It gave me no pleasure to read the cover story of this weeks TES ("Pupils shun maths for `softer' subjects"), but neither did it surprise me. For years now I have complained about the relative lack of accessibility of Advanced level mathematics in comparison to other subjects at the same level.
I am now becoming desperate for someone in authority to take the appropriate action in order to help secure the future of maths teaching in this country.
I have taught A level mathematics for 20 years and, although my subject has always been considered to be hard, students usually stuck it out as dropping it would have meant dropping down to only two subjects. However, the trend is now to study four subjects to AS level in Y12 and to reduce to three in Y13. It is no surprise that maths is taking the biggest hit.
This year I started with a group of twelve students embarking on AS level mathematics. Only four are continuing into Y13 to do the full A level, Some of the students who are dropping the subject were very weak, but most were not. Some of them could have succeeded; some of them could have been maths teachers of the future. Here are common reasons given for dropping maths:
- It's harder than their other subjects
- I spend twice as much on maths outside lesson time than on all my other subjects put together and after all that.
- I can't even start most of the questions on the past exam papers
- Difficulty of the course content
- Amount of work needed to keep up
- Difficulty of exam papers
The academics have for years complained that mathematics A level is easier than it used to be. Whether or not they are correct, the fact is that maths A level is now too hard in comparison to other A levels and to ignore this fact in favour of appeasing academics, largely representing universities, will mean that the headline on the front page of the TES (August 9) will be repeated year after year until the story changes to (surprise, surprise) "Desperate shortage of specialist Maths Teachers".
It may be that some A level topics should be removed and added to the university course curricula.
Terry Crawshaw (Concerned Father, Maths Teacher and Assistant Principal), Ewerby, Sleaford, Lincs.
These are common themes: