Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME)

National Academy for Teachers needed to tackle maths crisis

06 December 2002

The Government should set up a National Academy for Teachers of Mathematics to tackle the crisis in schools and revitalise maths education in the UK. Thats the conclusion of a report published today (6 December 2002) by the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME), set up by the Royal Society and the Joint Mathematical Council.

The report concludes that unless there is a radical re-think, children may leave school without the basic mathematical skills needed to cope with modern life. Already the numbers taking maths at a post 16 level are dropping - this year there was a 5 per cent fall in university maths admissions and the number of students going on to take maths A2 slumped by 12,000. Concerns are compounded by the fact that maths is one of the top subjects for teacher shortages - 17 per cent of all teacher vacancies in secondary schools are for maths teachers.

The National Academy would co-ordinate new local maths centres, which would see mathematicians and mathematics educators from universities and maths teachers from schools working and learning together for the first time. Similar centres operate in France, which now has a surplus of maths teachers that contrasts with our acute shortage.

The report states that programmes of continuing professional development co-ordinated by the Academy would raise the status of the mathematics teaching profession, leading to an invigorated and better motivated workforce, improved recruitment and retention rates and a better quality of maths teaching in schools.   

Sir Christopher Llewellyn-Smith FRS, Chair of ACME said: "We desperately need to reverse the downward spiral in maths education. The under-supply of numerate graduates means it is difficult to recruit new teachers of maths with good quality mathematical backgrounds. A closed loop has been created, with not enough of todays pupils and students turning into tomorrows maths teachers.

Sir Christopher added:

"In the wake of the low admissions to A2 maths, the Government recognises that more is needed to be done to improve education in this area. A key aspect of this is getting more maths staff on board and keeping hold of the ones it has. Setting up the Academy and its local centres would send a clear signal to maths teachers and potential maths teachers that they are valued and will have access to support and training throughout their working lives".

Professor Celia Hoyles, a member of ACME, said: You only need to glance at a GCSE maths book to see how much the subject has changed in the last 20 years. Many of the problems 15-year-olds are being asked to solve were not even conceived when their parents sat their O level exams. Maths and the techniques we can use to teach it are changing constantly. To ensure our children have the best maths education possible we need to ensure that teachers have the opportunity to engage with the latest developments and knowledge throughout their careers.  Lawyers and doctors have access to continued training throughout their careers, so why shouldn't teachers of a technical subject like maths?  

"Our proposals present a clear way in which the Government can combat the maths crisis in schools. We are less and less numerate as a nation - just at the time when we need more maths to be competitive in the global market. In our report, we ask the Government to pilot our proposals as a matter of urgency. For the sake of maths in this country, I very much hope that they will accept our recommendations and work with us to put them into practice".

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