Start maths GCSE courses sooner, says Welsh exam chief

Student with math books in classroom Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Almost every child in Wales will follow two GCSE courses in maths from next year

Pupils in Wales should begin studying maths GCSE courses a year earlier than they do now when new qualifications come into force next year, an exam chief has said.

From September 2015 most children will study for two maths GCSEs rather than the one currently offered in schools.

Gareth Pierce, head of the WJEC, said schools would need sufficient time to cover all the work.

But the Welsh government said more teaching time would not be needed.

From next year a numeracy course will assess what maths skills learners need in their everyday lives in the world of work and in other general curriculum areas.

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Media captionHead teacher Andrew Williams said pupils may need the extra time for preparation and to look after their welfare

A second mathematics qualification will extend to aspects needed for progression to scientific, technical or further mathematical study.

Some schools already study for GCSE courses in years 8 and 9 but Mr Pierce told BBC Wales that the new double maths qualification should be a three-year course.

Raising standards

He said: "Without a solution of that kind there is a question of how much workload will be on pupils following the two GCSEs.

"Although there is quite an overlap in content, the assessment styles are a bit different and there is some different content in the GCSE mathematics compared to the numeracy.

"So I'm sure schools will be thinking very carefully about ensuring there is sufficient time to cover all of that work."

The new qualifications are an attempt by the Welsh government to raise standards and improve performance in maths, which is the weakest of the core GCSE subjects.

According to documents sent to schools, they are needed because:

  • The levels of numeracy demonstrated by many learners are not high enough
  • GCSEs in mathematics are widely expected to be, but are not, reliable indicators of appropriate levels of numeracy
  • Some employers and universities consider grade C, or even above, does not guarantee sufficient numeracy skills

A very similar scheme has been piloted at schools across Wales, including Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff, which has decided to start pupils on the new curriculum in year 9.

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Media captionGareth Pierce said the workload for children had to be considered

Head teacher Andrew Williams, said: "I think many head teachers are considering studying GCSEs in year 9 in order to prepare students more appropriately but also to look after their wellbeing."

But the Welsh government disputes that argument.

A spokesman said: "As part of our work to increase the reliability and validity of Welsh qualifications, the new mathematics GCSEs will include more rigorous assessment arrangements.

"However, they have been designed to be taken over a two-year period and we do not expect that a significant increase in teaching time would be required."

Rhian Carruthers, of Ysgol Bro Myrddin in Carmarthen, who helped develop the new course, says the school introduces elements of it in year 8 or 9 but there was no need to do so formally.

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