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Retaking GCSE maths at Higher tier.

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by colinbillett, Jan 21, 2016.

  1. colinbillett

    colinbillett Occasional commenter

    I have spent much of the last twenty years teaching learners of 16 plus who wanted or needed a better grade than they already had at GCSE mathematics. With very few exceptions they entered for Foundation, and achieved by their own efforts a good rate of success. But I occasionally meet learners who when they failed to achieve a C in year 11 at Foundation have been re-entered in subsequent sittings at Higher Tier. I spoke this week to the parent of a child who had got an E at Foundation in year 11, then entered three more times at Higher, and getting three Ds in the process. Can colleagues explain the rationale behind this? It can't simply be a matter of boundaries being lower at Higher, because most of the exam content then becomes inaccessible.
  2. Skillsheets

    Skillsheets Occasional commenter

    I was asked to tutor someone in this situation who was using the idea that it required a lot less marks to get a C at Higher level than Foundation. She had no idea how to work out 3/5 of 40. She was resitting for the third or fourth time. Ibtried to focus on the basics. She wanted to DO HIGHER. It didn't work out needless to say. She did actually need some maths to get onto her next chosen course. Even if she scraped a C at higher level she was doomed.
    colinbillett likes this.
  3. m4thsdotcom

    m4thsdotcom Occasional commenter

    In my experience it's about putting the right student on the right paper.
    Take a relatively able mathematician who has missed a lot of school/learning but studied some Higher content lower down the school. It's more conceivable that they will score 28/30 out of 100 on a higher paper than ~75 on a foundation paper. The student may possibly mess up too many 'easy' marks on a foundation paper and as a result not hit ~75 out of 100 on the paper to get a C grade.
    These students often forget basics yet can structure an answer to a 4/5 mark question time and time again on the higher paper.
    Looking at it another way...The edexcel papers are often ~25% cross over between the last part of foundation and the first part of higher. Let's take a student who scored 63 marks on foundation but didn't touch any of the last 1/4 of the paper. I would never put them in for higher. On the other hand take a student who scored 63 but did get much of the last 1/4 then I would put them in for higher.
    There are a list of topics that can be taught (In my opinion) that can tip the kids over on higher if they can grasp them. Box plots, cumulative frequency, trig ratios, tree diagrams etc all offer students a chance to hit the 28/30 marks on a higher.
    I think the point I am making is unless you know the student and know the different exam board H/F papers then it will look strange from a far.
    colinbillett likes this.
  4. colinbillett

    colinbillett Occasional commenter

    Thanks Skillsheets and m4thdotcom. I've not yet met the learner, and she is being entered by a school for Higher. In my teaching life I almost always refused those learners who came with very low grades at Higher and asked to be entered again at Higher. Those who did also met a sorry end.
    I spent 20 years teaching Edexcel, so I appreciate the crossover of the two papers, and the need to get all the 'easy' questions on a Foundation to hit the grade, but just get sufficient sprinkling on a Higher to meet the same thing. Like Skillsheets, I want them to leave me with a C, and with a sufficient grounding in the subject, which they would not have had by scraping 28% on Higher. But I also remember my eldest daughter, who could easily memorise a process such as mean of grouped data, and apply it every time without fail, but might fall on one that required a bit of deeper understanding of the concept of mean. The kids readily believe a C on Higher is easier, because of the boundaries. But then I don't believe them. So I'm stuck with the school decision, and shall probably be doing some remedial work to try to squeeze out those extra marks.
    However, you both see the perils of entering weak kids at Higher, and schools continue to do it in great numbers. I wonder if we get any more replies.
  5. colinbillett

    colinbillett Occasional commenter

    And on an Edexcel paper there may be 40% crossover - the 20% of C questions and the 20% of D questions. If a learner could just get those C and D questions correct on a Higher paper they'd be home and dry!
  6. googolplex

    googolplex Occasional commenter

    The shift to higher is a fairly recent thing. I read somewhere that the proportion of entries at Higher and Foundation four or five years ago was around 50:50 and, during the past few years, has steadily moved towards Higher so that I think it's now something like 80:20. The problem with that is that it has caused the C grade boundary to rise - students needed more like 35% on each paper for Edexcel last summer, whereas it had been lower that 30%. Otherwise, one presumes, they'd have been having too many gain their C. After last summer's experience, I wonder if more will move back to foundation.
    From a teaching perspective, when it comes to Year 11 the pressure on results is so great these days that it's all about the easiest route to a C and very little to do with teaching mathematics. For many students, it's easier to learn a small number of stock topics at Higher than to wade through the first half of that Foundation paper with its pathetically low challenge and watch students make basic errors on Junior School maths before they've even started on the harder topics. One way to avoid those basic errors is to enter them for higher.
    There are also so many more resources out there many of which are specifically geared towards those stock forty or so Higher Tier topics which, they hope, once learned will gain that C.
    Lastly, there's the motivational aspect: it's easier to motivate some students at Higher. They appreciate being at the business end of maths, the crunch topics are through in the paper before they've lost interest, etc. I've also seen so many students whose ambition was pegged back by Foundation but who went on to challenge for more than C grade at Higher.

