Collins GCSE Maths Festival – The implications of the new curriculum – how to teach Higher Tier


The opening comments in my blog of Monday about delivering the Foundation Tier, were from Mr Gove’s announcement concerning the outcome of the consultation over the revision of the Mathematics GCSE syllabus. Although the text itself may not be familiar I am sure that the ideas expressed certainly are not: broader, deeper content; more contact time.

Topics from AS Level, GCSE Further Mathematics and IGCSE have filtered down into the new Higher Tier. All this is designed to promote an improvement in rigor and increased challenge. All, of course, very welcome but presenting consequences for us in a number of areas such as: contact time; teaching style; student learning style.

Content is generally estimated to have risen by 20% and so the vast majority of us, I am sure, have been pressing our Director of Studies (or equivalent) for an increase in contact time – about an hour a week. This is something that Mr Gove himself alluded to (  Whether your school can deliver on that will have a great impact on how you can deliver the syllabus. Chris Curtis has reiterated in the #mathsamnesty videos what many of us have decided over the last few months – start teaching the syllabus in Year 9.

Our own teaching styles and our student’s learning styles perhaps pose the most significant challenges.

The demands here revolve around the fact that the Assessment Objectives (especially AO2) have changed, and that the linear structure of the course is, in fact, essentially spiral – requiring the revisiting of topics, gradually building on them. Students are going to be presented with questions that are more demanding and challenging.  Questions are going to be set with less directed structure, making them more open ended, and problem solving will require students to use different strands of maths for solutions. Instead of the question asking students to do part a), then do b) and use the answers from a) and b) in c), students will need to find their own way through the question. Clearly, students will need to have grasped the fundamentals of maths in order to lead on to a higher level of maths achievement.

So the dilemma facing me as a teacher is one of enabling students to take more responsibility for their learning and so allowing me to manage their learning pathway.  This inevitably means more independent learning – necessitating, as mentioned above, a change to student learning styles and a change of classroom practice from me.

Listening in on the Twitter conversations that were taking place at #MathsFest15 there are plenty of us reaching out to find, to discover, to create, an amazing array of resources.  It is really incumbent upon each of us to start cataloguing these resources to fit our delivery of topics, separating out those that can be fed into an independent learning zone – which could be located on your school VLE or equivalent.  I do wonder at times if I could – successfully – have multiple learning zones in a classroom with some students working in small groups, maybe others working individually, all with an independent programme of study.  This would allow for some accelerated learning and some slower, more deliberate, explaining/coaching.

Feeding into this engaging culture is the role of technology.  How can I use tablets/ smartphones effectively?  How can this technology be harnessed to make learning and discovery effective?  How can it be used to engage students collaboratively?  Another issue raised and discussed in the Maths Festival.

In my Foundation Tier blog I mentioned the role of mini-investigations being placed into each half term. The same is applicable to the Higher Tier students as well. Not huge activities but ones that might last four or five lessons or so.  The purpose of this is to bring together several topics that students have been involved with. They need to start seeing connections; getting a feeling for the interplay between topics and strands.  Encouraging students to collaborate, discuss and explore should develop a better understanding of the connection of a variety of strands.  It is essential that students at the Higher Tier develop reasoning, improve their ability to make inferences and deductions, and feel confident enough to challenge the validity of an argument.  These aspects are all requirements if students are to navigate the new style exams with new style questions.

One question on the mind of myself and other colleagues at the moment is what do we do with GCSE Further Maths and GCSE Statistics.  We brought in the FM course because we could no longer offer individual AS modules in Y11; Statistics in order to broaden skills.  The new Higher Tier is absorbing content from these and if we need more time to teach the new GCSE we have no spare time to include topics from FM and Statistics.  GCSE Statistics is a really valuable course and as Chris Curtis also mentioned in a #mathsamnesty video, wherever it can be preserved alongside the maths course, we should endeavour to do so.

The new Higher Tier is a really welcome, much needed development and we have to change our delivery style, structure and methods in order to challenge and motivate our students.  We will find that they do respond and that together great things will be achieved.

by Colin Stobart, Collins GCSE Maths Teacher Pack author

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