Thursday, 24 August 2017

GCSE Results 2017

GCSE results are out today, with a fragmented set of exams now being sat across the UK. In England, new GCSE courses have been designed to be more challenging. Overall across the UK, the pass rate has dropped across the full range of subjects, from 66.9% to 66.3% of entries. A pass under the old system was a C grade; under the new system of grades from 1 to 9 (with 9 the best), a 4 is considered a standard pass.

In England the pass rate for maths, one of the new tougher exams, it dropped slightly from 71.4% to 70.7%. The proportion of entries receiving the top grades (A/7 or above) has also fallen, to 20%, down 0.5 percentage points on last year, the lowest since 2007.

However, exam boards appear to have worked the grade boundaries to ensure the distribution of grades is broadly consistent with last year's. For example, on the higher tier maths paper, a grade 4 pass would have been achieved with just 18% of the overall marks. For a grade 9, 79% mark was required. For a grade 7, the equivalent of an A, candidates needed just over half marks.

Students and teachers have complained about a lack of textbooks and practice papers in the run-up to the summer exams.

In Northern Ireland and Wales, exams are still graded A* to G. In Northern Ireland, female students continue to outperform their male counterparts at this level, with an 8.1% difference in the pass rate (A*-C). One in ten entries are now awarded the top A* grade here.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

A-Level Results Day 2017

A-Level results are out today in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This year's results have shown an increase in the number of A and A* awards given, the first rise in 6 years.

26.6% of entries from boys were awarded these top grades, with 26.1% of girls' entries (overall 26.3%, up 0.5%). This is first time in 17 years that the boys have been ahead at this level of education.

In England, 13 A-Level subjects were reformed this year (with mathematics and the rest to follow). Changes include assessment based entirely on a final exam, eliminating coursework entirely. There was a fall in the top grades awarded in these subjects. Another change means that pupils now have to decide from the outset whether to take AS or a full A-Level because the two qualifications have been decoupled. This has resulted in a number of pupils continuing to their second year, who would previously have stopped after the first year, resulting in a larger number of less able pupils taking the full A-Level. A lack of text books for the new syllabuses and a lack of past papers may be other contributing factors.

For those who didn't make the grades they required for university, there is a very good chance they will be able to take a place through clearing this year. University applications from the UK and European Union countries have fallen compared with last year and there is a demographic dip in the number of 18 year olds.

In Northern Ireland, 30.9% of entries were awarded the top two grades, but girls are still ahead. Indeed they increased the gap to 6.5% with 33.3% of girls and only 26.8% of boys getting the top two grades.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

John Napier (1550–1617)

Napier's "Bones", a set of wooden rods used for muliplication
If you have studied logarithms, you have John Napier to thank for their discovery. He died 400 years ago today.

John Napier was a Scottish landowner, mathematician, physicist, and astronomer, but is probably best known as the discoverer of logarithms.

Before calculators became widespread in the second half of the 20th century, logarithms were widely used to perform multiplication of numbers, particularly large numbers. Logarithms were looked up in "log tables".

Logarithms have many uses and come into many areas of modern maths, and if you have studied beyond GCSE level, you will be very familiar with them. The natural logarithm (log base e) is sometimes called the Napierian logarithm, although Napier didn't explicitly work with base e.

Napier also invented "Napier's bones", which were a set of wooden rods inscribed with digits, and were another tool for performing multiplication. Napier was also one of the earlier mathematicians to make frequent use of the decimal point in his work and helped to popularise this idea.

Napier's birthplace, Merchiston Tower in Edinburgh, is now a part of Edinburgh Napier University, which is named after him.

Napier died in 1617 at his home at Merchiston Castle from the effects of gout, but his revolutionary work on what became a key part of modern mathematics will ensure he is remembered for a long time to come.