Maths Memos

Maths for all to 18


ACME member Richard Browne reflects on some of the key issues in the post-16 mathematics landscape as discussed in ACME's 'Maths Snapshot', 'Maths for all to 18'.

It is not long since discussions about the importance of all students studying mathematics post-16 could be ended by the remark that, in England, it is essential that the choice of subjects for post-16 study is left to the students. This took the focus away from the importance of more students learning more mathematics, and ways of achieving this, and onto the need to maintain an important principle about post-16 education. The assumption was that we could achieve the desired increase in take up of mathematics only by compelling students to study it. Fortunately, recent developments have moved the debate on considerably.

There has been very significant growth in take up of A level Mathematics between 2004 and 2014, and, largely as a result of work by the Further Maths Support Programme, entries for A level Further Mathematics have more than doubled over the same period.

ACME's blueprint for mathematics education sets out ACME's aspiration that all young people study appropriate and engaging mathematics up to the age of 18. This aspiration is being realised by the growing consensus that it is highly desirable for more students to study mathematics post-16 to reflect the importance of increasing the country's level of mathematical skill as a means of continuing to compete in the international industrial arena. This has been linked to increasing awareness that the very low proportion of our young people studying mathematics post-16 marks England out as a low-performing country, as noted in the Nuffield report Is the UK an outlier?

From summer 2013, young people were required to continue in education or training to the end of the academic year in which they turned 17, and from summer 2015 they will be required to stay until the age of 18 in England. These changes increase the pool of students who may choose mathematics post-16.

The government has expressed the ambition that, by 2020, the great majority of young people will continue to study maths to age 18 and has encouraged more young people to study STEM subjects, for example through the Your Life campaign. It has also initiated the development of Core Maths qualifications, which are designed for students who achieve a grade C or above at GCSE but are not taking A level Mathematics.

The new Core Maths qualifications could be a game-changer in increasing take up of mathematics post-16. Although there are some obstacles to the success of the new qualifications, not least teacher supply and funding issues for schools and colleges, Core Maths qualifications, with their focus on realistic problems, have the potential to develop precisely the kinds of mathematical skills that are needed in the workplace.

It will help the take up of Core Maths immensely if universities ask prospective students to hold the qualification. As this might prove hard for individual courses to insist on, one way in which a demand from higher education might be provided is for universities to require all applicants to have studied and passed a level 3 mathematics qualification such as Core Maths or, where appropriate, A level Mathematics.

Find out more about ACME's work on post-16 mathematics here.

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