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Further maths GCSE

(114 Posts)
var123 Fri 12-Jun-15 09:32:34

Can anyone help me understand the English exam system, particularly the GCSEs?

Things I don't understand:-
1. Why there are several exam boards, and what it means in practice.
2. Do the GCSEs count for anything once you've got your A Levels?
3. Do the GCSE choices limit which A levels you can do?
4. What the difference between igcse and GSCE is?
5. Are there still resits? Does the child have to wait until the following summer or is there another moment?
6. Why would a child do further maths GCSE and what are the implications if the school does not offer it?
7. Is it the current year 8s or current year 9s who will take the new GCSEs for the first time?

I know its a lot of questions but help with any one of them would be much appreciated!

By way of background, I have two sons, both are very good at maths. DS1 is in year 8 and I noticed on the school web last night that there are a list of GCSE options. Triple science is marked as "optional" but I can see no mention of further maths, which very likely means the school doesn't offer it.

However, maths is my DSes thing. They both enjoy it, find it really easy and I can see at least one of them wanting to go on to university to study it.

momtothree Fri 12-Jun-15 09:38:55

Exam boards are just specialists I suppose some are considered in higher esteem.
GCSE still count even with A levels
You need GCSE maths to study A level maths
Resits are usually January from memory but they are looking at this as some are taking maths 5 times...
Not sure on others someone will be along im sure.

var123 Fri 12-Jun-15 09:43:23

So, if you only need GCSE maths to do the A level, then you don't need GCSE further maths for anything?

titchy Fri 12-Jun-15 10:00:05

1. Exam boards are all equal. They may however offer slightly different syllabuses and schools pick the one that suits them for that subject. No-one will ever care which exam board the GCSE comes from.
2. They will go on university and job applications so yes they do count even once you've got your A levels. English and Maths grades C or higher are pretty much essential for everything. Having said that I never bother these days, but I am old.
3. Some A levels require the GCSE to have been studied and a decent grade achieved though this will depend on the school or college. For example to do A Level chemistry my dd's college requires a B in double science or chemistry GCSE. Other colleges might be happy with a C though.
4. In reality no real difference. iGCSE tends to be offered more at private schools as they feel at the top grades it stretches brighter pupils, though some state schools feel it is easier to get a C in iGCSE.....
5. There are November resits for maths and English only. Everything else has to wait till the next summer.
6. If a school has a large number of very able mathematicians they might offer Further to stretch those kids. It should help bridge the gap between GCSE and A Level, but it will not be a requirement as most schools don't offer FM at GCSE.
7. Current year 9s take new GCSES in Maths and English only. Current year 8s take new GCSEs in everything.

noblegiraffe Fri 12-Jun-15 10:00:38

1) Gove wanted to get rid of the different exam boards but couldn't. I think some monopoly rule affected it?

2) some high flying unis look at GCSE results as well as A-levels. Some courses may require a certain grade in maths/English GCSE. I think you need a B in maths for the RAF, you can't become a teacher without maths and English (and science at primary I think)

3) yes, you might not be allowed to take e.g. A level geography without GCSE geography.

4) iGCSEs are taken internationally. Some say they are harder than GCSE, they are slightly different.

5) no resits, except maths and English in November. Anything else you'd need to wait till the following June. Modules have been scrapped so you have to resit the whole GCSE.

6) further maths GCSE is to bridge the gap to A-level. The current GCSE is not good preparation and many bright students struggle in Y12. Further maths will make AS level easier.

7. Current y9 will sit new English and Mathd GCSEs (it's a fiasco). Current Y8 will sit new GCSEs in most other academic subjects.

var123 Fri 12-Jun-15 10:10:36

"Current y9 will sit new English and Mathd GCSEs (it's a fiasco)".
I've heard mention of this in the press, usually as an aside, rather than the main point of the discussion.

What's going on?

Both DC find the pace of maths at school very slow, and they always get the highest level possible from whatever paper they are given. I'd hate to think of them staying like this until the end of their GCSEs and then suddenly regretting the wasted time by finding A levels difficult. Is there anything I can do about it?

var123 Fri 12-Jun-15 10:16:12

Gove went to school in Aberdeen. It was a state primary and then a scholarship to the local independent school (Robert Gordon's).

I also grew up in Scotland and I was in the same school year as Gove (but not the same school!). So, Michael Gove and I would have experienced the same system, albeit he would have had a better education at secondary level.

There was only one exam board and every child in Scotland that got a O'grade or a higher would have sat the same papers and be marked according to the same scheme. I suspect that's what Gove was trying to introduce down here in England.

Actually, I recognise a lot of what he was trying to do from the education that I got in Scotland in the 70s and the early 80s. It wasn't all bad. There was no primary school exams though, so i don't know what that's about.

noblegiraffe Fri 12-Jun-15 10:26:37

If your DS is in Y8 then he will be sitting the new harder maths which technically should be preparation enough for A-level. However they are also changing the maths A-level to make it harder and we don't yet know what it will be like so the gap could be as big as ever.
Hopefully the new GCSE will challenge him but if not he could always consider studying further maths (or additional maths) privately.

