Learning isn't all doom and gloom

A new survey reveals that most pupils think maths is an important - if not crucial - area of study. Mike Levy reports

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has just completed its largest survey on what students think of maths, and the results are not as gloomy as some would predict.

According to Alice Onion, the QCA's principal consultant for maths, there were many positive conclusions to take from the survey.

"The majority of students felt that maths was important; some felt that it was harder than other subjects but also satisfying," she says.

"Overall, maths has fared better than last year, especially at key stage 3, where many pupils talk about enjoying maths, the pleasure of working in groups and the challenge of the subject."

But it is not all good news. Onion admits that the views of pupils in KS4 were less positive (though more so than last year's survey). "Many talk about the amount of work," she says. "Some say they don't have enough information on how to apply the subject to the real world."

Despite this, she says, there is a consensus that the subject is important; older students see it as a crucial qualification. "All students agree that maths is essential to everyday life - especially in handling money," she says.

There was some confusion, however, about maths and careers. Many see the subject as useful in studying medicine, business, art and architecture. But some school students said that nurses, for instance, didn't need maths.

The survey also suggests that some teachers discourage less able Year 11s from carrying on with the subject. And there is evidence that canny university hopefuls avoid maths A-level in order, as they see it, to improve their chances of gaining UCAS points.

In teacher-led focus groups across England, 410 students from Years 8 to 13 talked about their attitudes to the subject. The questions covered five key areas: attitudes to maths overall; views on its importance and usefulness; awareness of qualifications; choices post-16 and views on post-16 examinations.

* www.qca.org.uk

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