Introduction

Currently, the school faces one of the most significant changes in national GCSE curriculum. There are not only changes in the national GCSE curriculum itself but also in the expectations and grading system of all GCSE exam. With the changes started last year, they already affect main subjects such as English and Maths. This essay aims to analyse and discuss changes in the national GCSE curriculum for Maths and analyse if theses allow students to succeed. The main types of learners, often used in school, are high and low achievers. However, they often miss the students who do not belong to any of these categories. The main focus of this essay is high and low achieving learners and if the new national GCSE curriculum allows them to success.

Changes in exam and curriculum

The main focus of this part of the essay will be changes in the national GCSE curriculum for Maths. These can be separated into four categories: grading, adding new topics, moving topics between levels and changing the formulae of the GCSE exams. As these are the key facts which influence students performance in the new GCSE exams.

The grading changes are simple. The old letter grading system was substituted with the numerical one (Table 1). In the past students could achieve eight possible grades to achieve and in the present, this number has now been extended to nine. However, as in the previous Foundation paper was graded in level G – C and present one it is from level 1 – 5. The Higher paper was level D – A* and the present one is 4 – 9 (AQA 2017). It is important to notice that there are two pass grades. There is a standard pass which is level 4 and strong pass which is level 5. However, this change did not the affect all Country. In Northern Ireland students are still taking the former GCSE exams but there is a plan to add a new grade C* added as an equivalent to the grade 5 in 2019. Also, students in Wales are still receiving their grades in the letter system (Department for Education, 2013; 2016a; 2016b).

Table 1 Comparison of the grading structure

Another critical change is adding new topics and moving topics between papers. In addition, some topics were moved from A-levels into GCSE. There were some topics moved from AS level into the Higher paper, and some topics moved from Higher paper into Foundation paper. Two of the examples can be the finding nth term of the quadratic sequence which is now part of the Higher paper, and solving quadratic equations by factoring was in the Higher paper, and it is currently in Foundation paper. What is more, there are also some topics added to both Foundation and Higher paper which were not in the previous GCSE exam, for example, writing the ratio as a linear function (Department for Education, 2013; 2016b).

The last change in the national GCSE exam is the structure of the exam itself. In the past, there were three exam papers for Maths, two were calculator once and one non-calculator. It remains the same in the new GCSE exam. However, the main difference between past and present exam papers is a percentage of the problem-solving questions. In the past, this type of questions was mainly in the Higher paper and was straight-forward. In the present papers, the amount of the problem-solving questions has increased significantly from 15-25% to 25-30% (AQA 2017; Department for Education, 2013; 2016b).

One of the main arguments for changing the national GCSE curriculum for mathematics was the fact that students were not able to solve more complex and real-life problems as they had to complete straight-forward questions. Moreover, the new curriculum expects students to be more creative and be able to solve different context questions (Department for Education, 2016b; AQA 2017).

There were many changes in the new GCSE exams and the new national GCSE curriculum for Maths. This essay aims to present how these changes influence students and if they enable all type of learners to succeed. It is an important question as GCSE grades have a significant influence on the student’s life and their future. It is not only the basic idea of if the student passes the subject and will not have to continue studying it, but it also has influences on their future career.

Differences in results of New and Old GCSE

In 2016, 24% of 16-year-old students joined the GCSE exam in mathematics at the Foundation level. At the Higher level, 76% approached the exam. In the following year, 2017, 47% took the Foundation Paper, and 53% studied to advanced level. These data indicate that, after changing the form of tasks and the scope of material at individual levels, the number of students who sat the GCSE exam in mathematics at the Foundation level increased significantly. The group of people has almost doubled. In 2017, there was an increase in the number of students who after 16 years enrolled in the exams. In 2016, it was 160,773 people, and in 2017, 167,541. The number of people who passed the exam increased by 4%. This proves that the current form of tasks and the scope of material provided for in the mathematics exam at the Foundation level is much more suited to students who were better prepared for the exam at this level (Department for Education, 2015; 2016b).

