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Last Updated: Friday, 13 August, 2004, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Expert calls for optional maths
Pupils on computers
"It's a very technical world," says Professor Burghes
A maths expert says the subject should not be compulsory for children over the age of 14.

David Burghes, from Exeter University, believes that most children learn all the maths they need by the age of 14 or even 11.

He says letting children who are not interested in the subject drop it would mean better teaching for others.

Under proposals for a new school diploma, pupils would be expected to study maths until at least 16.

Professor Burghes, who is the director of the centre for innovation in maths teaching at Exeter, says most people do not need higher maths skills taught at GCSE level and above.

"Maths is jolly important for some people but it's a minority," he told BBC News Online.

"We pretend it's very important for everyone, but it's not. It's a very technological world and the average person is not going to need it.

"They need to know how to add up, but they won't need quadratic equations in the rest of their life.

"On the whole children don't see maths as relevant and many have learned all the maths they need by the age of 11."

Cash incentives

Proposals for a new diploma to replace GCSEs and A-levels being put forward by Mike Tomlinson call for maths to remain compulsory.

Earlier this year, the results of a review into maths were published, calling for greater recognition to be given to the importance of the subject.

The report's author, Professor Adrian Smith, of Queen Mary College, London, said maths was so central to much of the modern economy it should be treated as special, not on a par with other subjects.

He suggested further cash incentives to attract maths teachers and to encourage pupils to keep studying maths.

An alarming number of students are being taught maths by teachers without A-level qualifications
Dr Franco Vivaldi, Queen Mary College, London
The numbers of pupils opting to study maths at AS and A-level has fallen and at university lecturers have complained in recent years at gaps in the knowledge of students starting degrees in the subject.

Dr Franco Vivaldi, from Queen Mary College, London, says the answer to the problem is not to make maths voluntary - but to improve teaching standards.

He says comparisons of the achievement of British pupils in maths with those of other European countries such as Germany or France show UK pupils need better teaching.

Britain was one of the few European countries which did not make children study maths until 18 or 19.

"The problem is in the quality of teaching and in low expectation, " he said.

"An alarming number of students are being taught maths by teachers without A-level qualifications.

"You need financial incentives to attract talented teachers.

"The problem has to be solved in two stages - first improve the quality of teaching up to the age of 18 and then tackle the post-18 age-group."

Professor Burghes argues that there should be less maths teaching, but higher quality maths teaching.

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