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Sorry - another Foundation vs Higher Maths GCSE thread

(24 Posts)
moosemama Thu 01-Feb-18 17:13:37

For background, ds1 is in y11 at an independent school on an LA placement due to ASD.

Maths used to be one of his strongest subjects in primary, but as the years have gone on he’s struggled more and more, particularly with the way the questions are structured for exams and with trig, algebra and anything that - in his words - ‘requires strict rules/criteria for working out the calculations’. Which I thought was pretty much all of Maths, but then again, I am hopeless at Maths myself. This is odd, because he normally has an incredible memory for facts, but it’s like he has some sort of mental block when it comes Mathematical facts.

He took the Foundation paper last summer and got a 3.

There has been a lot of discussion about whether he should go for the Higher, as he won’t need to get as many questions right to get the 4, but his Foundation practise papers have all been closer to a 4 than his Higher practises. Also, a quick search on here seems to suggest schools are now putting their higher achieving students in for the Foundation since last year’s results were so shocking. (Now I’m questioning my spelling of practise, but am too tired to check. Sorry. blush)

He is due to take a mock of both papers in February, but the school need him to make a final decision about his final entry level before he will get his grades back.

To be absolutely honest, I am at a loss to know what to do.

He has a place at the school for 6th form regardless and can retake there if needs be, but he is ridiculously stressed about it and his anxiety is already so bad this year that anything we can do to help him make a decision will take some of the load off.

Does anyone have any thoughts or advice on how we can help him decide?

noblegiraffe Thu 01-Feb-18 17:51:59

The school can amend his tier of entry right up to the day of the exam, they'll just have to pay a fee. That might make the decision a bit less stressful!

On that basis I would suggest entering him for Foundation as that has been where he was closer to a 4, but reserve the possibility of amending this if anything interesting comes out of his mock - offer to pay the late fee if necessary.

shoppers Thu 01-Feb-18 18:08:51

My son is in the same position. He also got level 3 in his December mock. He has been moved up a set which has given him a boost but the set he left was targeting foundation and his new set is being taught for the higher level paper.

I'm worried about the gap in teaching. Noble do you think that's an issue for borderline pupils or can a teacher at this late stage bridge the gap?

noblegiraffe Thu 01-Feb-18 18:22:28

25% of the marks on each paper are common to Foundation and Higher, so the hardest questions on Foundation are the easiest questions on Higher. If he had been taught all of the Foundation content (which goes up to trigonometry) then he should have been taught enough to get a 4 on higher, and there's enough time to add a couple of higher topics.

I wouldn't enter a student who got a grade 3 in December for higher, tbh, mainly because even if they get the 4 it will be a horrible experience for them. Sitting 4.5 hours of papers you can only access a tiny proportion of is very dispiriting.

shoppers Thu 01-Feb-18 18:46:34

Thanks Noble, yes that's my concern. I'm a bit perplexed as to why they've moved him up to be honest. Surely he'd be better consolidating his foundation knowledge rather than taking a leap to the higher level.
Sorry op, hope I haven't hijacked your thread!
Good luck to your son.

moosemama Thu 01-Feb-18 20:25:43

No shoppers not hijacking at all, it’s all interesting/helpful to know.

Thank you Noble that’s well worth knowing. We will definitely speak to his teacher and let him know we are willing to pay for the late fee if he ends up changing tier.

He wants to do the Foundation and I think, especially as he gets extra time, on top of the length of exam he would already be sitting there unable to do the questions on the Higher, that that’s looking like the sensible choice. So we’ll go with that and only change it if there is suddenly an amazing leap in achievement in his mocks.

I really appreciate your advice. Thank you.

moosemama Thu 01-Feb-18 20:48:19

Right, so I have just spoken to him and it seems he got muddled when I spoke to him earlier.

