Nuffield study provides further support for new post-16 mathematics qualification

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Maths education
The Nuffield Foundation has further reinforced the growing consensus that a new mathematics qualification should be introduced for those not studying maths A level in England.
 
Towards universal participation in post-16 mathematics: lessons from high-performing countries’ follows last month’s publication of two reports by ACME, the Advisory Committee for Mathematics Education, which also proposed a new ‘problem solving’ based maths qualification to combat England’s poor participation in maths post-16.
 
The Nuffield study recommends that such a qualification should focus on ‘mathematical fluency, modelling and statistics’ and be built into requirements for higher education in order to encourage take-up. It also recommended that GCSE Mathematics should remain compulsory until students have achieved a satisfactory grade (as previously recommended by 2011’s Wolf report).
 
By comparing maths education in England with Scotland, the USA, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand, the report also noted that in countries where maths was compulsory at this age, it was never the only subject to be so and recommended that other subjects, such as English language, also be made compulsory.
 
It also looked particularly favourably at post-16 education in New Zealand. ‘While we should be careful of the danger of ‘cherry-picking’ policies from other countries, the evidence from New Zealand shows that it is possible to increase participation by providing an alternative pathway, focused on statistics, that is widely recognised and valued by higher education and employers,’ said Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation.
 
Professor Jeremy Hodgen, who led the study, emphasised the importance of consulting the relevant stakeholders – notably higher education, employers, schools and colleges – in order for the new qualification to be valued. He also warned: ‘It’s important not to underestimate the timescale necessary for change, particularly if we are to address the critical shortage of mathematics teachers.’
 
Roeland Beerten, director of public affairs at the RSS, welcomed the report. ‘It is encouraging to see further evidence for the need to develop a qualification which teaches problem solving through statistics,’ he said. ‘It will be important, however, to ensure the qualification will meet a genuine and universally acknowledged need in higher education and employment.
 
‘The RSS is currently conducting research funded by the Actuarial Profession which looks at the requirements for statistical skills across a range of subjects in higher education and employment and the results of this work will be able to provide further insight on how such a qualification can be made as relevant as possible.’
 
The Nuffield study is a follow-up to their earlier report from 2010, ‘Is the UK an outlier?’, a study of mathematics education in 24 countries which has been highly influential in recent debates around post-16 maths education.
 

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