Should we make GCSE Maths optional?

Before I start, please let me assure you that I am a passionate maths teacher keen to pass on my enthusiasm to anyone prepared to listen.  This is my starting point, so I would urge you to read to the end before condemning my motives or vision for the development of numeracy skills in our school leavers.


There are some maths skills which are useful day-to-day skills which everyone ought to possess and be competent and confident in using. I would call these Numeracy skills.  There are, however, many skills which whilst fascinating, are not used by the vast majority of learners once the leave school.  When was the last time you used Pythagoras’ Theorem or needed to solve a Quadratic Equation?  Undoubtedly, some careers will require such skills and some learners will be, as I am, simply fascinated by the processes and keen to develop their skills to the highest possible level.


Numeracy skills, I believe are what our young people need together with the ability to apply them in a variety of contexts.  Let’s make numeracy (and the associated problem solving) a compulsory subject and allow Maths to be an available option in years 10 and 11, in a similar way to Spanish, Geography etc.


Please don’t misunderstand; my vision would be spending more time developing the skills which all school leavers need rather than hours explaining the intricacies of algebra which they are unlikely to. I don’t see this as a way to reduce the time spent studying what I firmly believe are “Skills for Life”.  Let’s simply refocus the allocated time towards raising the numeracy skills of all to a minimum of Level 2.   Once this level is achieved and certificated, let’s use the time to embed the skills into other subjects, thereby reinforcing the application of skills in everyday life.  Let’s use rich activities which promote team work and problem solving, let’s develop the enquiring minds which will in turn create a demand for GCSE Maths as separate subject.


For those who have an interest and / or ability in Maths, let’s encourage them choose it as an option, to develop their skills and further their career aspirations; let’s inspire them.  I believe that GCSE Maths ought to remain available at both Foundation and Higher Tiers so there is an option suitable for all but please let there be a choice.


Let’s allow teachers in Key Stage 3 the time to be creative and develop active, rich tasks without the pressure to cover such a huge range of skills, which inevitably results in endless worksheets or text books.


In my experience, many learners even Higher Tier year 11 learners have forgotten how to calculate using written methods. They can’t multiply decimal numbers or calculate 40% not because they don’t have the ability but because they haven’t needed to in such long time.  These are the essential skills which they are likely to use in a variety of situations as an adult but these are the skills which are lost in an attempt to develop higher level skills.  These are the skills employers consider essential in the vast majority of roles, which increasingly school leavers, even with a grade C at GCSE, don’t recall.


In an attempt to raise the Numeracy skills of all school leavers, let’s make GCSE Maths a choice – making it compulsory hasn’t worked !



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