The new maths GCSE is a fiasco because they still haven't decided what the exam is going to look like - how hard it will be. The sample exams put out by the exam boards have now been rejected by Ofqual as too hard and so are currently being rewritten. Textbooks which have already been printed to prepare for the now obsolete sample assessment style are pretty much useless. Schools mostly started teaching this course to Y9 this year and we still don't even know what exactly we are meant to be teaching them. Ofqual don't think this is a problem and have refused to delay the introduction.

var123 Fri 12-Jun-15 10:42:04

This sounds quite unacceptable.

You know that it will be harder than the 2015 exam questions but not as difficult as the sample questions? Are we talking about the same topics, just presented in a more challenging way - perhaps requiring the DC to remember formulae or a apply multiple techniques to solve a problem? Or is it actually new material.

I'd be prepared to have a go at teaching my DC the further maths myself, if I could find out exactly what it entailed. As to sitting the exam, I think it would depend on whether it was possible or not and if there would be any benefit in actually passing the exam versus simply knowing enough to pass the exam?

spinoa Fri 12-Jun-15 10:43:04

Most students studying maths at university didn't do GCSE further maths, as most schools don't offer it. Schools which are targeting their league tables often offer the easier statistics GCSE to their top maths sets instead. With the advent of the new maths GCSE most schools will drop extension maths GCSEs anyhow.

For natural mathematicians maths challenges (and Olympiads) are arguably more important than further maths GCSE, together with logical games such as chess. There is a gap between maths GCSE and A levels, which imo is likely to remain with the changes, since the proposed curricula for maths A levels look extremely tough, but strong mathematicians don't tend to find this a problem. The issue is that students don't know in advance whether they will be strong A level mathematicians (top grades at GCSE have never guaranteed this) and maths teachers are not always good at judging who the strong mathematicians are either.

There are many cases of students who effortlessly got high marks on the hardest maths papers right up to A level, but then struggle to get As and Bs at A level. Similarly there are many maths students at university who effortlessly got A*s throughout school but struggle to make the jump to university maths.

var123 Fri 12-Jun-15 10:50:14

spinoa - I did a degree in pure maths and I recognise a lot of what you say.

There were people in my first year class at university who thought they were good at maths, and it turned out that they weren't really at all. Maybe they'd been good at working hard, practising a lot and had had good teachers instead.

Then there were people, like me, who sailed through the first couple of years and then I hit a wall in the third year when the whole subject became philosophical, rather than logical.

PiqueABoo Fri 12-Jun-15 11:40:23

"This sounds quite unacceptable."

My understanding is that the maximum difficulty of the reformed GCSEs will remain the same, but there were too many questions that were too difficult for the majority so more questions will be easier. Differentiation at the top could be problematic yet again i.e. test perfection as much as genuine competence.

To my eyes that 2015 higher tier paper containing the notorious Hannah's Sweets question looked 'pipsqueak' for the highers i.e. Y7 DD has already been taught the majority of the content in a top set at the middling comp.

The school currently adds GCSE Further Maths and I'm hoping they won't stop doing that because I strongly suspect that combination will still be significantly better than the reformed GCSE alone. We'll see.

"For natural mathematicians maths challenges (and Olympiads) are arguably more important "

I've arrived at that conclusion i.e. it would be helpful if DD routinely started doing a few of the more 'thinky' UKMT questions from past papers i.e. the ones where you lose marks for a wrong answer. Aside: which brainiac thought encouraging risk avoidance as opposed to courageous inference was a good idea?!?

PiqueABoo Fri 12-Jun-15 11:42:05

Two "i.e." in one sentence. blush

var123 Fri 12-Jun-15 12:40:31

I believe certain professional exams use the subtract method. So you start with 100% and get marks off for mistakes. I am fairly certain accounting exams do it and possibly actuarial ones too.

var123 Fri 12-Jun-15 12:43:50

Back to the original post though.

Thank you all for your very helpful replies. I understand better now.

I have just one more question though: what is considered a very good number of gcses? e.g. if you did a survey of all the students starting a competitive course at a Russell Group university, what would be a typical number of GCSEs that they would each have? And would they all be As and A*s with maybe only one B?

ragged Fri 12-Jun-15 12:54:58

Further maths has been dropped at DD's school for time being for kids starting GCSEs in 2016+. Because the new regular math GCSE is so tough they don't see the need for further maths.

Thread here.

momtothree Fri 12-Jun-15 12:57:04

Lots of kids get 11/12 GCSE . But he pass rate is 5 in core subjects.this is what schools are rated on. If say popular degrees at a top university would take the highest achievers of that year. Could vary. But would expect A* for more challenging coarses. Im sure you could ring and ask.

ragged Fri 12-Jun-15 12:57:21

You need to look at course requirements; I haven't a clue what you mean by 'competitive' and I spit nails with contempt on the RG brand.