Comparing the results of GCSE Exam results in mathematics one can also observe some changes. In 2016, 19.7% of students who passed the exam received a minimum of grade A. The minimum of grade C was attained by 69.9% of students. Therefore it follows that 30.1% of students who took the exam received less than grade C. In 2017, 19.9% of the students scored at least 7, achieved at least grade 4 70.7% of those who took the exam. The rating below 4 was therefore 29.3%. The above data show that the number of students who received the grade a or 7 was increased slightly, but also the number of people who received grade C or 4 increased. In 2016, 89.6% sat the GCSE Mathematics exam, while in 2017 it was 90.6%. It can also be observed an upward trend among people who, after changing the scope of the material provided for in the exam and the forms of tasks, passed the GCSE exam in mathematics. In spite of the differences, the results indicate that the overall grades of 16-year-old students in mathematics remained similar in the A / 7 and C / 4 classes. At the same time, the number of pupils who did not pass the exam decreased from 30.1% to 29.3% (Ofqual, 2017). Even if there is only 0.8% difference between old and new GCSE exam, it is crucial to notice that even if the new exam is well-known as a more challenging and students who attempt them last year were the first year of the new national GCSE curriculum for Mathematics they pass better then previous year students.

Differences between high and low achievers

In school, two types of learners are mainly recognised. They are high and low achievers. The research agrees with many facts about them. Firstly the low achievers have a higher level of the mathematics anxiety than the high achievers. They tend to be more anxious about mathematics itself and have more problems with it (Ma 1999). There are few reasons for this. The higher ability students often have a higher level of self-esteem and motivation to succeed. The low ability students more often suffer from anxiety itself then high achievers (Bieg et al. 2014). This means that the higher ability students are more self-confident and they are more open to learning as the low achievers often use words ‘I do not know’ or ‘I do not understand’ as their shield and do not try to work through problems. On the other hand, the high achievers underestimate their anxiety, and they still try to complete tasks (Ross et al. 2015). This influences on their ability to solve some complicated tasks and not giving up as quickly as the low ability students. Moreover, lower achievers often correspond with a smaller trait-state discrepancy in mathematical anxiety (Ross et al. 2015). On the other hand, the high achievers often have a higher level of motivation, learning behaviour and their well-being is also much better (Pekrun, Goets, Tits & Perry 2002). Their success such as moving to higher sets or improving their predicted GCSE grades have a positive influence on them. It motivates them to work harder, and they can observe results of their hard work.

Furthermore, high achievers face fewer problems at school performance (Goets & Hall 2013). They focus more on their own progress and take responsibility for their own learning. For this reason, they often try to solve more complex questions and do not give up as easily as low ability students. Another important information is the fact that low achieving students have lower levels of academic self-concept (Bailey 1971). They have more problems with misconceptions and lack of prior knowledge. There are few reasons for that, such as gaps from the primary school or lack of understanding or concentration during the lesson. Researchers notice that high ability students are more capable of catching up and to complement their knowledge if they miss some lesson (Bailey 1971).

In addition, there is a significant difference in the working memory between low and high ability students (Alloway & Elsworth 2012). One of the reasons for this may be the fact that high ability students revise material more often as they take responsibility for their own learning. Furthermore, students take more care of completing their homework up to the best standards. Moreover, the low ability students have a lower level of self-confidence, and they are more conscious of trying new solutions or being more creative (Wang et al. 2015). There are few possible reasons such as higher level of challenge and higher expectations for higher ability students.

The researchers agree that there is a connection between students’ behaviour and their performance in school (Benner 2002). Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more disruptive, and their behaviour is more challenging. They are often the low ability students but not always (Dodge, Pettit, and Bates 2008). Common students who have problems with behaviour at school are not prepared or late for lessons, do not bring in supplies, use vulgarisms and have a reduced motivation to learn belongs to a group of low ability students (Jessor et al. 1985; Loeber et al. 1998). Their behaviours at school are mostly not a symptom of disorders, but an expression of the attention seeking. (Dreikurs, Grunwald, Pepper, 1998). This means that students often misbehave to have some more attention. However, improper fulfilment of school duties by pupils limits its positive development and gaining knowledge at further stages of learning. The behaviour of students who disrupt the course of the lessons is often met with ineffective ways of responding to them by teachers (Benner 2002).

Influence of students problems on learning new GCSE national curriculum

This part of the essay focuses on how all differences between low and high achievers influence on their achievements through the new GCSE national Curriculum. It is important to notice that a lot of differences are related and connected and often one influence on other. For this reason, it is important to remember these differences during analysis of students ‘success’ as what is a success for one student may not be seen as a success for another.

All of these differences have an influence on how students learn new curriculum and their ability to work through the new content and some of the more advanced topics. Mathematical anxiety has a negative influence on students’ performance as they have already struggled on some of the areas of mathematics (Ross et al. 2015) and may have a negative influence on students learning new curriculum as there are some new topics which are more advanced, so students struggle more. Many problems with some mathematical concepts may also increase maths anxiety and have a negative influence on students success (Bailey 1971; Ross et al. 2015).

