Currently, there are Linear and Modular GCSEs, although Modular versions are being phased out. Modular GCSEs are designed so that students sit individual modules at several points during Years 10 and 11. Linear GCSEs are designed so that students sit their exams at the end of Key Stage 4, in the summer term of Year 11.  Early entry generally applies to students who are entered for Linear GCSE exams before the summer term of Year 11.

The numbers of students being entered early for GCSE Mathematics has increased from less than 5% in 2008 to about 11% in 2010. I would advise parents with children in Years 9 or 10 to check what the school policy is on early exam entry. You want to be sure that if your child is entered early, that this is in your child’s best interests.

Some reasons why schools opt for early entries in GCSE Mathematics:

  • To give less able pupils more re-sit opportunities, and therefore more chances to get a C grade
  • To allow mid-range ability pupils to achieve a C grade early, freeing up teaching staff to give more help to lower ability pupils, increasing their chances of getting a C grade
  • To get Maths out of the way, freeing up more time for other subjects
  • To challenge top set pupils and maintain their interest in the subject
  • To try and maximise the number of pupils getting at least a C grade

If pupils were only entered early in cases where it was in their best interest to do so, then the only pupils who should be entered early would be those who already had a level of knowledge and understanding of the subject sufficient to ensure an A* grade. Even then, it would only be appropriate if a suitable programme of Mathematics study were continued until the end of Key Stage 4.

Consider some of the possible consequences of taking GCSE Mathematics early:

  • Students are likely to achieve lower grades than they would if they sat the exams at the normal time
  • Students are less likely to continue with Mathematics after GCSE
  • Students are unlikely to have covered the full GCSE syllabus
  • An extended period without any Mathematics lessons between taking GCSE and starting A Levels

For a more comprehensive view of GCSE Mathematics early entry, take a look at the position statement by the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education. Any parents with children in Years 7 to 11, who know that their school has an early entry policy, should read the position statement.