New maths IGCSE may lead to 'super A*', experts say

GCSE exam About 5% of maths GCSE candidates got an A* last year

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A new "super A* grade" could be ushered in for GCSEs after one exam board introduced an "A* with distinction" for a further maths exam, experts say.

AQA is introducing the grade for a new International GCSE in further maths.

It says it is not planning the super A* for any other subjects, but education expert Professor Alan Smithers told the Times Educational Supplement it could start a trend.

A*s were introduced in 1994 to provide additional "stretch" for able pupils.

AQA stresses that its new A* distinction in the Level 2 Certificate in Further Maths (IGCSE) is designed for a very small number of very able students.

It does not foresee it being introduced in other exams in the near future, but could not rule it out completely.

AQA chief executive Andrew Hall said: "We believe the most able mathematicians who are already likely to achieve A or A* at GCSE will be motivated by the added challenge of mastering the most demanding skills and being rewarded for this."

But Buckingham University education expert Prof Smithers said: "Exams tend to be a case of follow my leader.

"I am quite sure that young people not taking further maths might want to get an A* with distinction, so it could start a trend."

'Impossible standard'

"In effect you will be turning the A* into a kind of failure. You might be setting an impossible standard at the top."

John Bangs, former head of education at the NUT and now a senior Cambridge researcher, told the TES: "Once one exam board does this, the others will follow.

"This will become the pre-requisite for Russell Group universities which look for these new distinctions as an easy way of taking a 360-degree view of students."

'More demanding'

However, a spokesman for exam standards watchdog Ofqual said there were no plans to consider introducing an 'A* with distinction' grade for GCSEs, or A levels.

"The AQA further maths qualification is not a GCSE and is subject to totally different rules regarding grading."

To get an A* with distinction, candidates will have to demonstrate sustained performance in higher-level maths skills such as reasoning, proof and problem-solving.

The ever-increasing proportion of students gaining top grades has prompted some education experts to suggest it is only a matter of time before the A* is replaced.

Last year, 5% of students taking maths GCSE got an A* and that proportion rose to 11% in additional maths exams.

And slightly more, 5.3%, of those taking AQA maths GCSE last year got the A*, while 13% achieved an A.

The exam board anticipates that a smaller number of candidates will gain the A* in its new IGCSE further maths, which is officially known as a Certificate in Further Maths, because it is a more demanding qualification aimed very bright pupils.

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