TV presenter Carol Vorderman this week suggested that GCSE maths teaching should be split into two, according to pupils’ interest in the subject and how much they might actually use it in later life. "In my view” she said, “it is pointless for most 14-year-olds starting their GCSE courses to be force-fed mathematical topics which they will never use, when what they desperately need is to become more comfortable with numbers including percentages and fractions used in the world of finance."
Which raises the question: how do different pupils fare in GCSE maths exams?
Recent data shows much variation between ethnic groups in terms of GCSE attainment in mathematics, as shown by the table reproduced below. Overall, about one twentieth (5%) of pupils get an A* grade at GCSE, one sixth (16%) get A* or A, while just under three fifths (56%) of pupils get a higher grade (A*C) at GCSE mathematics. The highest performing ethnic groups by this measure are from Chinese (25%, 53%, and 88% respectively) and Indian (11%, 31%, and 76%) backgrounds. Pupils on free school meals (1%, 5%, and 35% respectively) perform much less well, which is in line with other measures. It is also of interest to note that about 8% of all pupils are not entered for GCSE mathematics, whilst only 1% of Chinese and Indian pupils are not entered.
The performance of Chinese pupils is particularly high, with a quarter of them getting A* in mathematics and almost nine tenths a higher grade, and virtually all are entered for GCSE mathematics. The reasons for this are not clear but may be similar to the reasons for their high educational achievement overall. This has been linked to high expectations amongst the Chinese community, as well as the fact that many come from Singapore or Hong Kong, where there is a culture which is strongly supportive of the value of education.
Similar reasons may apply to the achievement of Indians, who form a much larger and more diverse group than the Chinese. Indians do well, with a tenth getting grade A* and three-quarters reaching the national benchmark in mathematics.
In both Chinese and Indian communities, mathematics is seen as especially important.
Pupils on free school meals also do badly on this measure: only one in hundred get at least A* grade and one in twenty get A* or A in mathematics; just over a third get a higher grade.
Source: from NPD , DfE