5 August 2016


Towards the end of the summer term I visited another school to deliver some training on the new GCSE.

I thought it might be helpful to share the slides and materials from this training session here, in case anyone wants to deliver a similar update at their school in September. It's a good time for maths departments to stop and think about whether they're on track with Year 11 and whether they're going to do anything differently with Year 10.

1. Example of GCSE questions
I started by asking the team to look at examples of exam questions and determine whether or not the questions were from new GCSE specimen papers. For example I included a question on moving averages from a Linked Pair paper (time series are on the new GCSE, but not moving averages).

This activity helped me get a sense of how familiar the team were with the new GCSE specification. You can download the questions here. The answers are in the slides, which you can download at the end of this post.

2. Misconceptions
I then talked through ten key points which were mainly drawn from the two posts I wrote:

It's worth noting that whenever I ask the question 'has this topic gone from GCSE?', the exam boards are careful not to commit to anything. They are allowed to include questions on topics that aren't specifically mentioned in their specification, as long as the text in the question provides enough information for students to work it out for themselves.

For example Edexcel lists stem and leaf diagrams and frequency polygons in their GCSE (9-1) Mathematics Content Guidance FAQs, so I'd definitely teach these topics if my students were going to sit the Edexcel exams. AQA does not specify these topics in their Teaching Guidance, but this doesn't guarantee they won't come up. If students are asked to interpret a stem and leaf diagram in an AQA paper, the question will have to clearly explain how to read a stem and leaf diagram before asking students to do so.

3. New topics
I attempted to list all the topics that are new to Higher and Foundation tier (as best I could - there is no definitive list!). The list of new Foundation topics is a concern - I struggle to understand why some of these topics are considered suitable for Foundation tier.
4. Exam Structure, Tiering and Grading 
I talked about exam structure (three papers, the first of which is before half term) and grading. No one can predict grade boundaries and I won't attempt to do so, but two points did come up:

Beware the drop
If you enter students for the Higher tier and they only manage to get a handful of marks, they may well get a U. Bear in mind that the Higher tier paper will no longer start with a load of 'easy' questions like it used to, so some students may well struggle with the entire paper. If they barely pick up any marks, they will fall off the bottom of the grade boundaries and end up with a U when they may have picked up a Grade 3 or 4 from the Foundation tier. I've seen speculation that this cut-off point on the Higher tier will be anywhere between 10% and 20%, but this is totally unknown at the moment. The suggestion is that 'borderline' students would be safer on the Foundation tier, but please don't quote me on that!

50% A and A* content
This is a really important quote, taken from Edexcel's Guide to Edexcel GCSE Mathematics (9-1):
"Previously, 25% of questions were targeted at A/A*, but now 50% of questions in each paper are targeted at the equivalent grades, 7–9".
That's quite a ramp up in difficultly level!

At my training session, a teacher suggested that the grade boundary for a Grade 6 is unlikely to be higher than 50%, because a student who gets more than 50% of the marks on the Higher tier exam has clearly accessed some Grade 7 - 9 material.

I have no idea about grade boundaries but if you're interested in reading more, have a look at Mel's post 'Grading Part 1' and Phil McBride's post 'This time I am mainly excited by... evoking discussions'.

4. Resources
I talked about new GCSE resources - there are many resources to share so this is just a few highlights:

  • The exam boards have provided some great resources - including numerous sets of practice exam papers - so do check out their websites. For example I really like AQA's 20 minute topic tests.
  • Small subscriptions can get you access to excellent resources - MathsPad is one of my favourites.
  • Free resources - such as those from Don Steward - continue to be really helpful.
  • I've collated resources and links for new GCSE topics here.
  • Mel's exam questions by topic are very helpful. 
  • Read my post about the Mind the Gap Maths Toolbox for more ideas.

At my training session I also showed some examples of revision workbooks. Most of my Year 10s bought a workbook to prepare for their end of year exams. There are plenty of resources available for students to buy on Amazon including revision guides, revision cards and sets of practice papers. This might be a good use of pupil premium money for Year 11s who can't afford to buy these resources themselves.
Note that Edexcel are now making a selection of printed past papers available for you to use for mock exams. These will save schools both time and money. Preparing papers for mocks is a hassle so this is a really good idea!

5. Checklist and Scheme of Work
I finished my session by issuing the team with this topic checklist and asking them to tick off what they'd covered in Year 10 so they could identify which topics they still had left to cover in Year 11.

My school is about halfway through the list. Given that we only have until early May, and that our students go off timetable twice during the year for mocks, I think we're all feeling the time pressure! Thankfully our Year 11s will have nine lessons a fortnight next year - this will help considerably.

I shared my scheme of work - you can download it here but bear in mind that most of the links won't work as they're linked to documents on my school's network.

6. Slides
As far as I know, the content of my training session applies equally to Edexcel, AQA and OCR. My slides contain a number of graphics from Edexcel's excellent Guide to Edexcel GCSE Mathematics (9-1). The slides for this session (which took around one hour) are here and you're very welcome to borrow them if you feel that your team needs an update in September.