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Academe gives an add to maths

Staff and students from Edinburgh University's mathematics department are linking up with secondary pupils to help them prepare for Advanced Highers.

The department has seen admissions leap by 50 per cent in three years, partly through efforts by academics to nurture interest in maths in local secondary schools. Tactics have included contacting Edinburgh maths graduates who have gone into teaching and using them as a conduit to their best maths pupils.

Alastair Gillespie, head of the university's school of mathematics, says that he and his colleagues want to help local schools, and holding revision sessions today (Friday) and next week is an excellent way of doing so.

More than 120 pupils will attend the special sessions, to be held at St Thomas of Aquin's High in Edinburgh and it is expected that the support of one of the UK's top-rated maths departments will boost the city's already impressive attainment levels in maths. It is also hoped that the venture will help the university gain a better insight into prospective students.

"It increases our awareness of where they are coming from - that is one of the main reasons why we moved towards these sessions," Professor Gillespie said. "Advanced Higher mathematics is an extremely good qualification for entry into university, particularly some aspects of it."

The sessions also allow academic staff to reinforce teachers' knowledge of some aspects of the course, such as differential equations and problems associated with arguing logical proofs.

The notion of a logical argument and proof had tended to be dropped from the Higher maths syllabus, he said, which had led to students at university level having difficulty in recognising "a good piece of logic when they see it".

Professor Gillespie, who contributed to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) report which highlighted shortcomings in these areas, welcomed the announcement that the Scottish Qualifications Authority is commissioning research into why candidates do not perform as well as they might be expected to in algebraic questions at Higher.

The SQA is also considering introducing more practical maths into a range of qualifications - such as functional maths in personal finance. There are also plans to develop the use of advanced calculators at Higher and Advanced Higher levels, targeting the application of mathematical technology for use in the workplace.

However, Professor Gillespie expressed regret that the SQA has so far not announced plans to review its coverage of statistics and data management.

"Currently the way the Higher is constructed means that you can either do straight mathematics or a bit of mathematics and a unit in statistics, but you can't do the full range of mathematics and statistics - and that, I think, is quite a shortcoming," he said.

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