I hope many of you reading this blog are already aware of the research programme we are undertaking to reassure ourselves, the exam boards, students and other stakeholders regarding the level of demand and difficulty across the four new Ofqual accredited GCSE maths specifications. If not, you can read a summary of our work in my recent speech, or watch Ian Stockford’s YouTube video that goes into more detail.
I am pleased to say that work is progressing on all three research strands at the speed we anticipated - and in some cases more quickly - when we started a few weeks ago. In particular we received a huge amount of interest to take part in the large scale testing of the boards’ new papers. We achieved our target of recruiting 4,000 students across England in a matter of days of announcing our intentions, and I would like to personally thank all those teachers whose schools have been signed-up, and those who indicated their desire to contribute. This means we continue to be confident that the programme will be completed by the end of April.
The information we have gathered so far is already providing useful insights. And while it is by no means comprehensive at this stage, it has suggested a change of tack is required with regard to one of the research strands.
In our initial announcement, we highlighted our intention to pilot research to compare students’ problem solving skills based on their explanations of how they would go about answering a question with the marks they would have been awarded having answered the questions. The details of that pilot can be found on our website. Early results from the pilot suggest the approach is unlikely to yield meaningful data. As such, it makes sense to swiftly adopt an alternative methodology.
In its place, a small number of students will be asked to answer problem solving questions and explore different ways of producing an answer. These responses will then be compared to understand the extent to which students have had the opportunity to demonstrate their problem solving skills. This will allow us to order the questions by the level of challenge each presents to the students, and the extent to which the questions have measured what they were intended to measure.
There were a number of different options available to us, but we have decided that this approach has the greatest likelihood of returning the data we need to make informed decisions. As I said in my speech, it is imperative that we reach the right conclusions, and central to that is having robust evidence.
We know there is a great deal of interest in our research, so will continue to provide updates on our progress over coming weeks.