is there is a large shift towards Ratio, Proportion and Change (largely at the expense of Geometry and Measure). A number of people in the audience felt aggrieved about, and Andrew was careful to explain that this is a DfE mandate and out of their control.

Assessment Objectives 1, 2 and 3

AO1, 2 & 3 still there, but slight changes in definition. Eg no trig or quadratic formulae will be given at the front of the exam, so now the questions could be AO1 relying on recall

AO1 = 40% higher, 50% foundation. Now also includes multi step problems!

AO2 all about interpreting & communication. Higher 30%, Foundation 25%

No longer QWC questions! Now contained in AO2

AO3 is problem solving. Realistic or mathematical contexts. Higher 30% Foundation 25%. Problem solving questions will not necessarily be long winded & big marks. Potential for some lovely, short, low-mark, single step problems.

The sample higher tier A03 questions we are seeing look very tough. Proof, algebra. Similar to Further Maths Level 2 Certificate. In trial of these kind of questions, only 10% of higher tier students scored full marks. Only small sample though


Grades 7-9 is A-A*. Higher is grades 4-9. Grade 4 = C. There is an “allowed Grade 3”, higher tier.

Expect same % of students who currently achieve Grade C to get a Grade 4. Same as Grade A & 7


Both the Higher Tier and the Foundation Tier will be skewed more towards the top grades than currently.

Higher Tier. 50% must test 7-9, 50% 4-6. There is no doubt this will lead to a more demanding higher tier

Foundation Grade 1 to 5. Will be more challenging than current Foundation but will allow more kids to make more progress

Other news

Each paper starts with 4 multiple choice questions, with a further 4 throughout the paper. If only there were a website full of these maths multiple choice questions 😉

No plans to replace the excellent Level 2 Further Maths qualification. I’m delighted at that as I love it 🙂

The Mathematics GCSE will carry a double weighting in the new accountability measures (same for all exam boards).


18 thoughts on “Comparing Draft GCSE Maths Specifications

  1. Can’t thank you enough for this summary of ‘so far’ – also the BLOGS on writing a ne scheme of work have become my bedtime reading – so useful, informative and so easy to read – I saw the ‘RAestoration Man ‘ episonde too!
    Hope you don’t mind but we have created ou own ‘Scheme Team’ to try and get our heads round it all – and I think the ‘fresh start’ is definitley the way to go – thsanks again for all the thought provoking and sharing – all VERY much appeciated!

  2. Also – I forget to check my spelling BEFORE I hit send – my keyboard is rather old and gets stuck!!! Apologies!

  3. Thanks for your kind comments, Trish, they are very much appreciated. And the only reason my spelling isn’t all over the place is that WordPress kindly underlines all my mistakes (and there are a lot of them!) in green.

    New Team Scheme post should be out tomorrow!

  4. This is a really good read and I agree with your take on the situation. Interesting times ahead. Thanks for taking the time to write the article.

  5. Thank-you for the summary…

    Have heard today that the Edexcel draft has not been approved. Is there any news on the other boards?

  6. Hey,
    I’ve heard whispers that none of them have been approved, but nothing confirmed. It will be an interesting next few weeks…

  7. Have you looked at Eduqas ( They are WJEC for England. They are doing only 2 papers, 50% non-calc and 50% calc.
    Furthermore, each exam is 2hrs 15 mins – comments??

  8. Hi

    I just wondered if you had changed your mind / opinion as the new specs are now out?
    We are currently with OCR ( Sixth Form College – North West) but are not seeing great results. I am leaning towards changing to Edexcel for September?? I would appreciate your thoughts…

  9. Hi Nicola,
    We have not made a decision yet. Possibly thinking about a switch to AQA, but we are in no rush to decide. Going to wait to see a few more papers, and the support material available. Definitely will not decide until half way through next year.

  10. Mr B, do you have any comparison on Edexcel GCSE and IGCSE?
    I see that last week IGCSE has also announced that it is changing to 9-1 and so I wonder if it is time to make the move back to the National qualification?

    Thanks for your thoughts,


  11. I attended the webinar a few days ago discussing testing the new syallabus. Excellent webinar. Followed through to the Mr Barton website – again excellent. I came across recent relevant Quality Control story from a Scottish Maths exam that went viral. If you read the BBC story first, then read a few thoughts I wrote about what the implications are for English Maths GCSE – see what you think do you agree?

  12. I know that basic calculus , differentiation, has been in i GCSE and is not in 9-1 GCSE so it will be interesting to see if i GCSE does change, what wil happen to its Calculus

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