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A Level Ready?

I just read this post from Jo (@mathsjem) entitled “Bridging the gap to A Level“, in it she asks for other opinions on the topic and I thought I would jot some things down.

The GCSE Curriculum

The current GCSE is not fit for purpose, I’ve written before about my feelings on it, and as Jo alludes to it is entirely possible to get a B yet still be unable to access the A level curriculum. This is in part due to the make up of the course, which is being addressed to some extent in the government reforms. I feel the new syllabus ia much better and will ensure more pupils are ready for A Level maths, but I don’t feel it goes far enough. I would have loved to see some basic Calculus on the new GCSE. I hope the more rigorous nature of the GCSE will mean the brighter students can no longer coast, which will solve the shock issue many have when A level gets hard.


I’ve written before (here and here) about the damage certain shortcuts can have, and I recently presented on it. As part of that presentation I spoke of certain shortcuts that can have a damaging effect in a different way. These are shortcuts used to bolster grades without any understanding. The worst of these, in my opinion, is the use of formulae triangles to rearrange simple formulae, such as right angled triangle trigonometry and speed=distance/time. These topics provide ample opportunity to practice key stills that are essential in A Level maths, and by introducing students to these shortcuts we are robbing them of that opportunity and adding to the problem we have with the gap between GCSE and A-Level.

The modular nature of the A Level

Another thing I agree with in the recent curriculum changes is the move away from a modular system. I think this creates a compartmentalised feel to the A level when really maths is completely interlinked. The new A level presents an opportunity for us to create a truly exciting course that can show students this. The move away from modules, and the end to the January exams, means that A level students now have more learning time to really embed the skills and knowledge they need.

What do we do?

Jo asks, in her post, what other schools do to ensure their students don’t fall behind. In my last school, as KS5 Co-ordinator I ran regular drop in sessions that could be accessed by any student. This is something I have also implemented at my new school in my role as KS5 Leader. I find these are very well attended as we get nearer to exam time, but not so well attended at other times. This year we are targeting learners who need to attend and making sure they are coming.

What about the content?

Jo mentions summer work between Yr11 and 12, which is something I’ve looked into before. But this can lead to problems. Some will do it all, early, and then forget it. Others will do it just before the start, which is good if they get it right, but if they get it all wrong doesn’t really help. Others will not do it. And every year some students change their choices at the last minute so wouldn’t have received it. I’m a fan of the idea if giving core skills tests at the start of year twelve to see where students are. I also feel that we need to spend as long a time as is necessary getting these skills nailed on at the start of the A level, otherwise we are setting ourselves up for problems later.

Test them early

As well as a diagnostic tests on entry, I feel another test 4 or 5 weeks in can be effective especially for hammering home the need for working independently outside of lessons. This post from Manan Shah (@shahlock) explains how he uses an early test in a similar way.

Year 11

Well, all of key stage 4 really. I think we need your be pushing our most able to cover A level topics and A level questions. This is something Jo suggests in her post that I have been doing for a number of years. This, coupled with a focus on ensuring pupils are gaining the skills necessary and avoiding shortcuts, should set them in good sted.

These are some initial thoughts on the subject, I may elaborate on some of the things mentioned another time. If you would like any further elaboration in any topic mentioned, do feel free to ask. This topic is also set to be the main point of discussion of a twitter chat Jo is hosting on Tuesday 7th October, #mathscpdchat, if you wish to contribute. I’d love to hear others thoughts on the subject, if you write anything do let me know.

  1. October 4, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    I would be inclined to say that having a B at GCSE makes it very difficult to effectively access A-Level with too many misconceptions that seriously hamper progress.

    What you can be left with is the option to offer a watered down A-Level, but that is short-changing students who have opted (possibly incorrectly) to extend their studies in Mathematics.

    • October 4, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      I’ve know students do well with B’s at GCSE, it depends on the student, and the circumstances. A Bit can be just over a C, or it can be just under an A.

  2. Jones
    June 10, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    I got a B at GCSE maths, yet I still went on to do A level maths, I would have tried Further maths but my college at the time didn’t think I was good enough for it. Which I still find completely unfair because all it would have took them was to allow me to enter further maths classes for a short time for them to see I wasn’t adequately taught maths at all. I went on and got a A* in maths, and an A in AS further maths picking it up on the side in year 13.

    What I guess I’m trying to point out here is that although you’re correct in stating that GCSE maths is very simple – not all schools across the country have the same quality of teaching that can help students through.

    • June 10, 2015 at 6:09 pm

      Aye, that is certainly something to consider. I inherited an a level class a couple of years ago who should have all got a* at GCSE but only had bs due to poor teaching at ks4.

  1. October 6, 2014 at 11:04 pm
  2. October 7, 2014 at 4:03 am
  3. October 7, 2014 at 7:52 am

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