H v F … What if we make the wrong decision?


A couple of weeks ago, whilst wrapped up with my quilt, suffering with a bout of manflu I used the opportunity to have another look at the SAMs, specimens and practice papers alongside marking and collating the results from my year 10 class following their recent assessments. Additionally, I spent this down-time looking at the similar set from last year and our current cohort in order to try to get my head around where to pitch the tier of entry – I’m not overly concerned in the short-term about this group but know we have some big decisions to make with our year 11’s.

There are so many factors to take into account (I PROMISE I will be writing more about this thought process as we get closer to decision day!) but in the fog of lemsip, aspirin, coffee and chocolate (there could even have been a little bit of Calpol in there somewhere but who knows?!) I got to thinking about the importance of this decision and it’s been on my mind ever since then. The fact that Maths is one of the few tiered exam means we will be seen as an anomaly but the truth is, there is a danger of students dropping off the bottom of the higher tier paper if we get it wrong. On the other hand what marks will they need to get to access a grade 5 on the foundation tier? (oh and don’t tell me they only need a 4 … that’s just a pile of poo! Yes I know that the conditions of funding post-16 mean they aren’t subject to compulsory resits for 2 years but that will depend on the institution – many are already  insisting on resits if a student gets a 4. It will also depend on the student – they may want to resit!). With the significant shift in content from the higher tier down to the foundation tier they need to know so much extra content to access the higher grades on the foundation tier and then we have the fact that 50% of the higher tier is aimed at grades 7/8/9 … I do find it a bit bonkers that 50% of the content on the higher tier is supposedly aimed at less than about 20% of the cohort nationally (based on figures from the JCQ last summer which shows that 19.7% of 16 year olds got an A or A*). 789It really is a tough decision and not one that we are prepared to make lightly so we’re using the fact that there should be at least 20% of overlapping content between both tiers – Ofqual clarified this in their document : GCSE Subject Level Conditions and Requirements for Mathematics, (pages 15 onwards) to help us make this decision.

ofqualOne of the things we want to do is to get students and parents involved in the discussion too and also get some people to “up their game” whatever the tier of entry – it appears to have worked a little but it’s still early days. Let me explain: just before half term we had parents evening and we gave parents a document that detailed the awarding differences briefly (and crudely across) both tiers and we  used this in a discussion to explain that there would be a certain amount of content on BOTH tiers that the students either (1) needed to nail to access the higher grades on the foundation tier or (2) needed to nail to access and gain the lower grades on the higher tier. We then gave the students an additional homework task to complete over half term which were the papers that the Maths team (Graham maybe?) at Edexcel have put together that include the “crossover” questions that appear on both tiers of the specimen papers (they’re in the emporium “drawers” and are called “common questions blah blah blah” … I’m sure Graham will signpost these in one of his future email updates). We explained that we were looking for the students to have their best attempt and what I’ve had handed in so far, isn’t half bad (the deadline is Thursday!). I want to produce these for any future assessments we use as we genuinely anticipate making the tiering decision quite late for some students (specifically our “super-group”) .. but we’ll see how I am for time in getting these done. If you’re interested the below shows the document we gave parents … not my best work but does the job!


In addition to these crossover papers, following their first assessment I ripped out all the questions that they should have got full marks on and combined it into one big “retest, that’s not really a test” for them to do over the holidays too (I wrote about it here ->  “They know that I know“. For me this is something I want to do for all my year groups but the marking load is massive considering we’ve just marked tests for this group … its like doing it twice! The benefits though are evident in that the students are able to redo and correct those “facepalm” mistakes that they have inevitably made … what I’ve marked so far is fab! The biggest thing for me though is linked to having high expectations and not accepting that they aren’t getting full marks on certain topics through sloppiness or even “CBA-ness”. Actually, lots of marks are lost from a lack of resilience – so often we, as teachers see this “I’m not going to finish a question, so I’m not going to start at all” mentality but students need to learn that often, in maths, avenues open up when you start to solve a problem that may not have been obvious at the outset and seeing this in practice gives students exposure to it.

So much to think about but we are all in this together and maybe the “common questions” tactic is one that you find useful. In the meantime each of the three exam boards have published their own “advice” with regards tiering … OK, so some is more explanation than advice but here it is anyway ->

  • OCR blog post from September 2015 -> HERE. They also have a parent/learner guide that has some useful titbits.
  • AQA have updated their FAQ on tiering -> HERE
  • Edexcel have a specific document that I found here and includes the concept of the overlapping content papers but also gives you some questions to consider:

edexcel questionsI just have this nagging feeling that there isn’t going to be complete transparency about how the 4’s and 5’s are awarded across tiers and also across awarding bodies … but one step at a time! That’s next on my list … a formal request for 2016 awarding data by tier of entry and age, along with requesting information from Ofqual about the process of awarding across tiers and awarding bodies. We need clarity.

2017-07-02T19:57:05+00:00 November 2nd, 2016|AQA, Blog, Edexcel, NEW GCSE 9-1, OCR, Ofqual|


  1. Sieraj Dean November 2, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Thanks for this.

  2. Kelly Leonard November 2, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    Nerve wracking times ahead…. For them and for us!!!
    Thanks for this. Brilliant stuff as always!

  3. Owen November 2, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    Thanks for writing about this. It is a headache. I have lots of old B/C grade pupils. If I enter for the higher they have a terrible mathematical experience as we are pushing them through content without mastery and if I enter them for the foundation I might be restricting their potential grade and the schools performance. I hate that despite the increase in content and that the foundation will produce much more competent, well rounded mathematicians who may now enjoy their lessons more they will see themselves as failures as the benchmark has been moved up to a 5 not a 4. Grade boundaries guidance would help.

  4. Tess November 2, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Hi thankyou for the fab comments, I’ve looked in the emporium drawers….can’t seem to find the crossover questions?…are they in the just maths file?

  5. Tess November 2, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    Just found them!!!

  6. admin November 2, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    Nah … not the justmaths stuff … I’ll post a link later this evening. I’ll have a rummage in the drawers later x

  7. Diane hennigan November 2, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    Thanks for this very informative

  8. Ash November 4, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    Does anyone know if there is a qualification that will “count” as far as 2017 league tables are concerned that is “below” Foundation level? Can’t find anything for the 9-1 maths GCSE.

    For us it’s not just about H vs. F, as we’ve just finished our first round of Edexcel mocks and some students only scored a few marks on the Foundation paper. Admittedly it was hard but we have to now seriously consider an alternative for our Foundation students who can’t access the paper (but would have probably got something on the 1MA0 Foundation paper??).

    Thanks in advance

  9. JustMathsMel November 4, 2016 at 11:38 pm

    Because the bottom of a grade G is pegged as a 1 statistically … technically a student that would have got a G should still get a 1. TECHNICALLY. I know its not that simple.

    THe only quals that will count in the Maths slots for progress 8 is the maths GCSE I’m afraid.

  10. Lindsay November 15, 2016 at 8:52 am

    An Edexcel representative told me that by April of their GCSE year, if a student cannot gain 20 out of 80 marks on a higher paper, they need to be entered for Foundation…

  11. Sally Scott December 11, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    We have a huge majority of CD borderline students. Higher content is just cruel. Foundation content highlights silly mistakes in testing.

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