Anger at two-day 'A-level rewrite'

The maths A-level is to be comprehensively re-written in just two days, say angry mathematicians working with the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

Members of its maths and science consultative group have said that any rapid changes in maths or science would create further difficulties for schools. But their pleas for more time have so far been ignored as SCAA presses on with its timetable for implementing Sir Ron Dearing's 16-19 review.

All A-levels are being re-written so that the "core" elements can be used for creating the new AS exam. A key part of Sir Ron's proposals, the AS is supposed to be half an A-level and a way of rewarding those who fall short of the full certificate.

In most subjects changes will be slight. But maths is already riven with controversy and is thought by many to be due for a major re-write. Maths A-level is criticised for failing to attract students; yet it has also been attacked by universities for not being sufficiently rigorous.

The existing "cores" for maths and science were only re-written two years ago. So universities have not yet had the chance to assess them, as the first students only entered HE this year.

Sponsors of more innovative A-level maths schemes are also concerned because they fear SCAA will rush through a return to old-fashioned mathematics.

"They want to make proposals on the basis of two days of meetings, with minimal consultation and with no period for re-writing after consultation," said Margaret Brown, professor of maths education at King's College London and a member of the consultative group. "There are a lot of terribly important issues here, but nobody has had time to consult the universities or the schools.

" Schools haven't been properly informed. Many have no idea what Dearing proposes and certainly no idea about the new AS. So they're going to be hit with a completely new exam. The changes will be huge, and very expensive. "

Another member of the group, Professor Alison Wolf from London's Institute of Education, said: "This is too serious to rush. The whole of post-16 maths needs a comprehensive re-think."

A SCAA spokesman said that the dispute about the scale of the changes. The consultative group believes major reforms are needed. SCAA says that, for the present, minor alterations will suffice.

"It is not a root and branch revision. These are relatively small adjustments specifically to deal with the reformulated AS level. We're committed to having these syllabuses ready for 1998."

If it proves problematic the SCAA could negotiate more time.

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