Here’s my take on the latest news about GCSEs in Maths as featured on the BBC website today (22/5/12)…
Too many schools are entering pupils for maths GCSE early, says Ofsted in a major report that is critical of the way the subject is taught and tested.
I agree that students should not be encouraged to sit Maths (or any other subject) early. School should be focused more on learning and less on passing.
This is the problem with an examination system that is driven from the top down. Start with grades and how to achieve them and think about the teaching and content later.
Because of the structure of the system schools are keen for students to take exams early to relieve the pressure on other subjects. Maths is a solid candidate for early entry as it is relatively easy to assess how an individual will perform. Schools can then put these ‘pass’ statistics on the ledger. Unfortunately, this production line method means that many students who are gifted at maths (and therefore ideal candidates to sit early) are not stretched and encouraged to develop their mathematical acumen.
If the system wasn’t so entirely grade driven, teachers would be able to teach Maths with a view to making pupils able mathematicians. If there wasn’t such pressure to achieve a certain quantity of As, Bs & Cs we might produce pupils who actually understand the maths rather than just being taught how to pass the exams.
Also, over structuring the exams removes the need for pupils to think a little more laterally, therefore not adequately stretching the more gifted. The problem is reflected across the entire GCSE system. In History, the emphasis is more towards learning by rote and regurgitating facts and less on analysis and conclusion.
In short the need to think to excel has greatly diminished.