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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 August, 2003, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
Maths A-level revival plan approved
students in exam room
People have been finding the exam tough going
UK exam regulators have agreed changes to the maths A-level which they say will make it more "manageable" for students.

They deny that the changes - first published last year - mean the qualification is being made easier.

It does mean people will be able to get an A-level by doing four less demanding units plus two at a higher level, rather than the usual three of each.

But there is more pure maths in the syllabus.

The authorities have acted because the number of people doing A-level maths has fallen by a fifth since 2001, following a notoriously difficult exam in the new AS-level, the first half of the A-level.

That decline has had a devastating knock-on effect on university maths departments, with a quarter facing cuts or closure this past year.

And that in turn has increased the shortage of people qualifying as maths teachers - a vicious circle.

Options

The changes to the exam specification will not come into schools until September 2004, meaning four year groups will have sat the problematic AS-level.

These changes do not mean that maths is easier
Chief regulator, Ken Boston
Most A-levels are made up of three "units" at AS-level, which students usually take in the first year, then another three at A2, as the second half of the A-level is now known.

Uniquely, in maths, some options involved students combining two AS units with an A2 unit to get an AS-level.

In academic A-levels, AS units assume students have done only a year's study whereas A2 units are pitched at a higher standard because people are expected to have been studying for longer.

"The AS was too hard last year," a senior official at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) said last summer, as they worked on reviewing it.

'Worrying'

The changes mean that in future, A-level maths will consist of four units in pure maths, two at AS and two at A2, plus two in applied maths - such as statistics or mechanics.

The QCA said: "In cases where students wish to study mixed applications units, these changes may result in students being awarded an A-level with four AS units and two A2 units."

This is because an A2 follows an AS so you could not do an AS in, say, statistics then switch to mechanics in the second year.

Charles Goldie, professor of statistics at the University of Sussex, said the new criteria restored "a greater common core" which could be built upon by all those in higher education and elsewhere who relied on students' having maths A-levels.

"Besides the common core, students will take an option such as mechanics, or statistics, at the AS followed by A2 stages.

"Alternatively they will be able to take one such option in the AS in year one, followed by the AS paper of a different option in year two."

Its chief executive, Ken Boston, said: "We believe that maths is vital to the national interest and it is worrying that there could soon be a generation of young adults who are missing out on maths beyond GCSE.

"In order to address this decline we feel that it is necessary to make changes to A-level maths in order to encourage greater participation and progression onto higher education and employment.

"These changes do not mean that maths is easier," Dr Boston said.

Changes welcomed

The changes have been agreed to by the Wales and Northern Ireland exam regulators ACCAC and CCEA.

Jim Baldwin, head of mathematics at Archbishop Tenison's High School, Croydon, said this was "the only sensible way forward for mathematics".

"We will keep the rigour of the pure mathematics, without stopping students from having access to a variety of its applications.

"I believe that this move could save this subject at A-Level and, therefore, give the nation the mathematicians it needs."




SEE ALSO:
Shortage of good maths teachers
09 Jan 03  |  Education
AS-level maths syllabus revised
11 Oct 02  |  Education
Pupils 'failed' by maths exam
05 Apr 02  |  Education


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