The Department for Education has announced further funding into the study of maths post-16, this time to develop a new qualification for sixth-formers in England not studying maths at A-level.
The new qualification is aimed to encourage students to tackle real-life mathematical problems and boost England’s relatively low rates of participation in mathematics post-16. The announcement comes just days after the DfE announced a maths education programme
to be undertaken by Cambridge University.
The new qualification would be designed to help students develop the skills to analyse real-life questions such as ‘how much would thermal expansion cause sea levels to rise?’, ‘how much can we trust opinion polls?’ and ‘how effective are speed cameras?’.
These were among scores of suggested questions in a much-cited blogpost
by Timothy Gowers, a professor at the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics at Cambridge University. Previously, Gowers had been critical of attempts to create a ‘Use of mathematics’ A-level that aimed to relate mathematics more to real-life problems. ‘Interestingly it isn’t so much the syllabus that bothers me as the awful exam questions,’ he explained in his blog post.
Gowers then went on to pose dozens of mathematical questions that relate mathematics to real life situations. These have subsequently formed the basis on which Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI) has been commissioned to develop a new post-16 maths qualification. MEI, which will receive funding of £275,000 from the DfE, confirmed that the curriculum would be ‘based on discussing and attempting to solve problems such as those on Professor Gowers’s weblog.’
‘Professor Tim Gowers’ brilliant blog has sparked huge interest in how we could radically improve maths teaching,’ Michael Gove said. ‘I am delighted that MEI is trying to develop the Gowers blog into a real course that could help thousands of students understand the power of mathematical reasoning and problem-solving skills.’
As part of the project, MEI will consider how the curriculum should be assessed. It also acknowledged that this new approach would need to be supported by extra training and teaching resources for teachers.
The move has been welcomed by the Royal Statistical Society: ‘It is excellent that the Government is backing the development of new maths courses for 16-year-olds which will have strong data handling and statistics at their heart,’ said RSS executive director Hetan Shah.
MEI’s project will be an important component of The Advisory Committee for Mathematics Education (ACME)’s overarching strategy to increase post-16 participation in mathematics. In November, ACME will host a workshop for awarding organisations and others to discuss in further detail the development of new courses.
*NB: the title and first paragraph of this article was amended on 1.11.12.