A rummage through the archives

Written by Andrew Taylor Thursday, 07 February 2019

Edited and compiled by Robert J Smith @RJS2212

'A rummage through the archives' is a workshop being run by Andrew Taylor @AQAMaths at #MathsConf18 on Saturday 9th March 2019, tickets still available.


Most of the #MathsConf workshops I’ve done over the years have been directly about our qualifications but occasionally I get the opportunity to look more broadly at assessment and look at how things have changed over the years. In past workshops, I’ve focussed on problem solving and exam structures but this time I’m looking at how questions and papers have evolved over a sixty year period.

So my starting point will be the late 1950’s

By this time, ‘O’ levels were well established though most of the population took no qualifications at the age of 16. Those that did were expected to deal with imperial units and calculate with only log tables to help.

Next I’ll look at papers from the late 70’s and early 80’s

By this time, calculators were becoming available and the metric system was in use. Schools were changing with most becoming comprehensive and offering both ‘O’ level and CSE exams. For maths teachers, this period was just before the Cockcroft Report which influenced how we teach from 1982 onwards. For me, this was the period between experiencing the system as a student and becoming a teacher within it.

Finally, the late 90’s

GCSE has been the standard exam for most students for 10 years and the three tier system is well established. Coursework in maths is the norm but not yet compulsory and performance measures are becoming increasingly important in measuring schools and teachers. Personally, I was an experienced teacher and head of department having survived two Ofsted inspections which lasted a week each.

I’m interested in whether there are topics and question types that have remained pretty much the same through this lifetime of change and where the biggest changes have happened. I want to explore how the more demanding questions we set now compare to the rigours of ‘O’ level and how the breadth, and depth, of what we assess has changed. If I’m lucky enough to have an audience, I’ll challenge them to ‘guess the year’ when differences in wording and layout are taken away and we get to grips with the underlying mathematics.

If, like me, you love old questions, then come along or follow @AQAMaths on Twitter and look out for our weekly #AQAmathsarchives questions.


You can see Andrew Taylor speak about "A rummage through the archives" during #MathsConf18 at the City Academy Bristol on Saturday March 9th 2019.

Don't forget in March we also have our 'FREE' Maths Teacher Network events in association with Oxford University Press and AQA.

We look forward to seeing you at our next La Salle Education Event if you don't already, follow us on Twitter @LaSalleEd

About the Author

Andrew Taylor

Andrew Taylor is Head of Curriculum for Mathematics at AQA.

Why AQA Maths?

Maths is for everyone; we design qualifications and support to enable students to engage with, explore, enjoy and succeed in maths. We love maths; it is diverse, engaging and essential in equipping students with the right skills to reach their future destination, whatever that may be.

We understand that many students feel that maths is ‘not for them’ but we believe that maths is for everyone. So, by putting students at the heart of everything we do, our aim is to support teachers to shape what success in maths looks like for every student.

Our range of courses caters for students of different abilities. With flexible routes through our maths qualifications, you have the freedom to plan a maths journey for each student, whatever their learning style, ability or aspirations.

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