Category Archives: A Level Qualifications

Core Maths: different things to different people

Article written by teachers from Comberton Village College, Cambridge (an early adopter of the Core Maths qualification).

What is Core Maths?

Core Maths is the umbrella for a new suite of level 3 mathematics qualifications. Once you get over the mild annoyance that ‘Core Maths’ has long been used to refer to the C1 to C4 modules of A-level mathematics then it turns out that the concept is a very good one.
This is aimed at sixth form students who gained a C grade or above at GCSE mathematics but who are not studying AS-level or A-level mathematics, either because the sixth form they attend requires a higher grade at GCSE or because they have interests in other areas. The exams are taken at the end of the course and the UCAS tariff is the same as for an AS-level.

The different courses

All of the courses include about 80% of the new GCSE higher tier material. They then have a major focus on solving problems, including Fermi problems, and on the use of statistics. ICT is encouraged and very important, but at the moment the exams that exist are paper-based ones.
One of the exciting things about the courses is the wide variety in the remaining content. Some courses have more statistics (including standard deviation and correlation coefficients), while others focus on mechanics, or on more mathematical problem-solving. This means there is something that is appropriate for everyone, rather than having a tightly-prescribed single exam specification.

Who will benefit from Core Maths?

It is tempting to say “everyone in the target population”! Core Maths can be an appropriate mathematical replacement for functional skills for those studying NVQ or BTEC courses. Colleges that currently offer AS-level Use of Mathematics may find this to be a good replacement when that course is phased out.
Some of the Core Maths courses lend themselves very well to supporting other A-level subjects. In subjects where some mathematical fluency and/or statistical knowledge is required, Core Maths (particularly courses with a focus on statistics) can help the students with their understanding of the mathematics and statistics they will deploy in those subjects while also improving their confidence and competence. Subjects that may benefit from having their students study Core Maths include Geography, Business Studies, Economics, Psychology and the Sciences.


This is a new and developing set of courses and there is not a wide body of published resources available as yet. The Core Maths Support Programme (CMSP) has done a very good job of commissioning, refining and sharing materials and their website ( showcases these resources alongside case studies, recruitment materials and other useful information.
The exam awarding bodies have also linked to existing resources in some of their support materials and these can give a good starting point.

Consider Core

It has been enjoyable to begin teaching a course that can be tailored so well to the needs of the individuals who are involved, that includes so much problem-solving and which allows time for the participants to get to grips with some of the concepts they may have struggled with in the past. I would encourage all sixth form maths departments to consider how it might work for their students.

Which exam board do you use?

After a discussion of the exam boards our schools choose to use at recent meeting we thought it would be useful to share our thoughts.

We are aware many schools are not making decisions at this point in time regarding the new A level qualifications but for now, this is who we currently use and why.  We are aware this is a small sample so please do comment with your school’s experiences of all available exam boards including some reasons for why.

Independent school

“We are currently using Edexcel for historic reasons and have found its consistency over 14 years beneficial in our students success.  Our students all sit Edexcel International GCSE and the transition between the two is well supported.  We’ve found it very accessible for EAL students and the board support invaluable (Maths Emporium and ResultsPlus).  We love Further Pure, however we do think that the Statistics strand content could show better progression.”

6th Form College

“We use AQA, again really for historic reasons.  We like the fact that there are four further pure modules so it gives us more choice.  We like the structure of the exam questions.  We don’t like the variation in the grade boundaries year on year as the papers have become less consistent.  We also like that AQA offer an stand alone A Level in Statistics and have used this as a more suitable alternative to A Level Mathematics for some students.”

Secondary Comprehensive

“We use Edexcel because we like the consistency it gives our students who sit Edexcel GCSE Mathematics.  We have also found the support from Maths Emporium and ResultsPlus beneficial as a department.  We have found the language used in the questions more accessible to our students but don’t feel the scaffolded style of questions best prepares our strongest candidates for further study in Mathematics.”

International 6th Form

“We use CIE partly because it’s recognised and respected by our overseas students and their families but also because the CIE Mathematics A Level syllabus is deeper than some others.  However, we are concerned that the Further Mathematics syllabus does not include a sufficiently broad range of topics.  Another reason for choosing this exam board is that there still exists a November sitting and we have a second cohort that start each January.”