Apparently, on the practise papers he’s been getting a 3 on both the Foundation and the Higher, but on points is consistently closer to a level 4 on the Higher paper.

noblegiraffe Thu 01-Feb-18 22:08:54

On points he could just scrape a 3 on the Higher paper and be closer to a 4 than getting a secure 3 on Foundation because the grade boundaries are much narrower.
Edexcel last year on Foundation it was 90 for a 3, 122 for a 4
On Higher it was 27 for a 3 and 41 for a 4.
The thing about the 3 on Higher is that it isn't a genuine grade, there's no 'grade 3' content on the paper. It's only put into the grade boundaries as a small safety net so that students who just miss out on a 4 don't get a U. Entering a student who is a genuine grade 3 into Higher is a risky business in case they fall off the bottom.

Given that the questions on Higher are harder, it can be harder to acquire a few more marks at the lower end than it is to make progress on Foundation where there may be a few 'easy' topics he is losing marks on earlier in the paper.

Lokisglowstickofdestiny Thu 01-Feb-18 22:18:32

My daughter sat her Maths GCSE last year. She was originally entered for the higher paper but she lacks confidence in her ability (and Maths isn't her strongest subject) and we were worried that she would get into the exam room and freeze. She switched to foundation and squeezed a grade 5 which she was very pleased about.

moosemama Sat 03-Feb-18 11:23:42

Thank you Loki, good to hear she got a 5 after moving onto Foundation.

moosemama Sat 03-Feb-18 11:34:19

So, he did his first Higher mock yesterday and came home distraught. Well actually he left home distraught in the morning, as he kept himself awake all night with anxiety, then had a panic attack and started school refusing before his taxi arrived. Managed to calm him down and he went in, but it wasn’t easy.

Came home really upset. Said he could only access two questions on the paper and he struggled with those, so thinks he got them wrong. Reading between the lines I think he panicked and couldn’t think straight. We had already discussed the fact he would most likely not be able to answer the vast majority of questions, but actually sitting down and looking at a paper he didn’t understand sent him into a tailspin. He didn’t stay for his extra time, he just handed his paper in and left at the end of the normal exam time.

I suggested that this was probably a clear sign he should go for Foundation, but he said he saw his Maths teacher afterwards and he’s given him a stack of things to review and work on before the next paper and that they still want to see how he gets on with that.

It wouldn’t matter so much if he didn’t want to go on to do Computing, as you need a pass at GCSE Maths at the very least. 6th form have suggested he considers Physics as an alternative to Maths at A Level, but he only got 3’s in all of his Science mocks. Science used to be his best subject, but he has a phobia related to working in the science labs which has had a massive effect on his achievement.

I wish I could take all the stress away for him. He suffers with such huge levels of anxiety anyway that I am worried he is going to implode with the added GCSE stress.

noblegiraffe Sat 03-Feb-18 11:50:20

Oh your poor DS. I think you need to actually be firm with the school now and say NO he will not be entering for higher. The school won't know about the panic attack or the refusing to get in the car and they need to know that your DS's mental health is at risk if they continue to push an unsuitable paper on him in the interests of chasing grades.

You have to prioritise his mental health, and you also need to communicate clearly to the school that they are risking losing him completely.

It has been clearly demonstrated that he is not mentally resilient enough to sit a paper that he can't access the vast majority of. Making him sit more of them this close to the exam isn't going to solve that, and if they do make him sit higher in June, there is a real risk of a U.

noblegiraffe Sat 03-Feb-18 11:51:50

Regarding anxiety - has he seen his GP? Is he on medication?

moosemama Sat 03-Feb-18 12:55:05

I agree, I won’t be letting him take the Higher now - but he’s his own worst enemy and I believe it’s him that’s pushing to do it. His Maths teacher is just responding to ds’ insistence by trying to help him with extra resources and revision,etc. The Maths teacher is also frustrated, because he knows ds actually a very capable student, but his executive function issues, plus the anxiety means that he just doesn’t achieve anywhere near the level he is ‘technically’ capable of. We had the same problem at the end of Juniors, where his lovely teacher tried really hard to prove on paper that he deserved his place in top set, because she knew how able he was, he just wasn’t able to demonstrate it in exams.

