Charity to test new GCSE maths curriculum for controversial resits policy

A maths charity has been awarded £60,000 to investigate the “feasibility” of a new GCSE curriculum in the subject for post-16 resit students.

Mathematics in Education and Industry will run a review independent of government, with the aim of developing a curriculum that has a greater focus on applying maths in real-life situations.

The project will include a small-scale study to assess the suitability of the curriculum as a basis for an alternative to the existing GCSE maths, which many resit students find tough to succeed in.

MEI chief executive Charlie Stripp said: “Resitting a GCSE maths qualification designed for 16-year-olds does not meet the mathematical needs of the large majority of students who do not succeed in maths at age 16.

“These students need a different post-16 GCSE maths curriculum that can motivate them to develop fluency and confidence in the fundamental maths skills they need for everyday life and employment.”

The current condition of funding rule, introduced in 2014, means that all students without at least a grade 4 – or a C, under the old alphabetical grading system – in English or maths must continue to study these subjects as part of their study programme.

Those with a grade 3, or D in the old system, must resit the GCSE exam rather than an alternative.

The requirement remains in place until the young person has completed 16 to 19 education, or achieved at least a grade 4.

Many FE representative bodies have asked the government to review the resits policy, mainly because of the sector’s tight resources due to the increasing number of students required to retake the qualifications, and they find that resitting a GCSE over and over again demotivates learners.

Over 170,000 young people resat GCSE maths in the summer of 2018, but only 23.7 per cent achieved at least a grade 4 or equivalent.

Josh Hillman, the director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, which is funding the project, said: “Performance in GCSE maths has both immediate and long-term impact on the education, training and employment trajectories of 16-year-olds.

“Previous Nuffield Foundation-funded research has found that students’ past experiences mean they lack both motivation and confidence when required to retake their maths GCSE, and the resit success rate remains stubbornly low.”

The MEI said that the standard GCSE maths curriculum, which is designed for 14 to 16 year olds, attempts to do two things: prepare students for further academic study of maths, and develop the knowledge and skills to apply mathematics to practical problems encountered in the workplace and other aspects of life.

“Most resit students need to focus on the latter,” the charity said.

The project will report towards the end of 2019.