Maths is built upon the four fundamental concepts of addition, subtraction, division and multiplication. However increasing numbers of children are struggling to grasp these fundamentals in school. As maths teachers we are continually amazed to find an increasing numbers of pupils who cannot subtract, divide, multiply and have not mastered their times tables. There are a number of possible reasons for this, however we believe primary schools are no longer teaching these methods rigorously and the proliferation of smart phones and tablet computers have led children to use these devices rather than working problems out. As a parent it is essential that you ensure your child has a solid grasp of these four fundamental concepts in order to prepare them for GCSE maths.


The Department of Education has changed the GCSE Mathematics examination process in order to make examinations more challenging in order to match standards in the strongest performing educational systems in the world. The new changes have been designed to make students emerge from GCSE maths with a level of confidence and fluency that will provide a genuine foundation for the rest of their working and learning lives.


1). The volume of the subject has increased which means students will need to learn more topics.

2). The demand of the content has also increased which means harder topics have been introduced. Additional content has been added to the higher tier to stretch and challenge the most able students and to help prepare them for A Level Mathematics.

3). There is greater emphasis on problem solving and mathematical reasoning. More marks are being allocated for higher-order skills.

4). There are fewer marks allocated at the lower grades and more marks t the higher grades for both higher and foundation tiers.

5). The number of formulae that students are provided with in the examination has been reduced. Students will now be required to memorise more formulae.

6). More assessment is now required to assess a larger body of content. Students will now have to sit three examination papers at the end of the course.

Paper 1: Non calculator; 80 marks; 1 hour 30 minutes. 

Paper 2: Calculator; 80 marks; 1 hour 30 minutes. 

Paper 3: Calculator; 80 marks; 1 hour 30 minutes. 

7). A new grading system has been introduced using numbers to represent grades instead of letters. The new grades are on a scale of 9–1, with 9 representing the highest grade and 1 the lowest . The new performance measurement for schools and the level at which a ‘high quality’ pass for students is gained will change from A* ‐ C to 9 ‐ 4.


At GCSE level pupils are entered for the foundation or higher paper. On the foundation paper the highest possible grade that can be achieved is a grade 5 and it is true to say the questions on the foundation paper are easier. On the higher paper the highest grade that can be achieved is a grade 9 and the questions are more difficult. The dilemma for parents can be knowing which level is most appropriate for their child.

Further Education colleges, sixth form colleges, apprenticeships and employers will require a ‘high quality’ grade 5 pass in maths. Students should aspire to attaining grade 5 minimum to ensure access to Level 3 courses e.g. A Levels and extended Diplomas. For students who wish to study A level maths a minimum of grade 7 in GCSE maths should be achieved.

For students who wish to progress to pursue an academic route into further and higher education we would advise them to sit the higher paper. Last year (2017) students required an average score of 30% on each of the higher papers to secure a grade 5.

For students who find maths challenging and wish to pursue a vocational route where GCSE maths is not so critical we would advise them to sit the foundation paper. Last year (2017) students required an average score of 51% on each of the foundation papers to secure a level 4.

The structure of the Foundation and Higher GCSE maths papers.


Grade boundaries set out the minimum number of marks required for each grade.

These change each year depending on how well the pupils perform as a whole.

 Exam chiefs will lower the grade boundaries for harder exams to allow more students to get the top grades.

But if students do well on an exam nationwide, the boundaries are likely to be raised.