Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME)

ACME statement about Core Mathematics

06 January 2014

The Department for Education has published a policy statement on the introduction of post-16 'Core Mathematics' qualifications in response ACME's independent Expert Panel on Core Mathematics report (October 2013). ACME welcomes the introduction of these new qualifications and in principle supports the breadth of measures outlined in this paper. In general they are consistent with the recommendations for post-16 mathematics qualifications and their implementation that ACME proposed in two recent reports. The time scales outlined for the development of these qualifications are, however, ambitious.

Core Mathematics qualifications should have a purpose that is distinct from AS and A level Mathematics, and the policy statement from the Department expresses this clearly. Core Mathematics qualifications will be taken alongside vocational qualifications and A levels. They will help prepare students for the wide range of careers and Higher Education (HE) programmes that now require confidence and familiarity with mathematics. As such, Core Mathematics qualifications need a different grading structure, and we support the work of the awarding organisations in taking this recommendation forward.

The content and assessment of Core Mathematics qualifications need to reflect the purpose of the qualification. We regard it as essential that awarding organisations avoid overloading these qualifications with additional content, since their principal purpose is to develop fluency in using and applying the techniques students have already covered.

We are not convinced that including calculus is desirable for this qualification. Calculus is a defining feature of AS and A level Mathematics There are significant risks that including calculus will risk both the uptake of the new qualification among the target cohort of students, while also reducing the uptake of A levels. Including additional content in Core Mathematics qualifications should be done in such a way that the various post-16 mathematics qualifications are distinct in purpose and content. We agree with the Department that it is essential for awarding organisations to provide evidence that the qualifications have been designed with input from employers and HE.

The policy statement indicates that a Core Mathematics qualification should be 'about half' an A level and designed to be taken over two years. ACME hopes that this will be not be interpreted narrowly by the Department for Education or Ofqual. Both ACME and the Expert Panel envisaged a qualification that was smaller than half an A level and designed to be taken over two years. This proposal was made in order to facilitate as many students as possible taking the qualification alongside a full A level or vocational programme and to maintain students' participation in mathematics until the age of 18. A smaller qualification requires less teaching time and hence fewer teaching staff, making it significantly easier to introduce at scale. A smaller qualification also differentiates more clearly between AS Mathematics and Core Mathematics. ACME considers that a smaller qualification will avoid risks of poor uptake and decreased uptake of A levels.

The Expert Panel also determined that Core Mathematics requires a new approach to assessment for mathematics and recommended a significant amount of internal assessment to enable students to demonstrate that they can solve a wide variety of problems in a sustained and deep manner. We welcome the inclusion of internal assessment in these guidelines, and look to the awarding organisations to use effective approaches to external assessment that will encourage teachers to emphasise modelling and problem solving in their teaching. Possible assessment strategies could be common with some A levels (e.g. the proposals for practical assessment in science) or vocational subjects.

There is a consensus that making the new Core Mathematics qualifications attractive will be a major challenge. This challenge will be made significantly greater by expanding the content and length of the new qualifications, and by adopting a traditional approach to assessment.

These new qualifications offer great potential to increase the mathematical skills of young people. However, developing new qualifications is only one part of the shift needed to increase participation in mathematics post-16. Government, schools and college, higher education institutions, and business and industry must all recognise and foster the changes that are needed for successful outcomes.

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