What is more, high ability students are more open to solve more complex questions, or skip some questions and move to next one to have better results. This level of confidence during exams often helps them to achieve more marks (Goets & Hall 2013). This is also connected with the anxiety of the low achieving students as they are often afraid to skip some questions or they do not try to attempt to understand some questions by writing calculations with given numbers (Bieg et al. 2014; Bryant, Bryant & Hammill 2000). It influences the low ability students’ performance as on the new GCSE exams, students can solve questions by using any method, and they have more chances to have some points even for some simple calculations.

Moreover, students’ behaviour has a massive impact on their learning and further achievements. Students who are more disruptive more often struggle with the new curriculum as they do not concentrate during lessons and it influences lacks of knowledge. The lack of knowledge increases with time as topics become more advance and students struggle more (Benner 2002).

Overall, differences between low and high ability students have a massive influence on their performance and learning. It is crucial as the new GCSE curriculum includes more advanced topics and expect students to be more creative. However, researchers agree that these differences are not labels so even if students are low achieving it does not mean that they can not succeed on the exam. All types of learners have a chance to succeed, but their definition of the success may be different (Goets & Hall 2013) as different people have different aims. The new GCSE curriculum is more complex but also the new grading system allows students to obtain more marks and to solve some questions in different ways. The possibility of solving questions in different ways to obtain marks balances the fact of adding more complex topics to both Foundation and Higher paper (Department for Education, 2013; 2016b).

Misconceptions

One of the main problem in school is lack of primary knowledge in mathematics which is higher for low achievers. As teachers had to quickly teach some new topics and make sure that students understand them, some of the teachers did not have enough time to make sure that students’ understanding is clear. This is important especially for the students who struggle with mathematics and need more time and explanations to learn. They often follow misconceptions and struggle to work over them. However, not only low achieving have problems with misunderstandings (Swan 2001). As the more advanced topics were added into the curriculum, some students have to work through some misconceptions, and it takes time which teacher may not have during lessons.

There are many different misconceptions documented by researchers in all key topics of mathematics. The most problematic topic is algebra which is one of four topics in the New GCSE Curriculum (Department for Education, 2013; 2016) and a lot of students struggle with it. This topic is full of different misconceptions from adding expressions to calculation algebraic fractions. The main problem starts with understanding that letters can be used as variables (Booth, 1981). One of the key misconceptions in algebra is a calculation of expression.One of the most common mistakes is, for example, a+a+a+a=d when it should be 4a (Tirosh et al. 1998). Students often struggle with them it is more about counting letters until they get to next one. For this reason, the teacher needs to spend some additional time on making sure that all students understand this concept (Ayres, 2000; Tirosh et al. 1998 ). One possible explanation is using a shopping list, for example, apple is a, so apple + apple + apple + apple = 4 apples so it can be written as 4a. The main reason for that is the fact that students struggle with understanding the concept of using letters rather than numbers. Furthermore, another common misconception is adding letters and numbers together. For students, 4a + 3 = 7a and they struggle with understanding why this answer is incorrect (Tirosh et al. 1998). One of the main explanation of misconception is a ‘cognitive conflict’ (Swan 2001). The main idea is students know that both expressions are equal, but when they are substituting numbers, they have different results. For this reason, students often make mistakes and need a more clear explanation to understand differences. All of these misconceptions have an influence on students understanding and learning. Students with gaps in prior knowledge often have more misconceptions as they struggle with more complex ideas (Goets & Hall 2013; Swan 2001; Tirosh et al. 1998).

The problem which is misconceptions has a massive influence on students learning from the new GCSE national curriculum. As the new national GCSE curriculum is more complex and expects from students to have deeper understanding and ability to apply their knowledge (Department for Education, 2013; 2016) some of them have more problems with the misconceptions. For this reason, teachers often need to spend more time on specific topics and explanations.

Students’ motivation

There are some external factors such as motivation which do not depend on school as much as other. It is well known that a lot of low achievers often come from a disadvantaged background and did not receive much support from home (Stringer and Clegg 2006). This influence students’ motivation but not on their ability to learn as not all students from a disadvantaged background are low achievers. In addition, some students from this type of background see education as their way to better life. However, there is a clear connection between students’ motivation and their performance (Benner 2002).

Motivation has three essential functions: it arouses the individual’s activity and directs its perception and actions. Thanks to motivational factors (e.g. emotions) the readiness to act changes, the level is often raised, the individual becomes more active. This is the first function of motivation, the most general and fundamental. The second feature consists of the selective reception of information – the orientation of perception by the expectations, attitudes and aspirations of the subject, always remaining in specific relations with his experience and knowledge (Reykowski 1980). This function involves the third role of motivation, which is based on targeting activities.In particular motivation should be understood as a process that evokes, directs and sustains specific behaviours of people from other, alternative forms of action, to achieve specific goals (Reykowski 1980, W?odarski & Matczak 1992).

