Maths review put in motion

Concerns over the numeracy levels of school-leavers have prompted the Government to act. Julie Henry reports.

A REVIEW of the maths curriculum has been ordered by ministers after claims from universities and employers that school-leavers are less numerate than expected, despite record GCSE and A-level passes.

Problems with post-14 maths were revealed last year when a third of students failed the new AS-level maths exam, double the failure rate of other subjects. Maths GCSE also came under the spotlight when a former senior examiner criticised the three-tier exam, which allows a candidate to earn a grade C with a score of just 18 per cent.

Many experts believe that the GCSE fails to prepare pupils who go on to further academic study. Research by Queen's University in Belfast found students started degrees with worse basic maths than five years ago.

Employers claim the subject taught in schools is not relevant enough to the world of work. A quarter of employers in a soon-to-be-released CBI survey were unhappy with school-leavers' basic standards.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris said this week: "Although the numeracy strategy is going well,I am still hearing too many concerns from employers and universities about the preparedness of our students for the study and use of maths for us to be complacent."

A top-level review group will be set up with representatives from major employers, universities and schools. It is likely to look at algebra and geometry in post-14 study. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is currently investigating if they should be strengthened.

The quango is also developing a two-tier maths GCSE. The hybrid GCSE, proposed in the Government's 14-to-19 Green Paper, will also be considered for maths.

All students would study a common core and then opt for vocational or academic modules. More abstract areas like algebra would be dropped for those on the job-related route.

Doug French, chair of the Mathematical Association teaching committee, said: "I don't think there will be a lot of support for changing the curriculum yet again. Employers and universities just want young people who can do what they are supposed to be able to do - not something else.

"The key stage 3 maths strategy is aimed at improving quality of teaching and we should see how that affects KS4 and beyond.

"The problem with having two versions of a GCSE is that it attracts accusations of dumbing down."

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