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Maths network equals a reversal of subject decline

The delights of matrices and differential equations will be available to all post-16 pupils in England for the first time this term, through a further maths "network" which has already reversed a quarter of a century decline in the subject.

The 46 regional centres, based in schools, colleges and universities, will allow students to study for A and AS-level further maths through face-to-face tuition backed up by online resources and revision days.

The Government-funded Further Mathematics Network also offers free resources and support to schools and colleges already teaching the subject.

It began as a pilot in 2000 and has grown rapidly, contributing to a renaissance in the subject that has seen a 58 per cent rise in AS-level candidates, to 6,292, since 2004.

There has also been a knock-on rise of 22.5 per cent in A-level candidates to 7,270 in the last year. Professor Celia Hoyles, the Government's maths tsar, said: "The network can justifiably claim to have had a significant impact, not only on entries to the subject but on participation in mathematics more generally."

Further maths allows a deeper study of the subject than the standard A-level. It helps bridge the gap with university through studying topics such as complex numbers and the higher levels of mechanics and statistics.

This will help prepare future scientists and economists as well as mathematicians.

After the early 1980s, when around 15,000 students were taking further maths, it went into a steep downward spiral to 5,000 by the late 1990s.

Some schools stopped offering it because small classes were expensive to teach and there was a shortage of suitably qualified staff. When universities realised that many pupils did not have access to the subject they stopped specifying it as an entry requirement leading even more schools to drop it.

A change in the curriculum in 2004 making it easier to study further maths at the same time as standard maths has also pushed up numbers.

But Charlie Stripp, the network's programme leader, said comparisons with Wales and Northern Ireland where the proportion of pupils studying further maths was half of that of England, showed that it was the English network that had made the biggest difference.

A spokesman for the World Bank said: "Talk of the bank moving from a fee to a for-fee model is simply false. "We are at the forefront of trying to get the 100m children who are out of the school system into education by 2015.

We cannot dictate policy to developing countries. "We supply only 2 per cent of all the aid money that goes towards education in the developing world."

* www.fmnetwork.org.uk.

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