Skip to main content

GCSEs Reform (English and Mathematics)

Volume 569: debated on Friday 1 November 2013

I announced in February my intention to reform GCSEs to ensure they are rigorous and robust and give students access to high-quality qualifications which match expectations in the highest performing jurisdictions.

Today I am publishing the outcome of a consultation on subject content for new GCSEs in English literature, English language and mathematics, which will be taught in schools from September 2015. I have prioritised English and mathematics because they are both fundamental to facilitating learning in other subjects, and yet the programme for international student assessment (PISA) evidence demonstrates that 15-year-olds in nine other countries are, on average, at least half a year ahead of students in England in both reading and mathematics. Reform of these key subjects is, therefore, a matter of pressing urgency.

The new mathematics GCSE will demand deeper and broader mathematical understanding. It will provide all students with greater coverage of key areas such as ratio, proportion and rates of change and require them to apply their knowledge and reasoning to provide clear mathematical arguments. It will focus on ensuring that every student masters the fundamental mathematics that is required for further education and future careers. It will provide greater challenge for the most able students by thoroughly testing their understanding of the mathematical knowledge needed for higher-level study and careers in mathematics, the sciences and computing.

The new mathematics GCSE will be more demanding and we anticipate that schools will want to increase the time spent teaching mathematics. On average secondary schools in England spend only 116 hours per year teaching mathematics, which international studies show is far less time than that spent on this vital subject by our competitors. Just one extra lesson each week would put England closer to countries like Australia or Singapore who teach 143 and 138 hours a year of mathematics respectively. We announced on 14 October that mathematics, alongside English, will be double weighted in secondary school performance measures from 2016. This will also provide a strong incentive for schools to ensure that they are strengthening their mathematics provision.

My ambition is that the great majority of students should continue to study mathematics, post-16, by 2020. All students without a grade C or above will continue to study mathematics post-16. New high quality “Core maths” qualifications will be introduced from 2015 for students who have passed GCSE, and want to continue to improve the mathematics skills they need for further education and work, but do not wish to take a full AS or A level. The new GCSEs will provide a firm foundation for this further study.

The English language GCSE will provide all students with a robust foundation of reading and good written English, and with the language and literary skills which are required for further study and work. It will ensure that students can read fluently and write effectively, and will have 20% of the marks awarded for accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar. It will also encourage the study of literature for those who do not take the English literature GCSE, with students reading high-quality texts across a range of genres and periods.

The new English literature GCSE will build on this foundation, and encourage students to read, write and think critically. It will involve students studying a range of intellectually challenging and substantial whole texts in detail including Shakespeare, 19th century novels. Romantic poetry and other high-quality fiction and drama.

The new GCSE will also ensure that all students are examined on some “unseen” texts, encouraging students to read widely and rewarding those who can demonstrate the breadth of their understanding.

In September of this year Ofqual and I confirmed that, for the remaining subjects consulted on, new GCSEs will be ready for teaching from 2016. The content for those subjects will be published in spring 2014.

The new GCSEs in English and mathematics set higher expectations; they demand more from all students and provide further challenge for those aiming to achieve top grades. Alongside the GCSE content we are publishing today, Ofqual is announcing its decisions on the key characteristics of reformed GCSEs, including new arrangements for grading and assessment.

The Government’s response to their consultation and the new subject content for GCSEs in English literature, English language and mathematics have been published on their website and I will place copies of these documents in the House Libraries.