Schools could be encouraged to follow the example of a leading Birmingham independent school and ditch the GCSE for maths, under proposals launched by the Conservatives.
Tory leader David Cameron said it was “absurd” state schools were effectively barred from offering the International GCSE qualification, based on the old O-level and seen as more challenging.
King Edward VI High School for Girls introduced the IGCSE for maths in 2004, followed by the IGCSE in physics two years later. A number of independent schools have followed suit. However, because the qualification is not recognised in school tables, it means the schools are placed near the bottom of the league for the number of pupils gaining five or more high-grade GCSEs or GCSE equivalents.
For a top independent such as King Edward VI, known for obtaining some of the best A-level results in the country, this causes no problems.
For state schools, however, it could lead to them being placed in special measures or threatened with closure, making it effectively impossible to offer the qualification.
Former Countdown presenter Carol Vorderman has been recruited by the Conservatives to head a review of maths teaching, which will consider changing the rules to allow GCSEs to be taught everywhere.
Speaking alongside Ms Vorderman, the Tory leader said: “We know the top independent schools are abandoning GCSEs for new tougher international exams such as the international IGCSE – while state schools are forced to stick to the standard GCSE. This is absurd and has to change. Every school in Britain should be able to do the same high quality exams that only private schools are allowed to so we stretch children.”
The review would look at ways of encouraging more top graduates into teaching, he said.
“It’s amazing to think more than half those qualified to teach maths don’t even have a degree in it. We’ve got to look at what we can do – in terms of pay and training – to encourage our brightest to teach.”
Schools in poorer areas should receive more funding to recruit the best teachers, he said.
But schools minister Jim Knight said the Government was improving maths standards.
He said: “The latest major international study last year showed we are leading Europe in maths and have risen 11 places in world league tables since 2003 to seventh. But we want to go further and get more young people to enjoy and master maths. That’s why we are implementing a review by leading maths academic Sir Peter Williams.”