A report on the pilot of the linked pair of GCSEs in mathematics

AlphaPlus Consultancy prepared for DfE The independent evaluation of the pilot of the linked pair of GCSEs in mathematics (MLP): Second Interim Report. This is the third of seven formative evaluation reports on the pilot of the linked pair of GCSEs in mathematics (MLP). A final summative evaluation report will be presented in December 2013.

A quote from p.6:

Problem solving and functionality are central to mathematics at Key Stage 4 (KS4). The previous reports on the MLP [Mathematics Linked Pairs] have identified the lack of a shared understanding by centres of what problem solving and functionality mean in relation to mathematics teaching and learning generally and in particular in relation to the revised assessment objectives (AOs) for GCSE mathematics. The fact that stakeholders have no common definition for these terms across the range of instances and contexts in which they use them, such as the two MLP qualifications, is problematic. An absence of clear definitions might lead stakeholders to fail to recognise and understand the different types of problem solving which the structure of the MLP promotes. The two previous MLP reports indicated that both effective teaching and assessment of problem solving and functionality are still in relatively early stages of their development. This is not an issue specific to the MLP: centres offering the MLP together with the single GCSE, awarding organisations and wider stakeholders all suggest that the issues regarding the teaching of problem solving are also evident for the single GCSE in mathematics.

Ofqual – Standards Review

Ofqual published Review of Standards in GCSE Mathematics 2004 and 2008. Principal findings:

  • The major change that affected all GCSE mathematics examinations between 2004 and 2008 was a move from a three-tier examination system of foundation, intermediate and higher tiers to a two-tier system, comprising foundation and higher only. These changes had a significant effect on the demand of the examination by changing the balance of questions focused on each grade.
  • The spread of grades to be covered in each tier increased and in some awarding organisations this resulted in a rise of structuring within questions. In addition question design showed an increasing trend towards structuring of questions. Both factors made examinations less demanding over time.
  • The increasing numbers of centres entering students for specifications with modular examinations highlighted a mixed effect on demand. OCR’s modular assessment design minimised the effect of the changes and allowed standards to be maintained over time, whereas AQA’s modular design (also available in 2004) fragmented the assessment and increased structuring in questions, making the examinations less demanding.
  • The layout of question papers, the language used and the clarity of graphs and diagrams had all improved over the time period reviewed, providing a better quality assessment in mathematics.