Bridging the gap between the old and new GCSE (9-1) Maths curriculum helps students get exam ready

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Name Brine Leas School    
Type Academy School    
Location Nantwich, Chesire    
Cohort GCSE Maths cohort size: 213 Cohort EAL: 1.4%  Cohort SEN: 3.7%


Brine Leas School is a mixed Academy school and has been part of the Pearson Maths collaborative hub since 2014. When the new GCSE (9-1) curriculum was introduced a major concern for the school was how to prepare students for a GCSE without the foundation of studying the content in KS3. 

Chris Barker - Brine Leas School

Christopher Barker, Head of Mathematics, explains how they bridged the gap between the old KS3 and new GCSE (9-1) to ensure their students were exam ready.

Preparing students for a GCSE with additional content was challenging

One huge challenge we faced was trying to prepare students for a GCSE when they hadn't studied all of the requisite content from KS3. The increased emphasis on problem-solving also proved difficult and the absence of past papers for students to practise meant that we needed to change the way in which we prepared for the GCSE exams.

How we bridged the gap between the old KS3 and new GCSE

We were fortunate enough to be allocated additional timetabled hours to deliver the new GCSE at KS4; this allowed us to bridge the gap between the old KS3 and new GCSE. We tried several different approaches to improve the way in which we were developing problem-solving skills. Problem-solving is still an area that we are keen to do more work in but we are moving towards more practice of problem-solving separately from when the skill is taught itself.

We felt that there was more merit in getting students to realise that they need to, for instance, form and solve a quadratic equation when the title in their book is not quadratic equations. We used a lot of questions from the Applications of Mathematics papers from the twinned pair pilot qualification. Collections of these questions are e-mailed home to Year 11 parents each month along with the JustMaths calendars.

A Mastery approach and a focus on problem-solving prepared our students

We took a lot of content out of our KS3 curriculum to allow for more depth of understanding. We had traditionally been on a spiral curriculum but we started taking a more Mastery-oriented approach. Several skills are now being taught lower down in school to help students reach the standard we require of them by KS4.

We are taking quite a traditional approach with regards to teaching and learning in KS4. Lessons invariably start with a consolidation exercise of 5 to 10 questions covering more basic skills to ensure that students don't forget what they have learnt. Clear explanations backed up with questioning and AfL techniques are at the heart of lessons. Homework tasks are set to consolidate the learning that takes place in lessons. Sometimes these tasks are interleaved to allow students chance to practice retrieving the things they have learnt.

Problem-solving was, and remains, a huge priority for us as a department. We have strived to include as many opportunities for students to practice problem-solving as possible within lessons. We are trying not to isolate practising problem-solving of a particular skill within the lesson itself: students are predisposed to know that a Venn diagram could help them solve the problem if their title is Venn diagrams.

Mocks helped us to set targets and match up relevant questions for students

Students sit a formal mock exam in Year 10 and Year 11. We also chose to give an additional mock around March for Year 11 sitting the GCSE. Students have targets set based on their mock exam performance and their targets are all cross-referenced to Maths Watch clips. Matching up questions to targets proved to be more challenging for the new specification than the previous one so we went for a 'best fit' approach.

The support we received from Edexcel was very good and being a hub school we regularly received up to date feedback. Going forward a continued focus on delivering problem-solving skills would be useful and also some literature to pass on to parents to help reduce the stigma associated with sitting the Foundation tier.

Our setting structure helped us determine the best tier for our students

Deciding on the tier entry was very challenging but our setting structure meant that it was relatively straightforward to identify which tier was most useful for 8 of our 10 sets. For the remaining classes we made use of the packs of crossover questions to help guide staff towards the most appropriate tier. We found that there was a stigma associated with the Foundation tier; it was sometimes difficult to convince a child and his/her parents that this was the most appropriate tier owing to negative connotations associated with it.

Generally, the final papers seemed okay. I feel that we had geared students up for something more challenging than they actually faced.

The outcome – final results see a boost for Grades 9 to 4

We were pleased with our final outcomes. We saw nearly a 10% increase from our A* to C to our 9 to 4 and we were happy with the number of Grade 9s that our students achieved. Securing more Grades 5 and 6 will be more of a priority now that we have an idea of what is needed to reach these grades.

The new GCSE coincided with a new curriculum structure for us. We didn't have a bottom set for this year group as we had previously. Rather, we didn't stream any of our bottom 4 sets. We feel that this helped to improve the aspirations of our weaker students. The target setting that we do based on the mock exam performance is also a key factor in our success.