Why we participated in Linked Pair Pilot

As Head of Maths (and now Assistant Headteacher) at a large secondary school in Reading, I have tried to keep up to date and wherever possible stay ahead of the game. When the opportunity arose in 2010 to take part in piloting the Linked Pair GCSE myself and my colleagues were keen to get involved as we felt that as a Maths department we were looking for a new challenge. We wanted the opportunity to put Maths on the same level as English, who have always had two GCSEs, and were excited to trial new content and provide feedback that would support the development of the next round of curriculum changes. The new GCSE has a lot of new topics (this is particularly true for Foundation). We’ve been lucky in that some of these new topics were in the Linked Pair Pilot, which we have been teaching to our students for five years. We have had a chance to learn how to teach them and have produced a bank of resources we like to use for these new topics.  Over the five years being involved in the pilot our A*-C pass rate has increased by 10%.

The Linked Pair Pilot explained

The Linked Pair GCSE involves students sitting four papers each being 80 marks in 90 minutes: Applications of Mathematics has two papers testing Finance and Statistics and Geometry and Measures; whereas the Methods of Mathematics papers test Algebra and Probability and Geometry and Algebra.

There is about 20% extra content in the Linked Pair compared to the current 2010 GCSE and some content is common to all four papers. The Applications GCSE has a problem solving approach relating maths to real life situations, whereas the Methods GCSE has more traditional questions. The students have not been phased by the new topics – indeed our Foundation students have impressed us with some of the content they score marks on (particularly the finance and area and volume questions on the Applications papers) and as teachers we have enjoyed the opportunity of introducing more ‘real life’ maths into the classroom.  So I’m not very concerned about the ‘new to Foundation’ topics for the new GCSE because my experience has been that our student’s will step up to this challenge.

What we’ve learned from the Linked Pair Pilot

Across all four papers of the Linked Pair GCSE questions on ratio, proportion and linear equations appear. It is important that students are able to make links between the different areas of mathematics – when teaching linear equations relate it back to nth terms of sequences, straight line graphs and problem solving questions so that algebra is seen in a variety of contexts; students also need to become fluent in their understanding of ratio and proportion linking ratio to fractions and percentages and proportion to rates of change. The Applications and Methods past papers will be really helpful for setting formative assessment questions that link topics together. This will help for the new GCSE, as questions linking different topics together will be much more of a feature. This is a new approach and will need students to start each question by identifying the maths it uses; the more able should be doing this already but it could be new thinking for others. As we all know, practice makes perfect and sample questions are invaluable.

Following the Linked Pair specification has meant that some students have entered the two papers at different tiers of entry – some students aiming for a B grade (probably those we would now consider to be on the grade 4/5 boundary) have sat paper 1 at Foundation and paper 2 at Higher tier – this has enabled them to access more demanding questions involving algebra and geometry and we have been pleasantly surprised by the results!

Real life questions in the new GCSE

You’ll find that students often understand the question quicker if they can see how it relates to a real life situation. The new GCSE features many of these real life questions and the Applications 2 paper contains plenty of these questions that can be banked and used as examples throughout your teaching year. Here is a question from the June 2014 Higher tier Applications 2 paper to give you an example of how the Applications GCSE relates the maths questions to real life situations.

Question 15 applications paper

Question 15b applications paper

Finding relevant practice questions for the new GCSE

The new GCSE has several new topics and requires students to solve problems in a variety of contexts. There are a wealth of current resources out there you can use to support the challenges of the new specification – the  Applications papers have many problem solving questions, including questions on rates of change (using tangents to curves) and areas under curves to find distance travelled. The Methods papers have questions on Venn diagrams and quadratic sequences. The AQA Level 2 Further Maths papers  are a good source of questions to stretch students aiming for the top grades, having more challenging questions on circle theorems, ratio, straight line graphs and functions with an emphasis on proof. Anything that generates discussion amongst the students in your class will help them improve their confidence and problem solving skills. Don’t cap your expectations – expose students to the more challenging content and let them surprise you!

Sarah Flynn, Assistant Headteacher, Highdown School in Reading