Back in March I set out a timeline for how I thought the changes to the new Maths GCSE (here’s the link) would happen…OK I was a couple of days out as some of the exam boards published them before the end of May (damn you!!) to coincide, I assume to the submission to Ofqual for accreditation.

Anyway, I had a thought that it would be useful to have a blog post that I’ll update comparing the specs from the main exam boards as they release their information into the public domain to make it easy to compare their different offerings, and so as they are published I’ll use this post to compare and contrast the different offerings and also to make some general observations. . So far we have:

AQA Draft specification can be found here: click here

  • 3 papers each 80 marks and weighted 33.3% of the GCSE
  • All 1 hour 30 minutes in length
  • 2 calculator papers and 1 non calculator

OCR Draft specification can be found here: Draft spec

  • 3 papers each 100 marks and weighted 33.3% of the GCSE
  • All 1 hour 30 minutes in length
  • Paper 1 = Calculator, paper 2 = non calculator and paper 3 = calculator

Edexcel Draft specification can be found here

  • 3 papers each 80 marks and weighted 33.3% of the GCSE
  • All 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Paper 1 = non calculator, paper 2 = calculator and paper 3 = calculator

WJEC Draft specification can be found here

  • 2 papers 120 marks each weighted 50% of the GCSE
  • Both papers 2 hours 15 mins
  • Paper 1 = non calculator and paper 2 = calculator

General Thoughts:

So far the most “user friendly” draft specification that has been published is, in my opinion from OCR – for probably no specific reason, but it just “felt” easier to read and also included more details about the specific topics – rather than just copying the programme of study (which I know inside and out at this point!).  In terms of the sample questions I thought the ones from AQA didn’t match my expectations in terms of what I expected any new style questions to look like – for me there was nothing “ground breaking” in there and in fact there were only 3 questions that I would have had any doubts about any but my top end students to have attempted – and I could genuinely say the same for most past papers under the current exam specifications. However they have redeemed themselves slightly with their specimen papers here which, were more the way I had expected. I am worried however about the unstructured “describe the race” style questions … where do you start to teach the skills in that kind of question? (oh and what a nightmare that will be to mark it!). It is interesting that with the Edexcel draft spec the awarding of a level 3 on the Higher tier jumped out to me (a bit like still being able to get an E on the current Higher tier)

The sample assessment material (SAM) from Edexcel is, in my opinion, the closest to how I had imagined the new style questions to be. At foundation they are more challenging than the current foundation papers and they are more algebra heavy at Higher. The last thing I want to happen is for the SAM to bear no relation to the actual exam that the students sit in 2017 – I don’t want any surprises and once the specs are accredited and practice/mocks are published I will be looking at how close they are to this material too.

WJEC are the only board to propose 2 papers, both longer than the current papers. I quite like the idea for the higher tier, as 1.5 hours almost just doesn’t seem long enough – I know I would feel that I am just getting into it and I can almost imagine I would be hearing the “tick tock, tick tock” of the clock going and panic would set in. Exam technique, in terms of working to timescales will be really important for the shorter papers. However for foundation tier I do think most students will struggle to focus with the longer times – again this suggests to me that in the “final stretch” we could be teaching exam techniques as much as content!

The key to making a decision about exam boards, for me, will come down to a couple of things: online access to resources and real-time access to people.  I like the look of the AQA website and the links are relatively intuitive to find what you want so thumbs up for that!. In terms of real people, I suppose JustMaths puts me in a unique position, but I have found that the support from Edexcel so far has been second to none …  Having real people to deal with queries, no matter how silly the questions is so underrated; I know lots of teachers that have never had any contact with an exam body and wouldn’t dream of making contact because it wasn’t done historically. It is these “normal teachers” that one day may be the decision makers later in their career, so treat them nicely. Times are a-changing and I (and many others like me) want to know that there are real people behind these qualifications and accordingly the exam boards need to “step up to the plate” and make it clear to normal teachers that they are happy to offer what support they can.

It’s a classic example of what happens during the evolution of a product/service – our expectations of what we want from the item/service continues to grow and effectively we want more than before but for the same (or less) money and it is usually at key points that leaps forward are made … a change of exam is the ideal time to make such a leap!