GCSE Mathematics is a compulsory subject in all schools, and as a result no less than 760,000 students were receiving their GCSE results in August 2013. Passing this particular exam is so fundamental to finding employment, or entering further or higher education courses later on, that many students will re-sit the exam within each academic year, determined to pass. There were 888,000 candidates who studied the subject, but 1.3 million papers were sat. That indicates a lot of re-sits!
Maths clearly remains a difficult subject for both sexes – the percentage of A and A* grades attained is much lower than in some other subjects. For those pupils not blessed with a natural bias towards maths, the very mention of the subject has always struck fear into the heart. Mention algebra, statistics and probability, long division and multiplication, ratios, fractions and decimals, geometry and measures – the core areas of study for the GCSE – and for some of us, the tendency is to shut oneself in a cupboard. But it is very easy to decide one can’t do it and switch off. Particularly if one is female, as cultural bias still seems to push girls away from non-arts subjects.
Little gender influence
But when it comes to high marks, we need to look again at the statistics (sorry, that word again). In reality, in Mathematics GCSE the gender-bias is not as marked as one might expect. While 14.6% of clever male maths bods got A or A*, 14% of clever female maths bods among got A or A* grades. Not much in it, and there is little major difference in the achievement of male and female candidates right across the scale of grades. So female candidates should take heart.
It may be that for girls today, maths feels much more relevant and therefore worth concentrating on. Not only is a GCSE qualification vital for jobs and further study, but maths is everywhere around us. A quick glance at the current online edition of ‘Seventeen’ magazine, for example, reveals quizzes that use maths, logic and speed, placed alongside advertisements for ‘50% off’ sales. Teens are savvy, they know what that ‘50%’ means; they know about money and salaries, and they are plugged into technology all the time. They need to understand the graphs and diagrams that illustrate every news article (and a lot of other stuff) they might come across on their tablets and phones.
They also, along with their male counterparts, have fantastic access to online resources for improving their maths skills – many of which involve games and quizzes that rehearse the skills they need to pass exams using scenarios taken from everyday life.
What is important for pupils is that they don’t simply decide they can’t do it. There are so many resources putting across the basic mathematical principles in a myriad of different learning styles, that there is bound to be one that will shed some light. It used to take a different teacher to explain things in a new way for illumination to fall. Now there is no excuse for not trying.