This year’s cohort of GCSE maths students in England and Wales have been used as guinea pigs in a misguided experiment that has left them underprepared for the new-style, harder exams which, for the higher tier, contain elements previously only seen on the A level syllabus.
The new maths syllabuses often gained accreditation only a matter of weeks before students were due to start courses. Schemes of work, necessary for effective teaching were being written as teachers started to deliver the curriculum; textbooks, again crucial to effective teaching of mathematics, were not ready in time, and those that were ready had been rushed through, with resulting errors.
This year’s GCSE cohort have not benefitted from changes in the primary maths curriculum, which are beginning to see real improvements in attainment. In particular, the Government’s sponsorship of the maths mastery programme is leading to more confident students at KS1 and 2, although it has not been running long enough for benefits to have been felt at secondary level.
Mastery is typified by the Singapore system, which seeks to build flexible learners with a depth of understanding that allows them to access a range of problems in a format which they may not have come across before, but which they nevertheless have the skills to solve. The current GCSE cohort has been prepared in a system which has tended to accelerate those perceived as ‘advanced’ learners, often at the expense of the majority.
A more ‘joined up’ approach, beginning with the introduction of the mastery method at primary level, segueing into a tailored mastery curriculum for secondary students, would have been far better. Successful implementation of the mastery method, however, requires time and patience. In Singapore, maths results were transformed over a generation; the UK, too, should be looking at change over the long-, not the short-, term.
But in the UK, we have a history of accelerating children through content which means that many children in secondary school lack the foundations of maths learning – vital if they are to master the subject.