Page last updated at 23:02 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 00:02 UK

Academics denounce maths A-level

maths lesson
Efforts are being made to reform maths teaching

Dozens of university academics have put their names to calls for a new maths A-level in England to be scrapped.

Educators for Reform, a think tank offshoot, say "use of mathematics" is not of A-level standard.

They argue it will mislead students from poor backgrounds and will not prepare people for university study.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said a consultation on the new course was just ending but it was meant to supplement existing A-levels.

The new qualification is intended to be taught from September 2011.

The academics - at least 62 of them as of Thursday afternoon - say that in particular the compulsory algebra and calculus units are "considerably less demanding and cover less content than A-level".

Dilution

The maths professors and lecturers are basing their opinions on the AS-level in use of mathematics and pilot papers for the A2, the second part of an A-level.

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They say curriculum time is taken up with practical activities rather than developing advanced mathematical understanding.

Another plank of their objections, being presented in response to a QCA consultation, is that there is already a shortage of specialist maths teachers in secondary schools.

These will be spread even more thinly if they are having to teach another course as well as A-level mathematics, they say.

And they argue fewer students might take the main maths A-level if use of mathematics presents an easier option.

Most universities will continue to demand A-level mathematics for those wishing to study physics, economics, chemistry, computer science and engineering, according to their report.

"Students attending schools - usually in the poorest areas - that do not have a detailed knowledge of university admission policies will be unaware of this," it says.

"Some university admissions tutors have already had to turn away bright students whose teachers (wrongly) believed that a Grade A in AS-level use of mathematics was appropriate preparation for subjects requiring a high degree of mathematical literacy."

Professor Nick Shepherd-Barron at Cambridge University said: "As far as A-level is concerned creativity has been not just hidden, but lost.

"Instead mathematics is presented as a mindless exercise in the execution of routines."

'Skills for progression'

For the A2 exam, students must take a compulsory paper in calculus, and choose two other papers.

These include options such as data analysis, decision mathematics, dynamics, hypothesis testing, mathematical comprehension and mathematical principles for personal finance.

Educators for Reform say there are already free-standing qualifications suitable for those who do not need a full-blown maths A-level.

They say GCSE-level study should be made more rigorous - and A-level less dull.

A QCA spokesman said A-level use of mathematics was intended to be an addition to AS and A-levels, not a replacement.

"It is designed to be accessible to a wide range of students and to improve the mathematical knowledge and skills needed for progression to employment and higher education (but not for mathematics or mathematics-related degrees)," he said.

"It will help develop a workforce with appropriate skills to meet the needs of business and industry."

He added it was too early to comment on the final specifications of the new qualifications, as the public consultation on the draft criteria ended on 10 July and a full analysis of the responses would then be carried out.

"Once proposals are approved, awarding bodies will develop new specifications for accreditation by [regulator] Ofqual."

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