Make maths and science exams tougher, says report

Tougher maths and science exams will be demanded today in a major report on how the subjects are taught in schools.

The report, produced by an expert group set up by the Government, warns of widespread concern over the content of both the GCSE and A-level syllabus. It argues that there is not enough chance for students to display their depth of knowledge of the subject – in particular in A-level physics and chemistry exams.

"The content and assessment of science and mathematics at GCSE and A-level is a prime concern to many within the science and teaching communities," says the report –Science and Mathematics for the 21st Century. It describes the maths content within science exams as inadequate and says there is a need for more in-depth study to prepare for exams.

Teachers should be allowed to teach some areas of the course in more depth – rather than stick to a tick-box approach which will get the right results. They should be able to build on their own interests and stretch their pupils.

"Even the most able teachers cannot deliver their best unless empowered by curricula and assessment that are both fit for purpose," it adds. It acknowledges that for the first time in at least two decades the number studying the subjects is rising. However, it adds: "In spite of much good work, there are still significant problems in education in science and mathematics in schools and colleges. In particular, there is a strong perception that assessment has become the 'tail that wags the dog' of the education system and that it has been inadequate in the testing of students' depth of subject knowledge and understanding of key concepts."

It calls on exam boards to recruit enough examiners with in-depth subject knowledge so they can devise searching questions for pupils.