What do headteachers need to know about the maths GCSE?

I have been given the chance to lead professional development sessions for a secondary heads’ association and so this question has been exercising my mind for a few weeks. I am pondering the possibility that there will be some schools that have made only small adjustments to maths content in their schemes. It seems to me that this is ‘The bottom line’ of changes (I guess there could be ‘no change’, but surely not?). Shuffling topics in schemes so that pupils meet the necessary content for their tier of entry is, of course, necessary but is it sufficient?

The challenge to succeeding at maths GCSE post-2017 is as much about problem solving and reasoning as it is about new topics in tiers. I am relieved that we are now evolving a national assessment at the end of Key Stage 4 that challenges mathematical thinking. I was always disappointed that students could gain a degree of success in the ‘old GCSE’ using tricks and tips and memorisation. The outcome was not satisfying for teacher’s or students and added to our stock of adults who ‘never liked maths’. The current GCSE specifications and exam papers must accurately reflect significant changes to the National Curriculum at KS3 and KS4. It is Ofqual’s role to hold the exam boards to account on this matter and they are definitely ‘on the case’. The level of mathematical challenge is not going to go away.

This will be one of my main messages when I talk to a group of 60 school leaders and mathematics subject leaders later this week. What an opportunity this gives to me and the subject leaders – a chance to help headteachers to get under the skin of what needs to change in the teaching of mathematics from Year 7 onwards. Thank goodness for the latest EEF guidance report Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 and 3. It offers 8 practical, evidence-based recommendations that are relevant to all pupils. I aim to use the questions common to both foundation and higher GCSE papers – the ‘overlap questions’ – to draw attention to the need for change in every maths classroom.

The best outcome from this day would be that headteachers appreciate the level of change that is needed to ‘rule-bound’ mathematics pedagogy. I hope they will commit to finding ways for subject leaders and their teams to work together and to take some risks in opening up the dialogue and thinking in their maths classrooms.