In my capacity as Chair of the Maths and Numeracy APPG, I am joining the call for a new numeracy benchmark for all young people, to ensure another route for teenagers who are written off as maths failures.
GCSE maths exams are deliberately designed to fail a third of all young people, according to the education charity National Numeracy.
Both the Maths and Numeracy APPG and National Numeracy want to see a new benchmark – a numeracy equivalent of the driving test - which sets out the essentials of practical maths that teenagers will need for adult life and the workplace. Unlike GCSE, this would be something that all young people would be expected to achieve as part of their maths education and that could be embedded within the existing curriculum and exam pathway.
GCSE maths is primarily designed as a preparation for A-level, but is less successful at defining the skills that everyone needs for everyday life. Significantly, GCSE is also an exam that works largely through a process of ‘cohort-referencing’, whereby candidates are compared with each other rather than with absolute criteria. This approach has ensured consistent results over recent years, but only through effectively acting as a form of rationing. One third of the cohort has to fall below the grade C/4 threshold in order to maintain that consistency.
The proposals for a new numeracy benchmark are being developed by National Numeracy. The charity believes that everyone needs a level of numeracy skills appropriate to their age and circumstances and that the ‘Essentials’ can be versioned accordingly.
The proposals will set out the sort of authentic maths problems that students should be able to solve (such as deciding whether or not to buy a travel season ticket) and identify the essential skills and mathematical thinking needed, thus establishing the missing link between the basics of maths that should have been learnt at primary school and the practical problems of adult life. For most, this would represent a progression towards a GCSE in maths at 16, but for many it might be their only validation – a positive alternative to no qualification at all.
At a time where many young people are struggling to find work and lack necessary skills, we must ensure that all teenagers are equipped with the essentials of practical maths.