England's New GCSE Standards Demanding Tougher Math

11/2/2013

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When American teens and teachers are complaining about the Common Core standards that allegedly "make exams harder", their counterparts in England are facing a similar situation. Urged by the Education Secretary Michael Gove, the English government has determined, after around one year's radical overhaul, to put a new GCSE syllabus as well as new grading system into practice from the year 2015.


GCSE is a two-year curriculum designed for students aged 14–16 (approximately equal to 9th and 10th graders in the US), with several core subjects including English Literature and Math, of which every student is required to take exams, and a variety of other selective subjects. One has to achieve at least 5 Cs to proceed to A-Level study. New GCSE standards expect students to have at least one extra math lesson per week, as officials want schools to increase the teaching time of Math. What's more, the range of topics covered in math curriculum will also be expanded: from 2015, GCSE Math will have a third more content. At this point, England and American are going contrary to each other, since the Common Core reduces the topic covered in math.


The two country's new syllabi do share one thing in common: both ask students to develop deeper understanding on essential math concepts. However, such "greater depth" in the two standards does not suggest the same aim. By saying "have deeper understandings", the Common Core requirement say that school should quit the old way of rote learning, while the new GCSE standards require students to memorize key formulas such as Pythagoras's Theorem, quadratic formula, sine and cosine rules, which have been provided on exam papers but will no longer be on paper from the 2017 exam.


Michael Gove said to British media that a more demanding math curriculum is introduced to improve the attainment of pupils in England to compete with peers in other advanced industrial countries. According to the Telegraph, studies have shown that schools in England spend 116 hours per year on Math on average, which is less than most countries. To compare with, Australian schools spend 143 hours while Singaporean schools spend 138 hours.


As for English, students will be focusing more on spelling and grammar. Accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar will count for more marks (from the current 12% to 20%) in new GCSE English exam. The exam of Literature course will feature "unseen texts" to encourage wider reading, which is also encouraged in the Common Core.


School heads and teachers in England give "cautious welcome" to the changes in GCSE, reported BBC News.

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