Post-16 GCSE

A new maths GCSE curriculum for post-16 resit students

A one-year project funded by the Nuffield Foundation

MEI is currently working in consultation with key stakeholders to develop a new curriculum in maths for post-16 GCSE resit students that has a greater emphasis on applying maths in realistic contexts. This will be followed by a small-scale study to assess the suitability of the curriculum as a basis for an alternative to the existing GCSE Mathematics.

The aim of project is to start a fresh consideration of appropriate mathematical content and qualifications for GCSE resit students, in line with the recommendations of the Smith review. The aim is to improve outcomes for young people, and the wider population, by improving knowledge of, and attitudes towards, maths.

In England, young people aged 16-18 who achieved grade 3 in GCSE Mathematics at the end of KS4 are required to resit it. Those who achieved a lower grade have the option to sit Functional Skills Mathematics level 2, rather than re-sitting GCSE Mathematics. This often results in young people lacking confidence in maths and the prospect of ‘more of the same’ can be very de-motivating. The resit success rate is also very low - over 180,000 young people resat GCSE Mathematics in the summer of 2019, but only 22.3% achieved at least a grade 4 or equivalent. As a result, many young people do not achieve their full potential and can be left with a lasting sense of failure and a reinforced negative attitude towards maths. This may prevent them from engaging with learning and using maths in the future.

The standard GCSE Mathematics curriculum, which is designed for 14-16 year olds, attempts to do two things: prepare students for further academic study of maths, and develop the knowledge and skills to apply maths to practical problems encountered in the workplace and other aspects of life. Most resit students need to focus on the latter.

The project involves:

  • Reviewing existing GCSE standard qualifications which focus on numeracy and applications of maths
  • Reviewing relevant research
  • Drafting exemplar resources which illustrate the kind of maths the target students would gain most benefit from learning
  • Drafting an outline curriculum
  • Drafting exemplar examination papers
  • Consulting teachers and employers on the proposals
  • Reporting the findings, in January 2020.


The project is being funded by the Nuffield Foundation. The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare, and Justice. It also funds student programmes that provide opportunities for young people to develop skills in quantitative and qualitative methods. The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Ada Lovelace Institute. The Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. More information is available at www.nuffieldfoundation.org.

Further information about the project is available in this joint MEI and Nuffield Foundation public statement.


Want to know more?

If you would like to know more about the project, or if you would be willing to be consulted about our proposals as part of the project, contact Stella Dudzic.


Logo for Nuffield Foundation

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation


MEI's support for GCSE resit teaching