Will the New Statesman teach you anything useful?

Apropos of my last post on the subject of GCSE examinations, Caroline Crampton offers a few ‘thoughts’ (a very loose description) on the same subject at the New Statesman:

Will Gove’s new O-Levels teach you anything useful?

What exactly might Gove’s plans to replace GCSEs (which he feels have “have gone beyond the point of rescue”) mean for the content of exam papers?

Take a look at this 1968 O-Level Maths paper (word doc), where knowledge of logarithmic tables and factorisation would get you lots of marks:

[Image of exam paper]

Then see this, from the June 2011 Edexcel Higher Tier Maths calculator paper (pdf):

[Scribd document embedded showing the following exam question…

16. In a sale the normal price of a book is reduced by 10%. The sale price of the book is £4.86.

Calculate the normal price of the book. ]

Gove wants to return to the O-Level model because they were “explicitly harder”. But will the new exams do away with the kind of skills that are actually transferable to every day life, like how to work out the price of something or use a calculator?

Speaking as someone who possesses an O level in Mathematics (Grade A, by the way) I can reassure Caroline that not only can I handle logarithms and factorisation but I can also readily calculate the normal price of that particular book – £5.40…

…in my head…

…without the need to use a fucking calculator…

…and all in a matter of 5-6 seconds.

What she seems to regard as a useful skill that’s transferable to everyday life, I – and pretty much everyone else who ever passed a fucking maths O level – would regard as a very basic piece of functional mathematics that should be well within the scope of a fucking 12-year old.

The real question here is just exactly what the fuck a question that barely passes muster as a mental arithmetic question  on a foundation paper is doing on a Higher Tier GCSE maths paper for which students are allowed to use a fucking calculator.

3 thoughts on “Will the New Statesman teach you anything useful?

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  2. I’m not sure how this works in England (or in Scotland these days), but back when I was sitting “O” grades, there was an “Arithmetic” paper and a “Maths” paper, as entirely separate exams. Questions such as this one would have featured in the “Arithmetic” paper, whereas the “Maths” paper involved equations, trigonometry, and so forth… Seemed like quite a good idea to me.

  3. Certainly in Scotland, within the last decade, Standard Grade exams would have that type of problem in the non-calculator paper at General and Credit levels. I didn’t do foundation, my friends in school all scraped by in General/Credit, and younger siblings have bypassed Standard Grades altogether.

    Factorising, integration and derivation all feature in that curriculum, but in dealing with logarithms, use of a calculator would be regarded as normal because the tables are no longer taught or provided.

    I thought the major problem with transition back to O-levels would be the whole normative-marking thing, which wouldn’t help potential employers or higher-education institutions make any reasonable comparison between people who sat the exam in successive years…

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