Exclusive: DfE adviser calls for maths GCSE resits U-turn

Professor Sir Adrian Smith is also warning that universal participation in the subject until the age of 18 is an “aspiration” that could take years to achieve.   

Helen Ward

Helen Ward

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The academic who ministers asked to review post-16 maths education is calling on them to make a major policy u-turn, and abandon compulsory GCSE resits, Tes can reveal.

And in another blow to government plans to boost maths, Professor Sir Adrian Smith is also warning that universal participation in the subject until the age of 18 is only a distant “aspiration”.   

Pupils who fail GCSE maths aged 16 are currently expected to re-sit if they achieve a D grade or, from this summer, a 3 grade.

But Sir Adrian, appointed by ministers to report on the feasibility of making maths compulsory until the age of 18, wants them to think again.

“Many respondents to my review have questioned the effectiveness of this policy,” he said. “They point to GCSE resit success rates continuing to be disappointingly low and the need instead to provide alternative more meaningful pathways.

“I have urged the government to reconsider this policy.”

Publication of his report is six months overdue. But Sir Adrian, vice-chancellor of the University of London, is already clear that universal post-16 participation in maths is a long way off.

“In terms of the overall challenge posed to me by the government – that of significantly increasing our national participation in continuing mathematical and quantitative education post-16 – I do not believe we currently have either the pathways or the delivery capacity to move now to compulsory continuation of post-16 study of mathematics,” he told a meeting of the Westminster Education Forum in London.

"However, I do believe that the package of policy and funding recommendations I have made to ministers could be practically implemented within something like a three- to five-year time period, with the aspiration of moving to something approaching universal participation within a decade”.

He suggested that as well as rethinking re-sits these recommendations might include careers advice on the importance of maths starting in primary school and school funding models that incentivise maths provision.

Meanwhile, leading mathematicians are warning that Conservative plans to open a specialist maths school “in every major city in England” will be counter-productive and drain scarce expertise in the subject away from mainstream schools.

Frank Kelly, chair of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education and professor of the mathematics of systems at the University of Cambridge, said: “Just shuffling around where the money goes within maths is going to miss the point.”

The Conservative party was contacted for comment.

This is an edited version of an article appearing in the 26 May edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article on the crisis in maths here. To subscribe, click hereTo download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. 

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