About cookies

The NCETM site uses cookies. Read more about our privacy policy

Please agree to accept our cookies. If you continue to use the site, we'll assume you're happy to accept them.


Personal Learning Login

Sign Up | Forgotten password?
Register with the NCETM

Secondary Magazine - Issue 134: Qualifications and Curriculum

Created on 06 June 2016 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 21 June 2016 by ncetm_administrator


Secondary Magazine Issue 134'Exams' by David Feltkamp (adapted), some rights reserved

Qualifications and Curriculum

We have a double helping for you in this section this month. First, we give you a chance to prove you know your GCSE students’ abilities better than some maths PhD students who took part in an Ofqual research project.

And second, we hear a personal view of how one secondary head of department is preparing for his current Year 10 students to sit the new GCSE exams next summer.

Predicting how hard students will find exam questions

How hard do your students find GCSE exam questions? If you’re a teacher with any experience of preparing a class over a year or two for their exams at the end of Year 11, you’ve probably got a reasonably well-formed (and well-informed) view of what they’ll find hard and what they’ll find less of a challenge. And your hunches have probably been tested and refined as you’ve marked mocks and routine tests during Years 10 and 11.

The prediction of exam question difficulty is an area that the exams regulator, Ofqual, has been looking at in some depth, particularly in the run-up to the new maths GCSE (first exams next summer).

In a research exercise in 2014/2015, Ofqual asked 43 maths PhD students to rate the degree of difficulty of more than 2000 questions, taken from past GCSE papers and from sample questions submitted by the exam boards for the new GCSE next year. These predictions were then compared with the actual performance of pupils attempting the questions.

A full account of the project can be found in Chapters 1 and 2 of this report (Ofqual).

In the main, the PhD students were pretty accurate in predicting levels of difficulty.

But there were some questions which led to large numbers of under-predicting of difficulty, and others where the reverse was the case.

So, here’s your chance to test your prediction skills against the PhD students.

These five questions were among those which led to relatively large scale under- or over-predicting of difficulty. See if you can guess which they were:


Answers: difficulty over-estimated: Questions 1 and 4; difficulty under-estimated: Questions 2, 3 and 5.

Preparing for next year’s (new) GCSE: a view from one secondary Head of Department

With this summer’s GCSE exams now behind us, many secondary teachers and HoDs are turning their thoughts to next year and how they might change things, to help students prepare for the new, different (and harder) exam.

This month we feature a personal view of the GCSE maths-teaching year ahead from Mike Thain, head of the maths department at John Hanson Community School, Andover, Hampshire.

As ever, one exam cycle comes to a close and my immediate thoughts turn to preparing for the next one, only this time it is slightly different. With the increased demands of the new GCSE across all abilities, the fact that ALL grades contribute to progress 8 and best 8, and the fact we can’t really be sure what the papers will look like, my team and I have been grappling with how we can prepare Year 10 for what they are going to face. Here’s what we have come up with so far:

  1. Prioritise numeracy skills - we have introduced Numeracy Ninjas1 across almost all Year 10 classes. It has been quite scary how low their mathematical fluency was, but already after only eight weeks of using it we (and more importantly they) can see significant improvements. We will continue with this at least twice a week throughout Year 11.
  2. Homework – we have switched from MyMaths2 to hegartymaths3. This site gives us quality information about individual strengths and weaknesses for all students. We are using the website for weekly homework, and to gather information that informs both planning for first teaching, but also for intervention support.
  3. A good scheme of work – we have found Kangaroo Maths4 to be a really good starting point for our SOW. We are currently adding to it, so that integrated into each topic are our own resources, our tracking of students’ understanding, and relevant homework tasks.
  4. Use of exam questions – these will become integral to the teaching of each topic for practice. Previously we have set half an exam paper each week for most of the academic year. Given the increased demand we will change this for September. Hegartymaths will form the basis of homework until Christmas in order to track progress through the remaining content. Alongside, we will start using exam papers, both legacy papers and new spec samples, from January.
  5. Continue to embed PiXL5 principles of Diagnosis, Therapy, Testing. Prior learning tasks will be set to check students’ understanding before first teaching. We will then reuse those tasks where students did less well to measure progress within that topic. This programme is being planned for all year groups moving forwards. This approach also makes homework a vital part of the learning process, rather than an ‘add on’.
  6. Being honest with the students – I am already investing a lot of time telling Year 10 and their parents that the exams are getting harder. I want them prepared for it. To help with this we are focussing even more on teaching that really tests their understanding. Constantly asking them to explain/prove why, changing the question to see if they can still answer it, getting them to work backwards through problems, writing their own questions, focussing on correct language at all times to familiarise them with the subject-specific vocabulary they need to know, the list goes on.

The new specification has made us focus even more on the quality of our teaching and learning. We have an unrelenting focus on this, and we are doing everything we can to put a downward pressure on workload so that this becomes the absolute priority. Thankfully we are in a school where reducing workload and encouraging teacher wellbeing is towards the top of the agenda.

1 Numeracy Ninjas is a free online resource designed to improve fluency of mental calculation through regular ten-minute sessions.
2 MyMaths is a comprehensive online resource covering KS1- 5 with teaching slides, online practice and homework and individualised pupil tracking. It is a subscription service.
3 hegartymaths is a comprehensive online resource covering KS2-4, with teaching videos, practice, assessments and individualised pupil tracking. It is now a subscription service, though access to archive videos is free.
4 Kangaroo Maths describes itself as ‘a huge pile of free maths resources including schemes of work, BAM tasks and much, much more’. There is also a bank of resources to purchase.
5 PiXL is ‘a partnership of over 1500 schools working together to achieve the highest outcomes for students and to improve their life chances.’

Image credit
Page header by David Feltkamp (adapted), some rights reserved



Download the magazine as a PDF
Secondary Magazine Archive
Magazine Feed - keep informed of forthcoming issues
Departmental Workshops - Structured professional development activities
Explore the Secondary Forum
Contact us - share your ideas and comments 


Comment on this item  
Add to your NCETM favourites
Remove from your NCETM favourites
Add a note on this item
Recommend to a friend
Comment on this item
Send to printer
Request a reminder of this item
Cancel a reminder of this item



There are no comments for this item yet...
Only registered users may comment. Log in to comment