To a large extent, how the child will manage in the new environment and whether a child will have the motivation to learn depends on the parents. It would seem that it is enough to desire something very much to achieve it. However, contrary to appearances, it is not so easy. The more a student cares about something, the more he focuses on the emotions that arise in him rather than on learning. It is harder to concentrate, he thinks poorly and remembers him worse (Marcinkowska-Bachli?ska 1996). The effects of learning under such pressure are miserable. In turn, too little emotions cause a decrease in interest, and thus concentration, and finally the abandonment of education. How a child will manage at school depends not only on his or her mental abilities, intelligence or predisposition (W?odarski & Matczak 1992). The situation in the family, the style of upbringing, the attitudes of parents, the organisation of domestic life are also of great importance. Living conditions and the atmosphere within the family make it more comfortable or difficult for the child to experience the dependence between his own actions and their consequences, between effort and the success that completes it (Maciaszkowa 1980). Either he will believe in his own strength and gain self-confidence, which in the future will help him in school career, or fix bad habits that interfere with his goals and which will be set for him as a student. The influence of parents on how a person sees himself is significant. The way in which they judged us is permanently recorded in mind. Their opinions and actions shaped our characters. Even talented children can lose their abilities if they are overly criticised by their parents (Marcinkowska-Bachli?ska 1996, Maciaszkowa 1980). The main implications of these factors are students who are passive and do not pay attention to their own performance (Lee, Shen, & Tsai, 2010).

This affects students possible success on new GCSE scheme as they do not try their best and they are underperforming. The main reason for this is the fact that new curriculum includes topics which expect students to be more active as questions are not so straight-forward as compared to the old curriculum (Department for Education, 2013; 2016). Moreover, students who do not have any motivation from home often struggle in school as they do not receive much help from their parents and they often have no one to help them with their homework or revision. This influence later on their achievements as they do not pay as much attention to their work because they may think it is not worth their attention or they have some other problems which are more important for them then their learning (Alloway & Elsworth 2012; Wang et al. 2015). Furthermore, students do not practice or revise their new mathematical skills and with the new curriculum which includes more complex questions students can have problems with remembering all expected knowledge and having all skills needed to succeed in the exam.

Conclusion

Despite the significant differences between pupils, resulting from their ability to master the scope of material in mathematics and other problems affecting the acquisition of material, all students who take the GCSC mathematics exam must receive at least grade 4 in order to pass. The only difference is the level of the exam. However, all students who take the GCSC mathematics exam have to master a specific range of material and form of solving tasks (Department for Education, 2013; 2016b; AQA 2017).

Overall, the results of GCSE exams in mathematics in the current year indicate a slight increase in the number of people who received a minimum score of A / 7. These numbers increased by 0.2% compared to the previous year. The same conclusions apply to the number of people who passed the exam at least C / 4. The increase recorded in 2017 is 0.8%. The data point to an upward trend, which may mean that despite the difficulties students have to learn mathematics, they are getting better at the exam (Ofqual, 2017). The changes in the scope of the material and the form and the whole national GCSE curriculum of tasks meet expectations.

Students are not fully aware of the consequences of their lack of knowledge of mathematics at a particular level. They are only moved to the weaker group, which still does not motivate them to continue working. It, therefore, seems reasonable to systematically check students’ knowledge, which can encourage them to work. Equally positive effects can be achieved by additional individual work with the teacher outside of the lessons. Then the teacher will be able to point out specific deficiencies to the pupils and help in overcoming them. In a situation where, despite all the help, the student still can not cope with the material, the problems persist or even deepen, and it seems that a good alternative can be a student repeating the class. Promotion to a higher class will only intensify the problems, cause frustration and discourage the student even more. Repetition of the class will allow the student to read the material, give them a chance to master the problem once again and to make more significant progress.

Overall, there is no clear answer if the changes in the new national GCSE curriculum allows all type of learners to succeed as the percentage of students who pass the exam increased there are still many students who fail (Ofqual, 2017). What is more, there needs to be the more clear definition of success itself as not for all learners just passing the GCSE exam is a success. For some of the students, the success may be achieving specific grade for example 6 or 8. The last and most important point is if the new national GCSE curriculum is really the national as in different parts of the Great Britain students sits different types of exams and have different grading systems (Department for Education, 2013; 2016a; 2016b).