Head ‘not concerned’ by maths exam row

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A school headteacher has played down a row triggered by a not-so-sweet question which was posed in a GCSE maths exam last week.

Thousands of students from across the country took to social media to air their frustrations at a question in the Edexcel test paper on Thursday, which they claimed was too difficult.

But Matthew Parr-Burman, principal of the Fakenham Academy, where more than 100 students took the paper, said he was not concerned by the furore.

Asked whether his students had sat the paper and whether he was worried about it, he replied: “Yes and no.”

He confirmed he had spoken to staff in the maths department about the question, which asked students to prove an equation based on the probability of a girl selecting two sweets of the same colour from a bag.

But he added: “What they said was every paper has an A* question to differentiate between A* and A grade students.

“If they don’t make it hard enough, too many get it right and you can’t differentiate between the higher abilities.

“It’s what they would expect.”

The question was contained in a higher tier exam paper, which is designed to measure abilities from A* to D grades.

Following the test, two separate online petitions were set up, calling on the exam board to reduce its grade boundaries in recognition of the difficulty of the question.

But Mr Parr-Burman suggested that the issue may have been exacerbated by the question appearing earlier in the exam paper than students would have been used to from past papers, which are commonly used to help students prepare.

He said: “That may be what threw many students.”

Because several different exam boards are sanctioned to deliver GCSE exams, not all students took the Edexcel paper.

Lynn’s Springwood High School said a few students there had sat the paper, but added that they did not anticipate any problems because of the sweet question.

And officials at the Downham Academy and Hunstanton’s Smithdon High School said their students had not sat the exam.

Representatives of the other secondary schools in the area have so far not commented on the issue.

But the outcry does appear to have sparked further protests about the exams, with students who took a biology paper set by the AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance) exam board on Friday also taking to social media to complain that it was too difficult.

Edexcel said its papers are set at an appropriate standard to test the full range of ability levels.

But they maintained that students would still receive the grades they deserve even if exams were found to be either more or less challenging than the required standard.

Students sat the second part of the Edexcel maths exam yesterday morning.