I recently wrote (https://ukedchat.com/2015/02/12/opinion-joboaler-paper-viva-la-revolution-by-maths4ukplc/) how, in 2001, I left the business world because my perception was that there was an acute shortage of people with initiative and problem-solving skills. Studying mathematics develops these skills so I chose to train to become a teacher of mathematics with the objective of creating more individuals with this mathematical capability.
One of my first impressions was that the level of difficulty of the mathematics studied was not as I remembered in my studies. I was able to objectively test this because I had the O and A level papers I sat. Even the highest attaining further mathematicians said they could not believe how challenging the questions were. They could solve them but they had to really “think” and take time. When Michael Gove announced in February 2013 his intention “to reform GCSEs to ensure they are rigorous and robust and give students access to high quality qualifications which match expectations in the highest performing jurisdictions” I was pleased. In September 2013 the programmes of study were released (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-mathematics-programmes-of-study) and November 2013 the GCSE subject content and assessment objectives became available (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/gcse-mathematics-subject-content-and-assessment-objectives) .
It was immediately evident from the specified aims that expectations were raised and as a teacher I faced a significant challenge. Students would need to become fluent in the fundamentals of mathematics; reason mathematically; solve problems. To be successful with the new curriculum it would be necessary for students to develop the mathematical habits of mind that I had found so useful to success in business. There was almost four years to prepare the first group of children to sit the “harder” GCSE. Preparation needed to start immediately.
Irrespective of what the criteria for a grade 2 or 5 or 8 looked like or what the questions would be, I was being asked as a teacher to develop students who can think mathematically. As a rugby coach I trained my players to have the skills and knowledge to perform well in any game. How the team was tested against specific opposition was only a consideration when we knew who that team was. The alternative to train to win a specific match meant they were ill prepared for future matches. The analogy with mathematics is if we teach to the test we are at risk of not developing individuals with the skills for the workplace or be able to study mathematics further.
I do not understand the current concern over how the different examination boards are going to assess the GCSE. My opinion is that ensuring a level playing field is the responsibility of OFQUAL; my responsibility is to develop the required mathematical skills and knowledge which have been known for two years. To do this I need a coherent scheme of work (SOW) and supporting resources. The web contains a wealth of resources and various SOW. Everyone has their favourites. Personally, the @Nrich site (www.nrich.maths.org) and @NCETM (www.ncetm.org.uk) have excellent resources for students and teachers and @kangaroomaths (https://www.kangaroomaths.com/kenny2.php?page=Kschemeks2) has a comprehensive coherent SOW that supports the mastery concept.
With these resources and the published programmes of study, I am able to develop my student’s mathematical understanding. I have the opportunity to achieve what I came into education to do; to create more individuals with sound mathematical capability. Grade descriptors have been available since November 2014 (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/grade-descriptors-for-gcses-graded-9-to-1/grade-descriptors-for-gcses-graded-9-to-1-mathematics). Again it is clear from these that we need students to “think” and “reason”. Students need to have a depth of understanding; know the ‘why’ as well as ‘how’. I will need to see how the students are to be finally assessed but that can wait for a year, in the meantime I know what needs to be done and it is challenging for both teacher and student. I must make every hour count.
This is an opnion aticle written by David Bowman.