7-8 academic subjects at GCSE is as much as most require, even medical schools will often allow in a kid with a single C at GCSE but 7xA/A* otherwise.

momtothree Fri 12-Jun-15 12:59:55

Also if you apply and get offered a place based on expected levels (5A* 5 ) then the place can be with drawn if not met. Colleges have careers advisors and literature that talks the students through options.

spinoa Fri 12-Jun-15 13:01:41

You need to define precisely what you mean by competitive.

Subjects such as maths and physics are relatively undersubscribed so selection is almost entirely by A level grades. For example, for maths (which you mentioned your DC may wish to study) a student with the required predicted A level grades would get an offer automatically from all but the very top four or five universities. However, offers for maths are high right through the RG - AAA, A*AA+ - so maths is not "easy" to get into.

Meanwhile subjects such as Law are oversubscribed. For such subjects the top ten or more universities are selecting in the sense that students with the required predicted A level grades do not automatically get an offer. The actual offers are however often not higher than offers for less over-subscribed courses at RG universities.

For subjects in the former group GCSEs tend to play rather little role outside the very top universities. For subjects in the latter group GCSEs will usually play some role in determining whether an offer is given.

Absolute numbers of GCSEs are not that important: eight or nine would be plenty, provided that these are in respected subjects. One cannot generalize average GCSE numbers and grades across all RG courses, because of the reasons given above, but most students who are capable of getting AAA at A level will have mostly A*s and As at GCSE, maybe Bs in a few subjects they dropped.

The very top courses may cut on the numbers of A*s: Oxford cut from interview students with less than 6A*. Bear in mind that the important of GCSEs will slightly change when the new numerical grading at GCSE is introduced and when AS levels are dropped. The top universities may well use 9s in the new system to look for top candidates, and universities such as Cambridge which currently place more weight on AS than GCSE will have to use GCSE instead.

ScottishProf Fri 12-Jun-15 13:31:40

Rather few universities look at GCSEs, and those that do aren't interested in seeing a large number of them. If DC have a choice, encourage them to go for doing a sensible number (sensible meaning doesn't consume every waking minute, leaves time for other interests!) and getting top grades in those they do.

Honestly, var123, if you have a maths degree and your DC look good at maths to you, I wouldn't recommend relying on anything in the GCSE/A level path to provide challenge. Even where the list of topics they cover looks reasonable, the questions they ask are too straightforward for good mathematicians. I think spinoa is spot on, saying that the UKMT challenges (and, more so, the Kangaroos/Olympiads that are the follow-on rounds) are a better bet. Be aware that while each one is aimed at a particular age group, younger children can and do get put in for challenges normally taken by older children, where schools think it appropriate (you can't enter as an individual, only through schools). Maybe download sample papers from the UKMT website and see what level would stretch your DC enough but not too much.

I think the key thing is that DC grow up finding it normal, not terrifying, when they encounter a maths problem they can't for the life of them see how to do. Those really good at maths will just not encounter this at GCSE or A level, but if they go on far enough in maths, they will eventually encounter it (if not before, when they try to solve one of the Millennium Prize Problems!), so they'd better be OK with it.

var123 Fri 12-Jun-15 13:37:53

My oldest Ds is only year 8, so I don't know what I mean by competitive!

Maybe a definition could be courses that are well-regarded and consequently, over-subscribed (as opposed to courses that end up filling a third of the places through clearing - if a third is an appropriate number).

I am only trying to get a handle on whether a school that allows 9 GCSEs and doesn't offer further maths is the right place for my children.

We are at a point where we could move to a new part of the country. The only thing holding us here is the school, so i am just trying to work out if the school is worth staying for i.e. is it even right for them?

var123 Fri 12-Jun-15 13:38:54

cross posted. Thanks ScottishProf !

var123 Fri 12-Jun-15 13:45:55

They've been doing the UKMT. They are good, more challenging and interesting questions. I don't think they prepare for them though - its just something they did one day a few weeks ago.

They play chess, a bit. They do the other stuff a bit. I'd like them to learn programming maybe, as that might challenge them. I just wish they could develop a little more at school as they've both complained many times over the years about boredom and repetition.

spinoa Fri 12-Jun-15 13:51:37

9 GCSEs in good subjects is far better than doing a dozen in less reputable subjects, and getting weaker grades. 9A* definitely outranks 7A* and 4A for most purposes. The "better" state schools often do less GCSEs, especially now that measures in league tables are switching away from favouring high numbers of GCSEs. Many very good schools don't do further maths GCSE because they don't think it is particularly useful.

BTW note that many maths and physics courses which are very well-regarded (top ten) pick up extra students in clearing. One reason is because we as a country don't really produce "enough" students who want to do maths, physics, chemistry etc at university, but there are also recent effects arising from the government changes. Removal of number caps means that universities are trying to take more students whenever they can, and university management teams are often forcing their best departments into clearing to add a few extra students with high grades.

So well-regarded definitely does not equal over-subscribed, particularly in STEM subjects.

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