    Some may scoff at all of this, but Higher Tier entries really do work at improving outcomes for many students. If they didn't we wouldn't bother.
    colinbillett likes this.
  7. googolplex

    googolplex Occasional commenter

    Now that new GCSE, that's a different ball game. Higher looks so far out of reach for so many, and Foundation looks rather like the old Intermediate paper, I reckon we could see foundation tier entries in the majority.
    Skillsheets and colinbillett like this.
  8. PFCDaz

    PFCDaz New commenter

    I did hear in my past life as a teacher of schools who would enter their very bottom sets into higher for precisely the reasons detailed above, relying on students ability to memorise a small number of procedures for predictable "higher grade" topics.

    In the world of the new GCSE this is all out the window, particularly as the new GCSE higher covers 4-9 with a nominal 3 grade, i.e. the lowest "full" grade is equivalent to a low C, compared to a D currently. Similarly the foundation paper now stretches to 5 which covers what is currently a low B grade, meaning that while the bottom end students at foundation will struggle for marks, the top end who currently drop grades due to carelessness, lack of concentration, or just running out of steam, will potentially be better served by the new foundation. As mentioned its almost as if we now have higher and intermediate papers.....
    colinbillett likes this.
  9. Skillsheets

    Skillsheets Occasional commenter

    So it's all about passing an exam and not about understanding maths or developing one's logical thinking and reasoning skills ?
    colinbillett likes this.
  10. googolplex

    googolplex Occasional commenter

    Yep. That's the long and the short of it.
    colinbillett likes this.
  11. colinbillett

    colinbillett Occasional commenter

    I'm with Skillsheets on this. When I was in FT teaching those were my concerns too. And with young people I'm teaching I'm still aiming for that, so they get the depth and breadth to enjoy and apply the subject knowledge. When the 2017 specifications were introduced I decided it was time to throw in the towel and retire gracefully. (I actually left in summer 2015, one year earlier than I planned.) The thought of teaching trig to learners who lacked basic, even very basic, skills seemed a place I didn't want to go back to, it being so like Intermediate. However, as googolplex so clearly shows, getting a C is all that matters for schools. So confronted with a tutee who has been directed to this by a school, I'll be trying to help the candidate pick up enough marks between now and June to make that jump from C to D. Slightly depressing, but hey, it's a challenge!
  12. googolplex

    googolplex Occasional commenter

    To be fair, you need to point the finger further up the chain than schools - at government and those who hold schools to account. All they care about are exam results since they cannot measure rates of reasoning, enquiring mathematicians. It's no surprise then that, as students approach Year 11, for schools it's all about the exam. Let's face it, exam technique can make a big difference to outcomes.

    It's much worse than this, though. I've been at conferences where speakers, headteachers, etc pontificate on their ultimate solutions to improving progress, which have nothing to do with development of understanding, reasoning and thinking. Right from Year 7, they peddle this test-analyse-fill the gaps-retest regime. PiXL, whose membership covers almost half of schools these days, call it DTT- diagnosis, therapy, testing. We're also under huge pressure, these days, to prove that students are making that progress (against some artificial measure) in all year groups. The danger is that maths in all years, at school, is simply about plugging gaps in knowledge and keeping those levels (whatever is used - and there's another discussion since, 6 times a year in assessments, the powers that be have a feeding frenzy on Y7-10 data that most of us fabricate) on an upward trend; it's nothing to do with what most of us came into the profession to do - to teach mathematics and nurture mathematicians.

    These days, Colin, it's about much more than the C grade - we're under pressure with every student at all grades.

    Most good departments can hold the data police at arms length and do their best to develop pedagogy and reasoning. If results aren't up to scratch, however, the methods being promoted are truly depressing.
    colinbillett likes this.
  13. colinbillett

    colinbillett Occasional commenter

    Thank you googolplex for your very thorough response, which certainly gives one much to think about, even if a good deal of that is rather depressing. I think I successfully ignored that DTT process, even though lower management insisted it was my job to do diagnostic testing from the start. I do appreciate that politicians think there needs to be some measure of success, but they clearly do not have the capacity nor inclination to take a long-term view. So I pity school teachers faced with this regime.
    Oh dear....
  14. djremon

    djremon New commenter

    Local feeder schools into our 6FC have been known to enter ALL of their students in for Higher. Idea being that they endlessly go over half of the syllabus picking and choosing the easiest topics. Students come to us 2 grades below their summer exam result because they have forgotten everything (they never understood, just got taught methods to learn).

    E.g. Dividing in a given ratio was Always Drive Mini Coopers (Add divide multiply check). Literally zero understanding but 3/4 of students get a simply worded question correct. Problem is that as soon as you add any difficulty or generalise, students have no idea.
  15. colinbillett

    colinbillett Occasional commenter

    Another interesting and thought provoking contribution dkremon. All down to passing exams, again, with no thought to learning. It does not bode well, does it?

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