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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 September 2006, 23:10 GMT 00:10 UK
Cash reward 'would revive maths'
By Elli Leadbeater

Maths teacher at blackboard (BBC)
Maths has been losing popularity to less academic subjects
A 500 cash reward should be given to pupils who get an A grade in A-level maths, an Oxford college head says.

Frances Cairncross thinks the "bounty" should be offered to sixth-formers in state schools to encourage more students to take up the subject.

The rector of Exeter College says too many state pupils are opting for what she calls "soft subjects" at A-level.

Currently, nearly a half of pupils who achieve the top grades in maths and science are in the independent sector.

Ms Cairncross will make the suggestion on Monday during her presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which is holding its annual festival this year in Norwich.

New upturn

Entries for maths A-level rose this year by 5.8%, with further maths attracting 22.5% more pupils than last year.

But the upsurge follows disastrous drops in previous years, when many pupils failed maths AS-level and did not continue to A-level as a result.

Maths opens the door to many other subjects
Frances Cairncross
"A country that can understand and take part in the arguments that we're going to have about climate change in the coming years needs to be well-educated about science," said Cairncross, speaking to reporters at the launch of the BA festival.

"We still have fewer young people entering for maths A-level than in 2001. I want to see the recent upturn encouraged."

Cairncross suggested that a "carrot" of initially 500 for pupils who gain an A grade in maths might attract more entrants.

The suggested incentive would be offered only to maths pupils from maintained schools because the number of state pupils who take the subject and achieve high grades is disproportionately low.

"As head of an Oxford college, I cannot believe that those 7% of children who are educated in the independent sector are so much more brilliant than children in the maintained sector. I think that maintained schools are failing children in these crucial A-levels," said Ms Cairncross, who is also chair of Britain's Economic and Social Research Council.

If you did it for maths, you would have to do it for other subjects, too
Association of School and College Leaders

The idea has met with a cool response from John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

"I don't think it would be right to skew students' choices in that way. If you did it for maths, you would have to do it for other subjects, too," Mr Dunford told BBC News.

"Students have to make the choices that are right for them, rather than choices that are based on an immediate financial incentive."

Hard choices

Of those students who take maths, about 44% currently achieve the top grade, compared with an overall average of 24% for all subjects. In further maths, the figure is 57%.

Ms Cairncross is also concerned that students do not realise that taking subjects which are considered less academic may leave them in an unfavourable position when they apply to universities.

"[At Oxford], we're usually looking for children who get three As at A-level.

"Sometimes, I meet very bright children from some maintained schools, whose three A-grade predictions, which they proudly tell me about, are in subjects such as business studies, information technology and theatre studies.

"Those are all interesting subjects and there's place for them; but the fact is, they will not get on to the top courses if they do these relatively non-academic subjects.

"A lot of kids are not being told that when they make their initial selection."

And she added: "Maths opens the door to many other subjects."

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