Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME)

A level Mathematics 2013-14 in detail

September 2014: Submission of responses to Department for Education and Ofqual consultations completing A level reform for mathematics

ACME submitted responses in September 2014 to the Department for Education subject content consultations for AS/A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics and the Ofqual consultation that had proposals on issues such as assessment of mathematics. The Department for Education consultation was informed by the ALCAB panel discussions and the report they published (see sidebar).

ACME's response to the AS/ A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics subject content consultation can be found here. The ACME response to the Ofqual consultation can be found here.

In order to facilitate discussions on these consultations amongst the mathematics education community ACME convened a roundtable on 28 August 2014 with representatives from across mathematics education. ACME's response to the two consultations therefore reflected on the advice of the Outer Circle aand also the discussions at the A level round table.

In its responses ACME advised that many of the changes that were proposed, such as including more problem solving and modelling in teaching, would require significant investment in professional development.

ACME also advised that care needed to be taken to ensure that teachers and students do not perceive the new mathematics qualifications as more difficult, which could have a potentially detrimentally effect on AS/A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics participation.

August 2014: ACME convened round table on A level reform

On 28 August ACME convened a round table for representatives from the mathematics education community to enable discussion on A level reform. The round table showed that there was a great deal of agreement amongst those who participated as to what was needed for successful A level reform. The group cautioned about the need for good investment in professional development for teachers to ensure that there were confident in teaching new material and teaching this material in a new way, i.e. emphasising problem solving and modelling. The participants also highlighted the need for great care to be taken to ensure that that participation in A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics was not detrimentally affected.

July 2014: ACME statement on A level reform

Today the A level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB) published its report on the content required in new AS/ A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics. Consultations have also been published by the Department for Education and Ofqual, looking at content and assessment respectively.

ALCAB was established in late 2013 by the Russell Group universities to provide advice on the core content requirements considered desirable in A level facilitating subjects. ACME is supportive of the transparency in the process that ALCAB undertook in setting up the mathematics subject panel and its engagement with the mathematics education community and other communities in formulating its report. What the process showed was the coherence of voices in mathematics with regard to A level content.

Professor Steve Sparks FRS, ACME Chair, reflected on some of the concerns of Professor Richard Craster, Chair of the ALCAB panel on mathematics, such as potential threats to the uptake of further mathematics and the need for changes to be implemented in a staged manner to avoid decreases in uptake and continued scrutiny of A level mathematics in the years ahead. He said:

The increase in numbers taking mathematics and further mathematics in recent years has been a great success story. The content of these subjects has been looked at in great depth by ALCAB as was their remit. However, assessment and funding are just as significant as content. The changes proposed may make A and A/S level Further Mathematics less attractive to students and schools and colleges. ACME will monitor the take-up of the new A levels closely in case the recent strong increase in numbers should reverse.

ACME has argued for retaining the transferability between AS/A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics, to allow students who are unsure about their chosen path to have a stepping stone between qualifications. AS and A level qualifications have been decoupled, which means that AS does not count towards A level but can be taken as a separate qualification. Given that this is the case, it is ever more important that the AS qualification is valuable and valued by universities, as pointed out by Professor Nigel Thrift, Chair of ALCAB and Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University.

ACME supports the Government's policy goal of increasing the number of students taking mathematics qualifications at A level. ACME welcomed the delay in reforming mathematics until 2016 and the importance that is attached by this Government to post-16 mathematics. However, in the future the curriculum should be considered over a longer period than just six to eight months. High performing jurisdictions take years to adjust their syllabuses and consult widely, including with text-book authors to ensure high-quality resources. A standing subject committee for mathematics is needed to review curriculum and assessment across all phases of education to ensure coherence in reform and to bring transparency and expertise to all changes.

January 2014: Correspondence between Prof. Steve Sparks, ACME Chair, and Elizabeth Truss, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare

Prof. Steve Sparks wrote to Elizabeth Truss on 9 January 2014 regarding A level reform of A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics. A response was received dated 30 January, which outlined the Department for Education position on the review process, the role of the A level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB), as well as the role of the independent expert subject group, led by Charlie Stripp, Chief Executive of Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI). They outlined their plans to host a formal consultation on the new A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics subject content criteria in the summer and a parallel Ofqual consultation on the new subject criteria assessment and other regulatory arrangements.

January 2014: ACME's response to the Ofqual consultation on new A level regulatory requirements

ACME published a response to the Ofqual consultation on new A level regulatory requirements in January 2014.

In this response, ACME set out:

  • priorities and objectives of AS and A level qualifications in mathematics
  • the need to improve the validity of assessment at A level
  • the need for flexibility within AS/ A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics
  • concerns with the timescales and transparency of the A level reform process
  • detrimental impacts that reform could have upon the uptake of AS and A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics

December 2013: Department for Education consultation on 'New A levels: subject content'

ACME published a response to the Department for Education consultation 'New A levels: subject content', which was informed by Committee deliberations and Outer Circle advice.

In the response, ACME:

  • stressed the importance of coherence and transparency in reform processes across all A level subjects
  • underlined the need for qualification reform process in mathematics looking at the qualification system as a whole, including GCSE, Core Mathematics and A level qualifications
  • cautioned about the potential detrimental effects that reforms could have on the uptake of AS/A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics
  • welcomed the emphasis upon mathematical and quantitative skills in the subject content of many A level subjects, but highlighted the need for further reflection.

May 2013: Review of A level subject content

ACME responded to a letter regarding the A level reform process. ACME's response can be found here. ACME has submitted the following evidence

ACME offered to:

  1. meet with the Awarding Organisations to discuss the evidence from their HE subject advisory groups before it is passed to the review committee
  2. discuss with Ofqual the role ACME could play in its review process
  3. advise the Department for Education on the risk to participation in mathematics that may result from any changes to the qualification system.

ACME received a letter from Ofqual in response.

September 2012: ACME's response to the Ofqual Consultation on A-level reforms

ACME responded to the Ofqual Consultation on A-level reforms in September 2012. The response was informed by members of our Outer Circle of advisers.

ACME's response can be found here.

Some arguments related to the process of reform were highlighted:

  • The Committee pointed to the need to ensure that the reform process was considered and incremental.
  • The need for National Subject Committees to facilitate HE engagement was emphasised.

In relation to A level structure, the Committee highlighted the importance of a modular structure. The Committee also emphasised that rather than the core content being problematic, instead it was the validity of assessment that needed to be looked at in more detail.

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