School are fully aware of the panic attacks and school refusal. He’s in an indie school, on an LA placement and I am in constant contact with his mentor, who is brilliant with him. They have an outstanding SEN and pastoral system and go the extra mile to try and meet his needs, but he is complex <and exceptionally stubborn> and sometimes it’s just impossible to find the right way.

GP referred him to CAMHS, who kept refusing the referral, but finally agreed to see him on the fifth attempt in December. (Fourth attempt included his paediatrician - who is also head of the multi-disciplinary assessment unit for ASD - getting personally involved, but they still refused.) Unfortunately, he massively masked during his assessment, so although they referred him for help, it’s not the right kind and I’ve been trying to sort that out since December.

School have also called CAMHS themselves and asked to meet with them as, despite being a school that is very experienced in dealing with the sort of issues ds has, they have tried all their strategies, plus anything else we could think of and are now at a loss as to what they can do to help support him through his GCSEs.

I have tried my best to reassure him that it’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t get a 4 this time, as he can retake next year, when he has less pressure to contend with, but with the ASD, once he has an idea in his head it’s really hard to change his mind.

Y11 is hard enough for neurotypical pupils, but for boys like ds, who can’t cope with change, it feels a bit like freefalling off a cliff with no parachute - and that’s without adding in the stress of taking exams and having to wait months to find out the results.

As his mum it’s awful not being able to come up with all the answers to help make it better. Not least of all because he is also a 16 year old boy, who thinks he knows best (don’t they all) but with the added black and white thinking of ASD making it almost impossible to help him see otherwise.

noblegiraffe Sat 03-Feb-18 14:04:05

School are fully aware of the panic attacks and school refusal.

Does his maths teacher know that he specifically had a panic attack and nearly refused school over his maths paper? Your DS might listen to his maths teacher where he might not listen to a parent, if he can explain the reasoning - students with ASD can be very stubborn but are not immune to reasoning, especially if it comes from someone whose knowledge of that particular topic they respect. I've found the approach of 'I think this would be best based on these reasons, let me know what you think' and then leaving them to process it themselves can be more successful than 'you need to do this'. I have also found that because ASD affects social communication, that having these conversations via email rather than face-to-face can be more productive.

Why is your DS so set on the higher paper?

moosemama Sat 03-Feb-18 14:43:33

I’m not 100% sure. His mentor is usually really good at liaising with his teachers. It’s only a small school - 30 pupils in each year, so not as difficult as it would be in a huge school.

Ds isn’t immune to reasoning if you handle it right - until his anxiety gets to this point. Then he just gets stuck. We can spend hours talking everything through with him carefully, think we’ve made a breakthrough, then he will just go back to the beginning. His profile has strong PDA traits, which means decision making panics him and once he’s made one it’s almost impossible to get him to budge - which of course is both frustrating and heartbreaking when he’s essentially causing his own anxiety on a kind of neverending feedback loop. We can give him all the facts and reasons and often he will go off to process it all and come back to us later, acknowledge what we’ve said, but still stick to his guns, even when it seems totally illogical given the facts or he’ll fixate on one aspect and be unable to see that that isn’t the whole picture and he needs to consider all the aspects.

I will email his Maths teacher first thing Monday morning and see if I can get any further clarification. If he is amenable, I will ask him to see ds with his SEN Mentor to discuss taking Foundation.

One fly in the ointment is ds just told me that his GCSE Mentor (different person to his SEN Mentor) happens to be the Head of Maths and he has told him that he thinks he would be better off taking the Higher. So now I am questioning whether that is more about grade chasing than ds’ needs. He really respects this teacher and I suspect that could be where this obsession with taking the Higher is coming from. Also ds has very low self-esteem and I think he feels like he is a failure if he doesn’t take the Higher when that was what he has been told he was studying for all along.

I don’t see the point in them pushing him into the Higher if it’s chasing a grade he’s not going to get though.

noblegiraffe Sat 03-Feb-18 14:54:57

The school sounds really fab and on the ball which is a real positive. It might be, if the head of Maths is the one your DS really rates, that it needs to be him talking to your DS about Foundation.

What would happen if the school just told your DS they had entered him for Foundation? If it was taken out of his hands?

