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Chris McGovern: This GCSE farce where just 15 per cent adds up to a pass in maths


‘If you want to train to teach, you will need to demonstrate: a standard equivalent to a GCSE grade C / grade 4 in mathematics . . .’ (Department for Education – Get into Teaching website, August 2017)

I wonder how many parents are aware that their child is quite probably being taught maths by a teacher with no more than a GCSE Grade C in the subject. In the superstar education systems of Asia Pacific and elsewhere, such a qualification would be regarded as a certificate of incompetence rather than competence, a disqualification rather than a qualification to teach the subject.

Last year the BBC tested a GCSE maths paper on South Korean pupils. They were allocated an hour, but 15 minutes was sufficient for some to complete it. The young Brit who sat the paper alongside the Koreans was the only one who found it difficult – and he already had an A* in the subject.

Afterwards, the Korean youngsters told the BBC that the GCSE exam was at the level of what they had studied at primary school.

This summer’s new GCSE mathematics, along with English and English Literature, was supposed to match the standard of the best education systems around the world, such as South Korea.

Next year all GCSEs will be of this new, more academically rigorous variety. Graded in descending order from 9 to 1, the original plan was for a ‘pass’ to be Grade 5. This equates to Grade C on the A* to G grades that will disappear for all subjects next year. A few months ago, however, Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, decided to dumb down the ‘pass’ grade to a 4.

Now it has been revealed that this Grade 4 pass for GCSE maths on the upper-tier paper, which most candidates sat, required only 15 per cent from one board and an average of 18 per cent across all three main boards. In the past, twice as many marks have been required to ‘pass’.

The explanation of what has happened is simple enough. The new GCSE is a bit more demanding. The maths syllabus, for example, has roughly 30 per cent more content to cover. To compensate for the extra rigour, the exams watchdog, Ofqual, has ordered a drastic lowering of the grade boundaries. Simple, really! We can have any pass rate we want.

How long can we go on fooling ourselves that the new GCSE, with its bogus grading system, is ‘world class’, as the government claims, and that ‘all kids are brilliant’, as the Ofqual boss claims?

Meanwhile our self-congratulatory Department for Education has lauded the recent GCSE results while promoting a drive to recruit primary school teachers who will almost certainly end up teaching maths, even though some will not have been able to cope with 85 per cent of the GCSE maths exam!

The Education Department is infected with a pathological dishonesty and operates according to the rules of its own chicanery. The Education Secretary needs to get a grip. To paraphrase Cicero: ‘How long, Ms Greening, will you abuse our patience?’

(Image: Constantine Pankin/

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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