It isn’t looking good at all, the following article from the British Times says it all. Fourteen percent pass mark for top level maths as a pass mark. Ummm – what is the pass mark for lower levels? It goes quite beyond anything comprehensible. We at AIM are a very educated group. The webmaster of this site is in fact a qualified teacher and this news stopped me in my tracks. What then is a pass mark for trades, doctors and the like? Clearly, Britain is in free fall and to be properly educated people are going to have to go overseas. Then if that person goes back to Britain with a 70% pass mark he will be competing in a depreciated job market against people with a 15% pass mark in the same subject, a score that would not qualify them to flip burgers. The next problem is a person with a 15% pass mark comes to Australia and want s to get their qualification recognised here is going to present problems where our standard is about 80%. The other problem is the not so bright here can go to Britain and cruise through a qualification. It never ends, we have to tighten our entry requirements.
The United Kingdom has a problem, it seems, when it comes to maths education. Results from an international testing study last week triggered a fresh round of soul-searching after they revealed that the UK is falling down the global rankings for reading, science and particularly maths.
And, today, new research revealed exclusively in Education Guardian shows England, Wales and Northern Ireland finishing bottom of another kind of league table, which compares countries according to the number of young people persisting with any kind of maths education beyond the age of 16.
The study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, shows that among 24 states, these three “home” nations are the only ones where fewer than 20% of pupils take mathematics in any form during what the researchers classify as the “upper secondary” years.
Scotland is one of three other countries where the figures stand in the 20-50% range. The remaining 18 countries all have post-16 participation rates for maths of more than 50%, the paper reports, with rates running at more than 95% in eight of them, including Sweden, Finland, Japan and Korea.
“The findings are stark,” says the paper. “By any standards, we are out on a limb.”
Not all students who take maths post-16 in other countries are studying advanced mathematics along the lines of A-levels. However, even when only pupils taking maths to advanced level are compared, the UK is still towards the bottom of the class, the research reveals.
In Japan, some 85% take advanced maths, equivalent to at least AS-level, in upper secondary; in Taiwan, the figure is 70%; in South Korea, it is 57%; and in New Zealand, 41%. By contrast, advanced maths take-up in the UK ranges from 11% in Wales through 13% in England to 15% in Northern Ireland and 23% in Scotland, with a UK average of between 13% and 14%.
Is this a problem? And if so, how should it be tackled? Among those calling for urgent action have been the CBI, the business lobby group, which published a paper in August recommending that all young people continue with some form of maths or numeracy education post-16, whether they were on an academic track or training in the workplace.
Young people leaving school with poor maths skills are costing the economy £2.4bn a year, the CBI said, and without an “uplift” in mathematics and numeracy capabilities, the UK would find itself falling behind in fields such as environmental technology, pharmaceuticals and the creative industries.
Marcus du Sautoy, professor for the public understanding of science at Oxford University, says: “It’s absolutely fundamental that we do increase these numbers. Other countries recognise the central importance of mathematics as part of education and that it must not just stop at age 16. It is the foundation of the whole of science and technological understanding, and we need more maths people. Banks, for example, are crying out for people with mathematical ability.”
The situation in this country is not entirely bleak, with numbers taking A-level actually growing substantially in recent years, after problematic changes to the course prompted an exodus from the subject in 2001. However, the Nuffield paper argues that A-level maths is still attracting a lower proportion of students than it did in the mid-1990s.
Jeremy Hodgen, of King’s College, London, who led the research, says that many people who need to be proficient with numerical concepts, such as future primary teachers and nurses, are missing out in the UK by dropping the subject at 16.
He says: “Few primary teachers will have done any maths between the age of 16 and their early- to mid-20s, when they take a post graduate certificate in education. That is serious.”
An obvious solution would appear to be simply to make the subject compulsory after the age of 16. After all, as the study points out, eight countries require all pupils, whether in academic or vocational education, to persevere with it.
However, attempts to curtail post-16 freedom of subject choice, or even to promote greater breadth of study, have foundered in this country in the past.
In 2000, reforms to the A-level which introduced today’s AS exams, taken after a year of sixth-form study, were meant to encourage students to take a broader range of subjects, with those who favoured art taking maths or a science at least to AS, and vice versa. But the reform largely failed in this aim.
Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University, believes compulsion will not work.
He says: “I think it’s probably better that, when they get to upper secondary, young people are choosing for themselves. The main problem here is that we do not have the clear pathways that other countries have, where maths is integral to the qualifications that people want to take, whatever they want to do in the future.”
In Germany, for example, young people have to study academic maths to gain the Abitur, the school-leaving qualification for pupils in grammar schools, but also in apprenticeship courses.
Given that compulsion would be tricky here, the Nuffield paper suggests other ideas. Hodgen says we should look to New Zealand, where the number of students taking some form of advanced maths is more than treble the figure for England.
New Zealand offers a more attractive range of mathematical options to them, says Dr Hodgen, including a “modern statistics” choice which might win more followers here than the “really traditional” approach to statistics of A-levels.
His paper advocates a government review and also the introduction of a maths course which could be pitched at those who gain C and B grades at maths GCSE, who tend now not to opt for A-level.
This is in line with ideas set out in another paper over the summer, by the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education(Acme), which acts as a bridge between maths teachers and the government. It advocated a new set of maths “pathways” at post-16 level, to tackle what it said was an inadequate range of options for students not committed to A-levels.
Another idea put forward in Acme’s paper seems to be winning favour. It has a familiar ring. The government could introduce a new “baccalaureate”, rewarding students for post-16 study in maths, English and four other subjects.
With the coalition already introducing a GCSE-equivalent English baccalaureate, recognising success in five academic subjects, a debate around a post-16 version may be coming. In any case, expect pressure for ministers to start looking at this subject in detail to continue.
Pupils have passed A-level maths this year by getting 14 per cent of the questions right, leaked figures show.
Grade boundaries for the Edexcel exam, which emerged a day before A-level results go public, showed that the board had also awarded an A grade to those who got 55 per cent of the answers right. Students with 45 per cent have been awarded a B, and those with 34 per cent will get a C.
This morning thousands of teenagers will receive their A-level results. This year completes the introduction of the new-style exams and more challenging content, making them a better preparation for university.
Maths was the last subject to be reformed and some lowering of the pass mark and grade boundaries was expected,…
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