Stickerrocks Sat 03-Feb-18 15:51:29

Personally, the thought of facing the higher paper knowing that I wouldn't be able to tackle a substantial number of the questions would knock my confidence. I would enter the foundation and aim for the grade 4.

moosemama Sat 03-Feb-18 17:38:35

I will ask his Maths teacher if he thinks his GCSE Mentor will talk to him about taking Foundation.

I think, if they just told him they’d entered him for the Foundation without telling him a meltdown would probably ensue.

Stickerrocks so would I. I just wish ds felt the same. I thought/hoped that having had that experience on Friday he would have changed his mind, but there’s no sign of it yet. Just a very stressed, bad-tempered teen taking it out on everyone in the house. The Moose household is not a fun place to be this weekend.

noblegiraffe Sat 03-Feb-18 17:59:50

meltdown would probably ensue.

That's what I suspected. It's so difficult isn't it?

Is his anxiety allowing him to do the work that his teacher gave him?

moosemama Sat 03-Feb-18 18:03:46

He’s spent most of today procrastinating, so that would probably be a no.

I’m hoping he’ll be a bit calmer tomorrow and be able to get onto it then. I can’t help, because if I suggest giving it ago when he’s like this there will definitely be a meltdown.

He hasn’t had meltdowns for years, not since he was in primary school, so that alone is a clear indicator of how bad things are at the moment.

TeenTimesTwo Sat 03-Feb-18 18:25:00

moose Off topic, but has he considered doing an BTEC Extended Diploma in Computing rather than A levels? There is more course work and fewer exams, (though you may well need to change schools).

moosemama Sat 03-Feb-18 19:04:57

He has considered it TeenTimesTwo. The only local provision that offers it is not somewhere he would be able to cope with attending.

When we met with the Head of 6th form where he is, they were still finalising their offerings for next year. Ds now says he thinks they are offering both the BTEC and A Level and I think he will be going for the BTEC if they are definitely offering it. We discussed Physics at the meeting, because at the time ds thought he could only do A Levels if he stayed on at his school and he really wants to attend their 6th form. (Not to mention the LA went ahead and named them without at fight, despite them being both indie and out of area.)

I am not 100% sure they are going to be offering the BTEC myself, but y11 are due to have a session to discuss their options in a week or two, so I am holding back a bit until after that. (They may be great at pastoral support, but their organisation skills can be a bit haphazard sometimes - although they always get there in the end!)

Being an LA SEN pupil, his place is confirmed via the 6th form being named on his EHCP and they don’t require him to make a final decision on which course/s he wants to take until just before he starts next September.

moosemama Sat 10-Feb-18 16:52:22

Just wanted to update the thread.

I have now spoken with both ds’ Maths teacher and the Head of Maths and it seems he has only been 4 points off a level 4 on the higher paper, both in the GCSE he took last summer and subsequent practises. (I had somehow forgotten that he already has a level 3 from last summer’s GCSE.) In foundation he was a lot further off, due partly to carelessness and partly because he has always struggled with recording his workings out, so drops a lot of points there. We have also identified a couple of crossed wires caused by ds’ literal thinking wrongly interpreting instructions his teacher has given about what you can and can’t do in the exam.

The panic about when he had to decide was a confusion between the date the exams officer wanted teachers to submit entries and tier and the actual date they have to enter them with the board. Apparently there is still time for us to change his tier without being charged as well, but we can change right up to the last minute and pay a charge. School are happy for us to make/change the decision whenever it feels right and we are working with them to make sure it’s the right choice at the time.

Between the four of us we have decided to carry on with the higher mocks for now (he has been given lots of additional revision material) and see if he manages to pick up enough marks on the second two papers. We then have foundation papers to be done over the Easter break, plus more higher practise papers and we are going to see how he gets on with all of those, plus the mocks before making a decision.

Unfortunately, with the second two mocks next week, he has now come down with what appears to be Flu and is really poorly, so we are having to wait and see if he will be well enough to go in for the exams, as he isn’t even well enough to revise at the moment.

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